Timberwolves rookie Jaden McDaniels said he has been watching guard Jaylen Nowell play basketball since "fourth or fifth grade" as both were growing up in the Seattle metropolitan area.
Nowell said it's actually been longer, and that he knew of McDaniels and his brother Jalen, a member of the Hornets, since Nowell was in "second or third grade."
Whenever they first encountered each other on their basketball journey, it led them to Thursday, as McDaniels and Nowell watched each other put up career highs on the same night in the Wolves' 135-105 victory over New Orleans.
McDaniels had 20 points and three blocks off the bench while Nowell filled in more than capably with the Wolves down two point guards in D'Angelo Russell (knee surgery) and Jordan McLaughlin (COVID protocols) by scoring 28 points on 11 of 13 shooting.
"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," Nowell said of McDaniels. "And succeed in this league too. He's going to have a great career and I'm really happy for him."
Said McDaniels of Nowell: "He was just getting to his shots, and that's what he do. I'm not surprised ... That's the Jaylen I know."
They also helped create an important early impression on coach Chris Finch, who got his first win as a head coach in six NBA games.
Nowell was the Pac-12 Player of the Year at Washington, where McDaniels also went to school, and he put up impressive stats in the G-League last season. But this was the most electric Nowell and his scoring ability looked at the NBA level. He entered Thursday knowing he was going to play point guard more, and Finch said Nowell felt "a little concerned" the Wolves would try to shoehorn him into a traditional point guard role of only looking to distribute. That wasn't what Finch wanted.
"He told me to not even overthink it," Nowell said. "He doesn't even like to call them point guards, he calls them break starters. I just viewed it as being in my same position but just having to initiate the offense."
Nowell went with that flow and made an impressive array of shots, including six threes.
"He did exactly what we needed him to do," Finch said.
Nowell said there were times in other games he felt as on fire as he did Thursday, but he was able to play significant minutes this time because of all the Wolves' absences instead of coming out.
He also knew despite initial struggles at the NBA level last season that he has nights like Thursday in him.
"We all were having fun, just happy for each other," Nowell said. "That's what led to me feeling good, so I just decided to turn it up, get more buckets." Nowell said.
There was some consternation among the fan base that Finch initially cut McDaniels' minutes over his first five games as coach. Just two games ago McDaniels played less than nine minutes. But he made a statement to stay on the floor with his strong play at both ends Thursday.
Finch said he has liked what he has seen from McDaniels so far.
"He's fearless," Finch said. "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 both ends of the floor."
McDaniels' 20 points included a career high four threes. He said he has been learning how to best find his shots in the speed of the NBA. Primarily, McDaniels said he has a better feel for how to play off his teammates who might be taking the ball to the rim.
"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."
His friend Nowell got almost any shot he wanted against the Pelicans, and it led to the biggest win of the Wolves' season, and a moment those two kids in Seattle could only dream about.