K.J. McDaniels, 6-foot-6 small forward, Clemson
2013-14 stats: 17.1 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.6 APG, 2.8 BPG .459 FG%, .304 3P%
A versatile talent and explosive athlete, McDaniels is one of the better wing defenders in the draft. Unheralded coming out of high school in Alabama and playing at program that has seen better days, McDaniels had an excellent all-around campaign as a junior and saw his pro stock rise accordingly. While he still has work to do on the offensive end of the court, his athleticism and defensive prowess gives him a niche upon entering the NBA.
Career highlights: As a freshman reserve, McDaniels was a spot reserve, scoring 3.9 points per game, but displaying some flashes of his talent, reaching double figures five times on the year. McDaniels emerged as a starter his sophomore season and demonstrated dramatic improvement, posting averages of 10.9 points, five rebounds, 1.1 steals and two blocks per game, the ranking second in the ACC in the latter category, with a 14 point, nine-rebound, seven-block effort against Wake Forest highlighting his versatility. His junior year, McDaniels developed into a star, averaging 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game, while shooting 45.9 percent from the field, 84.2 percent from the foul line, en route to earning first team all-ACC accolades and the conference’s defensive player of the year honors, as a result of prolific stat lines like 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks against South Carolina, 27 points and 11 rebounds against Arkansas, 30 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks against Notre Dame and 26 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks against Maryland.
Strengths: It’s obvious that McDaniels has unique defensive prowess, possessing remarkable shot-blocking ability for his size, being capable of defending multiple positions and making an impact on and off the ball, utilizing his explosiveness more than most of his athletic counterparts. Also a tremendous rebounder for his position, McDaniels excels as a broken-play scorer, hits the offensive glass well, is capable of grabbing defensive boards to initiate fast breaks and is a powerful, dynamic finisher in transition. McDaniels made major strides offensively throughout his college career — perhaps owing to Clemson’s relatively mediocre talent level — and showcased the ability to create for himself off the dribble as a straight-line driver, get to the foul line, finish in traffic, use his strong frame to post up smaller defenders and knock down jumpers with his feet set.
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Weaknesses: While McDaniels certainly improved as a scorer, as previously mentioned, some of his gaudy numbers came as a result of the responsibility he shouldered, meaning that his shot selection will have to improve and he’ll have to readjust to not being an offensive focal point, which actually shouldn’t be much of an issue for him. But although his jumper and shot-creating ability got better in college, he could be a more consistent perimeter shooter and tighten up his ballhandling. He’s also a bit of a tweener, having the size of a typical NBA shooting guard, but with a small forward’s skill set, and as impressive as his shot-blocking ability is, he’ll need to gamble less on the next level, to avoid both foul trouble and being out of position defensively.
Draft projection: Likely to be selected in the middle of the first round, McDaniels’ range is between the mid-teens to the early 20s, a testament to the depth of the draft, as he’s in competition with a number of talented wing players and probably will be targeted by a team with the biggest perimeter hole defensively. If he can develop into a reliable offensive threat, McDaniels can become a solid two-way threat, but on the strength of his defense alone, he can carve out a niche for himself as a stopper and an athlete with the ability to make plays on either end of the floor. But he’ll have to hone the fine points of his game to maximize his potential and likely prove he can be effective in a more limited role early in his career before given a bigger opportunity at long-term success.