After a strong Junior year at Clemson, the 22-year old KJ McDaniels is projected to be a first round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Is he a prospect the Suns should be targeting with one of their first rounders?
School: Clemson University
Position: Small Forward
Mock Draft Projections: DraftExpress: 29, NBADraft.net: 35, NBADraftInsider: 30, ESPN: 25
Height: 6'6" with shoes, 6'4.5" without shoes
Weight: 196 lbs.
Standing Reach: 8'6"
Max Vertical: 37 inches
No-step Vertcal: 33 inches
Body Fat: 4.5%
Expert Analysis: Offense
McDaniels has outstanding physical attributes for a NBA prospect, standing 6-6, with an excellent frame, long arms, and arguably the best athleticism of any wing player in the draft not named Andrew Wiggins. He's as explosive a leaper as you'll find, being responsible for some of the most impressive highlight reel plays of the college season thus far.
McDaniels has done a good job of finding ways to score this season, as he's posting an impressive 23.4 points per-40 minutes pace adjusted thus far, up from 16.7 last year. He's able to produce thanks to his ability to run the floor, crash the offensive glass, make open jumpers, and get to the free throw line, despite playing on one of the worst offensive teams in high major college basketball. Clemson scores just 62 points per game, and ranks 13th of 15 ACC teams in offensive efficiency, struggling to crack 45 points on a few occasions this season.
The lack of spacing and general scoring prowess alongside McDaniels makes it easy for opposing teams to key in on him at times, further exacerbating the fact that he's not the most skilled wing player around at the moment. His ball-handling skills are just average, as he struggles to change speeds or directions with the ball, and doesn't he create much offense for teammates either, as his court vision and feel for the game are not off the charts.
McDaniels isn't the most consistent shooter you'll find either. His release is fairly slow and he struggles when rushed or contested, making just 31% of his 3-point attempts on the season, down from 33% last year.
Nevertheless, McDaniels can't be classified as a non-shooter, as his 1.7 makes per-40p from beyond the arc ranks a respectable 7th among small forwards in our top-100 prospects. He's relatively reliable with his feet set and a glimmer of daylight (41%), and hits a terrific 87% of his free throw attempts (3rd best among all top-100 prospects), which leaves some room for optimism. He's athletic enough to rise up and create separation from defenders, which helps him in off the dribble situations, he just needs to speed up his release and improve his ball-handling ability to further take advantage of this skill.
Strengths: KJ is obviously an outstanding athlete; he can jump really easily off two feet or of one without any difference. In the last year he finally used this gift to become one of the best rebounders in his conference while only 6'6 ... He is particularly dangerous on the offensive glass, where if he doesn't have a body on him he knows how to get the crowd involved with spectacular tip dunks ... Transition is another area where he shines, both as a ball handler or runner on the wing, when he has the ball and there is nobody in his lane he goes strong to the basket, very often making the right decision ... When he is off the ball in transition he's often catching lobs and alley-oops ... This part of his game will really stand out in the NBA, particularly for teams with good PGs and that like to push the ball in transition ... He also added to his game a respectable 3 point jumper, not very pretty to see but definately to be respected ... He has very good percentages with his feet set
Weaknesses: His biggest weakness right now is still his offensive game ... His shot is getting better, particularly his 3 pointer with his feet set, but when defenders run him off the line he has a very poor pull up shooting and his decision making is highly questionable ... Needs to develop a mid-range game and learn how to finish around the rim ... Right now when he gets to the rim but can't dunk, he struggles to finish, especially with his left hand ... Seems to suffer a lot when defenders get into his body, which raises some questions about his attitude to fight and be strong durin a physical game ... He will never need to be a great scorer, but needs to be consistent enough where he can punish the defense with open shots and precise cuts ... Ball handling also needs some work, his one on one often finish with a turnover as McDaniels often struggles to read the help
Expert Analysis: Defense
Despite the considerable improvement he's shown offensively this season, where McDaniels really shines as a NBA prospect is on the other end of the floor. His size, length, and tremendous athleticism allows him to guard up to four positions at the college level, and give him the potential to emerge as a lockdown defender in the NBA. He's a huge playmaker already, putting up gaudy numbers as a rebounder, shot-blocker and ball-thief, even if he still has room to improve here, particularly with his ability to defend off the ball and stay consistent with his effort.
Strengths: Despite the offensive reasons the real gem of McDaniels game for NBA scouts is his defense ... He has outstanding efficiency numbers defending the ISO according to Synergy and he can guard 1-2-3 without any problems due to his length and quickness ... He his very good of the ball as well, reading screens and situations. Thanks to his feet being in constant movement, he is really hard to post up, and this allowed Clemson to play him as a "4" in a small lineup. He is not by any mean an offensive threat but was still able to average more than 17ppg which could allow any NBA coach looking for a new "Tony Allen" to play him without risking to play 4 on 5 on the offensive hand
Weaknesses: Defensively he needs to embrace the role that will be for him in the NBA, get stronger to defend stronger players, but all those are just natural developments that will occur in his career
KJ McDaniels has the physical attributes and skills to be the sort of role player any team could use. He's not only one of the best athletes in this draft, but his near seven-foot wingspan gives him great build for a wing player at the NBA level.
McDaniels has drawn comparisons to Gerald Green on several occasions, mostly because of his athleticism and demeanor. He also shares some of the same weaknesses as Gerald, namely in terms of both guys' inability to create offense for themselves or others. He's not quite as athletic as Green is (let's be honest, not many are) and isn't nearly as accurate a shooter--his release is much slower than Green's and his three-point percentage is a lot lower than you'd like to see, but his high free throw percentage is a reason for optimism. However, he's proven to have much better defensive tendencies than Green. He was a fantastic one-on-one defender in college and has the quickness, prowess and ability to defend multiple positions.
Currently, McDaniels is projected by most to be drafted near the end of the first round. I believe he has the potential to carve out a long career for himself because of the abilities he brings to a team, especially if he continues to improve his shooting touch. Over time, he projects to be a prototypical "3-and-D" role player, and one with great athleticism to boot. McDaniels will also need to get stronger to max out his defensive potential at the professional level. Although he may never be a great playmaker, his jumpshot and thin frame are things he can and will likely improve.
If the Suns end up keeping the 27th pick in the draft, KJ McDaniels would be phenomenal value at the end of the first round. He likely wouldn't get many minutes in his first season, but could be a possible replacement for Gerald Green at the line. If he lasts till the 27th pick and the Suns still own the pick when the time comes, McDaniels is definitely a player to keep an eye on. Of course, this also depends on what the Suns do with their first two picks (14 and 18) and how likely it is that they would want to bring in three rookies next season, instead of perhaps trading the 27th pick for a future pick or going the draft-and-stash route at that spot.