Dane Mizutani: If Jaden McDaniels plays like that, the Timberwolves can’t be beat

Jaden McDaniels was not available to the Timberwolves this time last year. He punched a wall out of frustration in the final game of the regular season, breaking his hand in the process, and ensuring Minnesota would be without its best perimeter defender heading into the playoffs.

That loss proved to be insurmountable for the Timberwolves as they simply didn’t have the personnel needed to compete with the eventual NBA champion Denver Nuggets.

Perhaps the performance the Timberwolves got from McDaniels in Game 2 against the Phoenix Suns was his way of making up for lost time.

He dominated on both ends of the floor on Tuesday night at Target Center en route to a 105-93 win. He was a force on offense, leading the team with 25 points, and a demon on defense, using his length to shut down the trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal on the other end.

“Not playing last year I was kind of antsy,” McDaniels said. “Just being in this environment, and being in the playoffs, it feels like a dream come true for me.”

It should also feel like a nightmare to the rest of the league.

Frankly, if McDaniels continues to play like he did in Game 2, the Timberwolves are going to be nearly impossible to beat moving forward.

If anything is clear about McDaniels at this point in his career, it’s that he’s always going to bring it on defense. He takes pride in erasing the opposing team’s best player.

“It feels great,” McDaniels said. “You can hear them get louder and louder each possession.”

Now it seems the offense is catching up for McDaniels.

“It’s always been there,” head coach Chris Finch said. “There’s things that he can do and at times we might need to put the ball in his hands a little bit more. He’s just making the right play off the ball all the time. That’s important for the way that we’re playing and the attention that our other guys are drawing.”

This is a group already equipped with a pair of dynamic scoring options in Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, a security blanket of Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert running the pick and roll, and a bench unit that includes Naz Reid and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

It’s not a fair fight if McDaniels is also contributing at a high level on offense.

It wasn’t so much that McDaniels scored 25 points for the Timberwolves against the Suns as it was the ways in which he got his buckets. He slashed his way to the hoop to get himself going. He hit a few midrange jumpers to keep the defense honest. He knocked down a couple of corner three pointers for good measure.

“He’s a person who can live up to these moments, offensively and defensively,” Reid said. “We’ve been friends since I started with this team, so it’s good I get to see him embrace these moments against big time players and get a chance to go out there and compete.”

This is the guy the Timberwolves thought they were getting when the inked McDaniels to a 5-year, $136 million extension.

Now the biggest problem with McDaniels has always been consistency. He can pop off for 20 points with ease, then ghost his teammates for 48 minutes a few games later. The key for the Timberwolves in the playoffs will be making sure McDaniels can harness this type of performance with regularity moving forward.

Asked if he thought this was the best game he has ever played in the NBA, McDaniels replied, “It’s close.”

He paused.

“I mean, 25 points in the playoffs,” McDaniels said. “There’s nothing more I could ask for.”

There’s nothing more the Timberwolves could ask for either.

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