Minnesota Timberwolves: Exploring Jaden McDaniels’ potential

Harrison Barnes of the Sacramento Kings handles the ball against Jaden McDaniels of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
Harrison Barnes of the Sacramento Kings handles the ball against Jaden McDaniels of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /
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Minnesota Timberwolves, Jaden McDaniels
Jaden McDaniels of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Jaden McDaniels’ potential with the Minnesota Timberwolves

The question remains, what is Jaden McDaniels – a solid role player or a foundation block of the franchise’s core?

His floor is already high as a two-way, starting-caliber player. McDaniels’ ceiling, however, is still somewhat ambiguous. His potential is largely dependent on his ability to create his own shot, a common trait among all of the NBA’s elite players.

Two players that may provide a barometer for McDaniels’ future are Jerami Grant of the Detroit Pistons and Aaron Gordon of the Denver Nuggets. Neither player is a superstar, but they are generally considered to be more than simply role players.

Grant began his career as a second-round pick for the Philadelphia 76ers, starting 11 games during his rookie year and putting up similar numbers to McDaniels. Over time, Grant improved his 3-poit shot until he was generally regarded as a defensive specialist for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets.

Grant was successful as a low-usage, complementary player on the Nuggets, helping them reach the Western Conference Finals in 2020, but eventually moved into a larger role with the Pistons this season after a sign-and-trade in restricted free agency. Now in Detroit, he has proven his ability to score at all three levels, increasing his scoring output to over 22 points per game.

Gordon, meanwhile, began his career as the No. 4 pick for the Orlando Magic. Despite the larger expectations, he started only eight games during his rookie year and had significantly less impact on his team than either Grant or McDaniels.

Gordon was given more freedom in the following years, eventually growing into a solid knockdown shooter and cutter who could average between 13 and 17 points per game. However, Gordon’s true value may have become clear recently since being traded to Denver. He has thrived in a supporting role alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, prior to Murray’s unfortunate injury, and shown a high-level ability to make an elite team better as the third or fourth option.

Both Grant and Gordon are listed at 6-foot-8, just one inch shorter than McDaniels, and they each regularly play both forward positions. The biggest difference is in weight and strength; the two veterans have 25 and 45-pound advantages over McDaniels, respectively. This strength advantage has allowed both players to improve their scoring output around the rim in recent years. Adding a few pounds of muscle over the offseason could be a simple way for McDaniels to reach this level of scoring potential by allowing him to post-up against smaller defenders.

Ultimately, Grant and Gordon provide an interesting blueprint for McDaniels’ future. Both players needed a handful of years to increase their scoring output and realize their role within the team concept. McDaniels is arguably ahead of the curve as both a defender and a perimeter shooter when compared to Grant and Gordon’s rookie years.

A case can be made that he may be best served to focus on strength and off-ball cutting in an attempt to round out his skill set as a 3-and-D player, in a similar fashion to Grant and Gordon’s progression much later in their careers. This outline could be especially beneficial in Minnesota next to the established star potential of Towns, Russell, and Edwards. Grant and Gordon proved during their respective time in Denver that this type of player as a fourth option can elevate a team into the top tier of the Western Conference.

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McDaniels has the same opportunity to become a foundational piece for a franchise looking to take significant strides in the coming years.