In the Timberwolves’ three-plus decades in the NBA, nearly the entirety of their success stories from the draft have come high in the lottery. Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, Wally Szczerbiak — nearly all of their quality picks have come within the top 10.
Venture outside the lottery and it is a veritable wasteland of Paul Grants, Ndudi Ebis and, thanks to an incredible lack of success and the Joe Smith scandal, very few other picks. Josh Okogie has been a nice find with the No. 20 pick. Other than that … yikes.
That’s why watching Jaden McDaniels put on a show in the season finale against the Dallas Mavericks was an important punctuation for a Wolves team desperately hoping that better days lie ahead. McDaniels, the 28th overall pick, scored 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting, hounded Mavs star Luka Doncic on the defensive end and sprinkled in a couple of style points along the way just for good measure.
McDaniels has been a revelation all season long, emerging as a legitimate two-way player on a roster with a precious few of them. But he saved one of his best performances for last, bolstering his case to be included on the NBA’s All-Rookie second team. He made three 3-pointers, had a sweet behind-the-back crossover dribble into a step-back jumper and gave Doncic little breathing room or reason to get truly engaged.
For the season, McDaniels’ counting stats aren’t going to leap off the screen. He averaged 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 63 games, but those numbers are skewed somewhat by the Wolves easing him into action after he did not have a summer league or a full training camp to get acclimated. McDaniels played sparingly in the first 12 games of the season, but became a regular starter for the final 27 games of the season. He hit 38 percent of his 3s during that span and, more importantly, provided strong defense to set the stage for his inclusion in the team’s core going forward.
“It’s a good feeling just to know that you’re wanted,” McDaniels said in his exit interview on Monday. “It’s something where you have to continue to work to get better. There’s always new players coming in, things like that. So just withstanding and getting better every day.”
Add to McDaniels’ performance that Edwards scored 30 points and was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for May, his third straight month winning the award. Naz Reid, an undrafted free agent last season, put up 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting and five rebounds against Dallas as well and looks like a bonafide rotation player, giving President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas a foundation to build upon. Outside of Jarrett Culver, last year’s No. 6 overall pick who has shown very little in his first two seasons, Rosas and his front office have performed very well in the draft, an absolute necessity for a mid-market team with two max players under contract already.