K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson
The Clemson Tigers had their best season yet with head coach Brad Brownell at the helm, finishing with a 23-13 record and bowing out in the NIT semifinals to a talented, well-coached SMU team that probably could have been in the NCAA tournament field. K.J. McDaniels had a lot to do with said success.
It doesn't take watching more than one Clemson game from the 2013-14 season to figure out that McDaniels was the engine, wheels, battery, steering, and everything else for this Clemson team. He quite literally did everything, leading the team in minutes played, points, rebounds, blocks, and steals as the starting small forward.
Although McDaniels doing everything for the Tigers is impressive, his high usage% of 29.1 also resulted in some of his efficiency stats trending the wrong direction, which is something you have to take into account when evaluating him.
Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference
For the most part, McDaniels' stats improved over the course of his three year collegiate career. When called upon to be "the man" during the 2013-14 season, a substantial points per game bump occurred. With limited talent around him, McDaniels had to create for himself and others. The first part of that equation came naturally. He is a born slasher that knows how to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, and his explosive first step frequently helps him beat his defender off the dribble. He's not the greatest ball-handler and he will need to develop more moves on the drive to be a great slasher in the NBA, but his crazy athleticism makes it a safer bet that this skill will translate well to the next level. He also gets to the free throw line at a good rate, drawing frequent contact on his drives to the rim. The Grizzlies lack guys that can create their own offense with regularity, and McDaniels would fit the bill perfectly to help fill that need.
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When guys are called upon to shoulder more of the load than they are accustomed to, their efficiency often falters. It speaks well for McDaniels that he actually got more efficient in many categories as his usage% increased. From the 2012-13 season to the 2013-14 season, McDaniels' usage% went from 23.8 to 29.1. With that large jump, his per skyrocketed as well from 21.6 to 28.4. Additionally, his true shooting percentage improved from 52.5% to 56.6%.
The one efficiency stat of his that brings pause is shooting percentage from behind the three-point line. It decreased from 33.3% in 2012-13 to 30.4% in 2013-14. McDaniels moves well off the ball to set himself up for spot-up threes, but a lot of that movement was rendered useless by his teammates at Clemson that couldn't space the floor properly because they posed no threat beyond the perimeter. As a team, the Tigers shot a meager 31% from deep this last season, bad enough to rank them 317th in the NCAA in that category.
Put McDaniels on a team that spaces the floor beautifully by employing a four-out style like Creighton, and his three-point percentage likely immediately goes up. Also, imagine how much more space he would've had to drive on a team like Creighton. McDaniels, an already great slasher, would become increasingly difficult to contain with so many open driving lanes available.
The Grizzlies, a team that would benefit greatly from more shooting, would hope McDaniels percentage would rise closer to 40% rather than remaining around 30% if they drafted him. While it is far from a guarantee that McDaniels will improve his shooting from deep, he does have good form and a smooth, quick release. The mechanics are there, and maybe he just needs the aforementioned proper spacing to thrive as a perimeter shooter.
Offense is more than just half-court obviously, particularly in the up-and-down NBA. McDaniels excels in transition, filling the proper lane, catching lobs, and generally finishing off chances with ease. It's no mystery that Joerger would like to mold his team into one that works at a faster pace, and McDaniels would be a great piece to allow Joerger to begin shifting that direction offensively.
Possibly McDaniels' biggest weakness on offense is his ability, or lack thereof, to create for others. In his three college seasons, he never had a positive assist/turnover ratio, and his turnovers trended in the wrong direction when his usage% increased. Too much shouldn't be made of his lack of passing ability though, as he won't be called upon to be any NBA team's primary ball-handler. If he lands in Memphis, the starting lineup already contains two excellent passers in Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, so McDaniels could be slotted in at small forward without needing to worry about him dropping dimes. He can simply afford to be an average passer. No matter what, he must learn to make better decisions with the ball to lower his turnover rate. Sometimes, McDaniels forced things with the ball in his hands in his final season as a Tiger. He needs to learn to just make the easy play.
At 6'6, 195 with a 6'9 wingspan, McDaniels does not have the prototypical measurables of an NBA small forward. This might be a concern, especially defensively, if his athleticism didn't allow him to play much bigger than he actually is. He has uncanny timing when defending shots that allows him to rack up blocks. It helps that he can jump through the roof, too. His exceptional lateral quickness will help him stay in front of even the quickest small forwards in the NBA, while his athleticism and leaping ability will allow him to guard most bigger small forwards and even slide over and cover some power forwards without worrying about them shooting over him. His ability to guard multiple positions (1-4) makes him incredibly valuable to any team, especially in today's NBA with teams trying to either play small ball or go big with increasing frequency. As a guy that profiles as a really good, potential lockdown defender in the NBA, he would fit right in with the boys in Beale Street blue.
One more thing McDaniels' athleticism allows him to do is rebound at a really high rate for a small forward. Obviously, the more defensive rebounds a team can grab means less chances for the opponent to score. McDaniels has a great feel for how the ball is going to carom off the rim, and his great instincts allow him to grab boards that he simply shouldn't have any business grabbing.
McDaniels is a very intriguing prospect that could be there when the Grizzlies pick rolls around. He's already worked out for the team, and although that should be taken with a grain of salt, it doesn't mean nothing. He possesses a lot of tools that should translate well to the next level, such as the ability to create for himself, defense, rebounding, and other skills that can't be measured such as excellent off-ball movement.
The Grizzlies need a new starting small forward in a bad way, but that level of NBA-readiness is difficult to find in a rookie. Worst case scenario, McDaniels comes off the bench for a couple seasons before being inserted into the starting five. He could be a high energy guy off the bench that stuffs the stats sheet by doing a little bit of everything. He might not project as a player that will ever be an NBA all-star, but in the right situation, he will have a chance to be a very good two-way player in the NBA for a really long time.