Wolves need McDaniels to be even-keeled to reach their highest potential

Early in the Timberwolves' victory over Memphis on Wednesday, forward Jaden McDaniels lined up a three-pointer from the corner.

Even without knowing whether it was going in, McDaniels' teammate and good friend Naz Reid liked what he saw. He saw McDaniels shoot it with a lot of confidence.

"I started yelling, 'I think he's back,'" Reid said. "You can tell he's starting to find his legs again."

It was a good night on both ends of the floor for McDaniels, as he was part of a strong defensive effort that gave up only 16 fourth-quarter points to the Grizzlies. He forced an eight-second call against Santi Aldama that was a big moment when the Wolves were up six with just over three minutes remaining. He also contributed on the offensive end, after multiple games of either trying to force things too much offensively or not at all. He had 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

"Really proud of him," coach Chris Finch said. "He'd been trying to find his rhythm back and he looked like the Jaden of old."

The Wolves had missed that McDaniels, and there had been some talk around the team about how to re-engage him, especially on the offensive end. The Wolves ask a lot of McDaniels on defense, but he is often the fifth option on offense when he plays with the starting lineup.

It can create a dynamic hard for a lot of players to accept — hustling all they can on the defensive end, without the reward of getting ball a lot and scoring on the offensive end.

Of late, McDaniels' boxscores showed those issues: 1-for-5, 2-for-4 and 1-for-5 in the three games preceding Wednesday. On the season, he is averaging 10.3 points per game, down from 12.1 a season ago, and his three-point shooting is down to 36% from 40%.

Finch often says McDaniels' offensive output is a "barometer" for the Wolves offense as a whole — if he is getting his shots, it means the ball is flowing well. But there's more McDaniels can do to help his own cause.

"Be a little bit more aggressive running in transition. Be a better cutter. Get back to the offensive glass. He's done all that stuff, but he has to do it more consistently," Finch said before Wednesday's game. "If you do all that, you might end up with five more, six more points a night. Which doesn't seem like a lot, but you have to put a lot of work in to do that."

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After Wednesday's game, McDaniels said making that kind of sacrifice offensively doesn't affect him on the floor.

"I still got a job to do on the other end," he said. "I'm good, I don't care. I got to lock down someone on the other end, just knowing that I got a job to do on the other side."

But of all the Wolves players, McDaniels is probably most vulnerable to letting his emotions spill over into his play on the court, even beyond punching a wall on the last day of the 2022-23 regular season and breaking his hand. There are times he commits clear frustration fouls because of how an offensive sequence might have gone for him, or if a player starts getting into it with him, he might commit a silly foul.

The Wolves need McDaniels to have nights like Wednesday more consistently. In a pressure-amplified atmosphere like the playoffs, they can't afford to have his confidence or emotions flying all over the place if his night might not be going well on offense.

"There's going to come a time, and there have been many times, where he's going to have to hit shots, or we're going to rely on him to make plays when the ball comes to him," Finch said. "And he can't get frustrated by the fact that it hasn't come to him. It's a tough one. I understand the dynamic, but it's his role on our team, and we need him to do it at a high level to win."