The expectations for K.J. McDaniels were modest entering his junior season after averaging 10.9 PPG for Clemson in the 2012/13 season. But in 36 games this year McDaniels averaged 17.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, and 2.8 BPG in 33.7 minutes per game. His slash line was .459/.304/.842. For his career, McDaniels’ numbers were 11.0 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.9 SPG, and 1.9 BPG in 24.3 minutes per contest. His career shooting numbers were .450/.313/.767.
McDaniels is one of the more versatile players in this year’s draft class, but his decision to enter the draft still comes as somewhat of a surprise to some. With the sheer amount of top-tier talent in this year’s draft, especially at the wing position, McDaniels might have had a better chance at becoming a lottery selection next year. It’s difficult to imagine him cracking the top 14 this year, but a team using a late first-round pick might luck into a high-value player who doesn’t project to be a star, but should be able to contribute right away. Current mock drafts project McDaniels as a late first-round pick. Draft Express has him slotted 20th, Bleacher Report has him 22nd, CBSSports.com places him 24th, and NBA Draft.net sees him being taken 35th overall. Chad Ford of ESPN.com ranks McDaniels 22nd on his Big Board.
Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier notes that Clemson head coach Brad Brownell didn’t put any pressure on McDaniels to stay in school, and the coach appreciated everything that McDaniels did for the program. The article quoted Brownell as saying, “At the end of the day, it’s his decision, his family’s decision. He’s the one who has to live with it. We just want him to hopefully be prepared that whatever decision he makes that he’s successful thereafter. He’s given an unbelievable amount to our school and our program over the last three years and I’m really proud of the way he’s handled everything this year. Not just playing on the court, but being a new leader, being a marked man, being an All-ACC guy, handling all the outside distractions and extra people trying to get a hold of him.”
McDaniels ultimately decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of incurring an injury to return to Clemson for his senior year. Of his decision, McDaniels said, “I’m thankful for the opportunity these past three seasons to grow as a player and person at Clemson. None of this would have been possible without the guidance and support of my coaches, teammates and family. This was not an easy decision, but I am excited to take the next step toward fulfilling my lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”
McDaniels has every tool needed to be an impact starter at the next level, but his offensive game could hold him back. Offensively, he isn’t the most polished player, but his superior athleticism gives him a high upside. He’s extremely dangerous in transition and is a powerful finisher at the rim. McDaniels isn’t a good three-point shooter, connecting on only 30% of his attempts this season. Having an erratic jump shot could severely hamper his offensive production, especially in a more half-court dominated game.
He’s a decent ball-handler, but not strong enough to be a team’s leading play-maker. Avoiding turnovers and improving his off-the-dribble skills will be one of the keys to improving his offensive game in the NBA. His 2.3 turnovers per game against 1.6 assists attests to this deficiency. McDaniels is not a great passer, but he is willing to share the ball. He didn’t play with a wealth of talent around him at Clemson, so it’s difficult to judge him completely on this aspect of the game.
The part of McDaniels’ game that is NBA ready is his defense. McDaniels was named to both the first-team All-ACC and first-team ACC All-Defense squads. He also received the 2014 ACC Defensive Player of the Year award. McDaniels ranked first in the ACC in blocks (100), Defensive Wins Shares (3.1), and second in defensive rating (90.8). For his size he is also a excellent rebounder, which should translate to the next level and improve his positional value.
The 6’6″ small forward is a better shot-blocker than a vast majority of the big men that you’ll find in college basketball. McDaniels’ combination of speed, fundamentals, and athleticism will allow him to defend multiple positions at possibly an elite level in the NBA. His long arms and leaping ability will also allow him to be an effective interior defender. McDaniels’ abilities in this area have some scouts comparing him to Kawhi Leonard, who was also a high value pick late in the first-round.
As a player, I’m very high on McDaniels, and any team snagging him with a pick in the latter part of the first round will receive a high-value, high-energy player who is ready to step in and contribute to a rotation right away. He can play and defend multiple positions, has a high basketball IQ and a very good motor. I don’t see him becoming a superstar player, but if he can improve his offensive game, McDaniels will have a bright future in the pros. Out of the players projected to go late in the first round he will have the greatest opportunity to outperform his draft slot.