Timberwolves Invest in McDaniels, Put Rookie in Starting Lineup

The former UW forward is getting a big chance to be a cornerstone of the Minnesota franchise.
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There's a noticeable difference between 19- and 20-year-old Jaden McDaniels.

Younger Jaden was a freshman reserve forward for 9 of his final 10 games for the University of Washington basketball team, seemingly disinterested at times before finishing the season strong in Arizona.

Twelve months later, older McDaniels is an NBA starter for three consecutive games now as the Minnesota Timberwolves have decided to develop the intriguing rookie into a cornerstone player rather than deal him for veteran talent.

Since last Wednesday's afternoon trade deadline, the 6-foot-9 forward has provided the following stat lines:

In a 128-108 loss to Dallas on Wednesday, McDaniels played 29 minutes, hit 4 of 8 shots from the floor and 1-3 from 3-point range for 9 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, and collected an assist, a block and a steal.

In Friday's 107-101 victory over Houston, he played 33 minutes, sank all 5 of his shots including both 3s for 14 points, hauled in 4 rebounds and blocked a pair of shots. 

On Saturday in a 129-107 defeat to the Rockets, McDaniels was on the floor for 36 minutes, made 6 of 10 shots, 2 of 4 from 3-point range, and finished with 14 points; and picked up 2 rebounds and a block and an assist.

Modest stuff so far but steady and promising.

The Timberwolves, with the worst record in the NBA (11-35), start two rookies now in No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards and No. 28 McDaniels, and are fully committed to a rebuilding process around them no matter how painful it gets.

McDaniels, who has 5 starts overall this season, is highly thought of by Minnesota coach Chris Finch, who took over the team on Feb. 22 after Ryan Saunders was fired.

"He's fearless," Finch told reporters of McDaniels. "He's young, but he's fearless. He'll take on any challenge defensively. Not afraid to take a right shot, a big shot and I thought he was really impactful for us on both ends of the floor."

The big kid from Federal Way, Washington, was castigated in Seattle for seemingly squandering his lone season with the Huskies and counting the days before he could turn pro. 

Yet in a lot of places that's called maturity, which seems to be guiding him now that he's no longer a teenager. He's much more dedicated to advancing his game. 

"I've gotten a lot more comfortable being on the court with the spacing," McDaniels said. "I'm just watching film all the time, knowing which shots I can take, knowing which shots I can get during the games."

While he left the college far behind and hasn't looked back, he still has UW connections by playing alongside Jaylen Nowell, the 2018 Pac-12 Player of the Year and a Timberwolves reserve guard. While they weren't Husky teammates, playing for coach Mike Hopkins at different times, they've been well acquainted with their mutual Seattle-area roots. 

"I've known him for a while and to see his progress, it's literally like watching a little brother come up and make it to the league, and succeed in this league, too," Nowell said of McDaniels. "He's going to have a great career and I'm really happy for him."

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