He is not the most important player on the Timberwolves, but Jaden McDaniels, now his fourth season in the league, might be the player who most embodies the identity of this year's team.

Like the Wolves as a team, he's an elite defensive player. He often draws the toughest defensive matchup for a team that's No. 1 in the NBA in defensive rating.

Like the Wolves as a team — (No. 18 in offensive rating, a number that dips to No. 26 in the fourth quarter) — McDaniels can be maddeningly inconsistent on offense, with a set of physical skills that leave you wanting and expecting more.

In evaluating Minnesota's roster and the single-biggest issue facing them down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs — fourth quarter offensive execution in close games against good teams — it becomes evident that once again the Wolves and McDaniels are linked.

The trade deadline and buyout market have come and gone. These are the Wolves. Their defense will keep them in almost any game and bring about key stops. But they often seem one offensive threat short when it matters most.

Could that threat be McDaniels, as Chris Hine and I talked about on Thursday's Daily Delivery podcast?

Most of what the Wolves do in late-game situations is driven by the abilities of their two All-Stars — Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns. Sometimes Edwards tries to do too much, but the intent of almost every late-game play is for veteran point guard Mike Conley Jr. to put one of the Wolves' best players into an advantageous position.

The problem when defenses tighten up is this: Conley is a useful but limited offensive player. So is Rudy Gobert. And often times, so is McDaniels. All three have strengths, but defenses are often loading up on Edwards and Towns and daring someone else to beat them.

All of this is complicated, of course, by Towns' injury. For however long he might be out with his meniscus problem, someone like Naz Reid will have to fulfill at least some of his scoring role in all four quarters.

But McDaniels feels like a potential key, with or without a healthy Towns. He's young (still just 23) and has a higher ceiling to reach. We know what Conley, Gobert and Towns bring. Same goes for the Wolves' key reserves. None of them are lights-out offensive talents.

The Wolves weren't able to add a true offensive late-game threat at the trade deadline, opting instead (in a good move) to nab point guard help with Monte Morris.

It's not all on McDaniels, but any growth from him could serve as rocket fuel for the Wolves. He has scored seven points or fewer in five of the Wolves' past nine games. He also had a game with 26. His offensive game took a nice jump in his third season, but it has stalled or even surprisingly regressed a little this year.

Five years ago, I wrote about Andrew Wiggins' offensive inconsistency and compared him to a river that is, on average, four feet deep. Try to walk across a river like that, and sometimes it's up to your ankles. Other times it's over your head and you drown.

The Wolves don't need to count on McDaniels in the same way they tried to count on Wiggins. They are different players. But the Wolves do need more in the closing stretches of games.

And McDaniels has more to give.

Here are four more things to know today:

*The Gophers women's basketball team beat the last-place team in the conference in Wednesday's Big Ten Tournament opener. That 77-69 win over Rutgers felt significant on multiple levels, something I also talked about on today's podcast. The Gophers face Michigan tonight; on Friday, Iowa and Caitlin Clark take center stage.

*The Gophers men's basketball team, on the other hand, sputtered in their home finale against Indiana. On Friday's podcast, I plan to talk more to the Star Tribune's Marcus Fuller about their season as a whole and the damage done from that loss.

*Betting odds aren't necessarily an accurate reflection of reality, but the odds continue to shift toward Kirk Cousins winding up in Atlanta.

*Patrick Reusse on Lou Nanne is always worth reading.