LAS VEGAS — What do you do when you’re a basketball player growing up in a corner of the United States where the once stoic NBA franchise of the Seattle SuperSonics is no longer? What team do you point to TV and say, “I’m going to play for them one day” and how do you keep your dream alive?
Well, I guess all you have to do is play basketball as hard and as well as you can until you get noticed and drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
OK, maybe it’s not that simple, but that has been the case for both Jaden McDaniels and Jaylen Nowell. They both hail from the greater Seattle area and are definitely letting everyone know across the country they are talented NBA players by making noise as rising Wolves.
The duo both started as University of Washington Huskies and have progressed their way up the K9 family tree as now very essential players on a Timberwolves roster.
Most recently, they were each pillars of a successful Las Vegas NBA Summer League squad, which finished with a 4-1 record.
In fact, Nowell and McDaniels were so productive and proven throughout the summer league that they got handed the good kind of benching -- when a team recognizes that they’re too valuable to even risk playing in the fifth and final Summer League game (the only Timberwolves loss, as it turned out).
In four games, Nowell averaged 22.5 points and 5.0 rebounds. McDaniels averaged 16.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 1.0 blocks.
But it wasn’t just their statistical averages in the final box scores that helped propel Minnesota’s Las Vegas success, it was also their all-in commitment to the Timberwolves defense first mission statement.
With Nowell barely 22 years of age and McDaniels at 20 (he turns 21 on Sept. 29), they both stepped up huge in their leadership roles. Their maturity and communication was glaringly noticeable throughout every game.
“When the shot isn’t falling, I’m just making sure I pick my energy up. We should be playing with 110% energy anyways,” said Nowell after a low scoring 78-59 win over Chicago Bulls. “Making sure that we’re taking a little bit more pride in our defense. When you’re not hitting shots, we got to make sure they’re not scoring, too.
“I’d actually say I took pressure off myself compared to last year, because when I’m not hitting shots, I started reading the game a little better and started making the correct reads and passes. If my shot isn’t falling, it’s something that I'm not so heavy on … trying to get more rebounds, talking on defense, talking on offense as well and not being negative when my shots aren’t falling.”
Looking ahead to the 2021-22 NBA season with an already ultra-athletic Minnesota roster, a defensive-minded coach Chris Finch plus playing alongside a lockdown defender in Josh Okogie, Nowell’s and McDaniels’ remarkable growth will fit right into the rotation just fine.
“Staying aggressive all out through the game,” McDaniels said. “I feel like that’s something I’ve been working on and really continue to lock in on defense and continue to get better. And all around help my teammates.”