How’d We Get Here: K.J. McDaniels

(AP Photo/Darren Abate)

(AP Photo/Darren Abate)

How’d We Get Here: K.J. McDaniels

Last Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets acquired K.J. McDaniels in a trade with the Houston Rockets. McDaniels was acquired at essentially no long-term cost, with the Nets giving up the minimum cash consideration, $75,000, for the third-year swingman. On the surface, this trade may not look like much as, on the season, McDaniels has only played in 29 out of the Rockets’ 58 games, averaging just 2.8 points with 1 rebound per game. But McDaniels is an intriguing prospect going forward and he has the athleticism and motor to be a prospect for Kenny Atkinson to develop over time.

The Nets have a team option on McDaniels’ contract next season. If he impresses in the final stretch of the season, he will be a bargain going forward, due only $3 million in the 2017-2018 season. If he disappoints, the Nets can cut him loose at no cost.

Although he’s in his third NBA season, he is still a relative unknown. For McDaniels, the key word is potential.

Upside

Watching any film on K.J. McDaniels proves one thing: he is a premier athlete. McDaniels uses his athleticism well, running the floor well on both ends. He possesses a 37-inch max vertical leap, per Draft Express and he stands at 6’6 with a 6’11 wingspan. Length and athleticism may be a trait that the Nets seem to covet in their young players. McDaniels is no different, and may just be the most athletic player on the Nets’ roster already.

He may even be the bounciest Net since Gerald Green — sorry, Markel.

Offensively, McDaniels is not a smooth or polished scorer by any means but he is able to score in transition using his athletic gifts. McDaniels is known for his freaky athletic dunks, where he can put defenders on posters at moment’s notice.

McDaniels is also a sneaky cutter at times, where he can slither into the paint for lob passes if the defense keys into a penetration threat like James Harden.

Is anyone else wondering how Ian Eagle will call K.J. McDaniels’ dunks?

“K.J. McDaniels, BIG FINISH!”

“That’s a man’s jam!”

“McDaniels with the windmill!”

McDaniels has shown the ability to put the ball on the floor on drives, but his ballhandling may need an overhaul. In his small sample sizes, McDaniels has averaged over 2 turnovers per game whenever he’s received extended minutes. So far, the Nets have done a decent job at priming players on how to get to the basket effectively, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Joe Harris showing the most progress in this aspect.

Shooting wise, McDaniels’ jumper is not a proven. However, he has shown glimpses of improvement in his limited time. He’s shot the ball at a subpar 29% from three in his career but, in the D-League last season, he shot it at 35%. McDaniels has just as many dunks (59) in his career as three-point field goals, an interesting reflection on his play style. Surprisingly, McDaniels had not received any time in the NBA this season, mostly receiving DNP-CD’s on the bench for Mike D’Antoni.

His offensive trajectory may be similar to Hollis-Jefferson, another super athlete with a developing offensive game.

Thankfully, McDaniels’ calling card may be as a lockdown defender, a role he seems to relish. With his length and athleticism, he has the skill set to guard positions 1-4. McDaniels actually spent time in college playing the power forward position. On the perimeter, McDaniels is scrappy and play with a high motor to hound opposing players.

When speaking to the Houston Chronicle, McDaniels said this:

“I love guarding Tony Parker, a Hall of Famer, but I can switch on to players like Manu Ginobili and face that kind of challenge. It’s always good to compete with the best.”

His leaping ability and effort may allow him to outrebound more grounded players. McDaniel’s time at power forward in college may also make him comfortable competing against taller opponents as well. The Nets’ defense may look even more fluid with multiple players that can defend positions 1-4 — a factor that no doubt went into the front office’s decision to move for him.

When he received consistent minutes during his time with the 76ers, McDaniels averaged 2 blocks per 36 minutes, an impressive feat for a wing player. His non-dunk YouTube highlights mostly consist of his eye-opening chase down blocks…

In McDaniels, the Nets are hoping to capitalize on McDaniels’ tantalizing potential on both ends. In his limited NBA action, he has shown that he can be a solid NBA player. On a team that focuses on offensive versatility, McDaniels was lost in the shuffle, behind veteran wings like Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, James Harden, and Eric Gordon.

One understated part about K.J. McDaniels, the person, is his confidence and competitiveness. Rather than choosing to sign a guaranteed multiyear minimum contract with the 76ers after the draft, he elected to sign a one-year contract. McDaniels parlayed that into $10 million the subsequent season, making more money than some lottery picks. He also seems to be a pretty humble player, as seen from his draft retrospective.

McDaniels seems like a player willing to work, pushing his teammates in practice.

Atkinson and Marks are hoping that confidence and competitive desire leads to improvement on the court.

How does he fit in with the Nets?

K.J. McDaniels is another player with potential. As has been said ad nauseam, the Nets are looking for diamonds in the rough and searching under every stone — McDaniels fills that role. Rather than resorting to the D-League for talent this time, Sean Marks and his staff used their cap space to acquire a player that has been overlooked for the majority of his career. Although he may be a bit older than the typical prospect, McDaniels is a late bloomer. He was not heavily recruited in college but blossomed in his three years at Clemson.

(Note: Trevor Booker and K.J. McDaniels are the only former Clemson Tigers in the NBA currently. They’re teammates now.)

In their scouting report of McDaniels, Draft Express said that he “has made more strides (in) the last two years than arguably any player in college basketball.” With such limited NBA time for McDaniels, we still may be watching him grow here as well.

This season, we’ve seen Nets players slowly get better, adding to their skill sets through trial and error. Atkinson is known for being a developmental savant, especially with athletic young players. Kent Bazemore and DeMarre Carroll were two Atlanta Hawks that improved their shooting and overall skills with Atkinson’s leading hand.

The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor singled out McDaniels as being a candidate for being “the next Kent Bazemore.” In his piece, O’Connor describes what he sees in McDaniels:

“McDaniels resembles a young Gerald Wallace: an elite athlete who throws down thunderous dunks, and grinds on defense. But, like Wallace, McDaniels doesn’t shoot well. That wasn’t much of an issue in his era, but if Wallace were in today’s league, he might be plastered to the bench like McDaniels is. But it’s too soon to give up on McDaniels after just two years in the league. He’s 23 years old, and just needs to learn how to shoot; the rest of his game already resembles an impact player.”

Gerald Wallace was another player that did not blossom into a solid role right away. Buried on the bench as a late first round prospect on a powerhouse Sacramento Kings team, Wallace did not receive a lot of minutes. He became a chaotic, but effective, force in Charlotte. His Nets tenure aside, Crash Wallace could be an ideal player for McDaniels to emulate in becoming a solid NBA player.

The addition of McDaniels to the Nets makes for potentially intriguing lineups. The Nets could go super-athletic in the middle of games, going with a Whitehead-LeVert-McDaniels-Hollis-Jefferson-Booker combo that may lack offensive pop, but may be a nightmare in transition and on the defensive end. The addition of a scrappy perimeter defender is welcome to the Nets, who have notoriously struggled with consistency on that side of the ball all season.

Even if McDaniels does not pan out with the Nets, the long-term price they paid for him was simply cap space and a roster spot. His upside and physical attributes make him an ideal candidate for Atkinson and the coaching staff to mold into a useful NBA player. If not, his acquisition did not risk Marks’ plans for the future.

In K.J. McDaniels, the Nets are hoping to convert an intriguing young player acquired at a bargain into a piece for the future.