K.J. McDaniels is the embodiment of the American Dream. Coming out after three years at Clemson as a high-flying, shot-blocking wing, McDaniels refused the standard team-friendly rookie deal that the Philadelphia 76ers offered him and instead signed his required tender – a one-year, non-guaranteed contract at the rookie minimum. The concept would be that McDaniels would forgo the traditional three- or four-year deal near the minimum that most second-round picks sign and become a restricted free agent before his second year in the league, allowing him to make far more money. If things broke right. He bet on himself, trying to make millions through sheer will, effort, and 10,000-inch vertical (or something).
However, McDaniels was one of many players whose value may have been inflated over the course of The Process in Philadelphia – Michael Carter-Williams also comes to mind – and he was traded during his rookie year to Houston for Isaiah Canaan and a second round draft pick. While he seemingly scored, rebounded, and defended well in Philadelphia, McDaniels quickly fell out of the rotation in Houston. He still signed a 3 year, $10-million contract (effectively winning the bet he placed on himself) that summer, but McDaniels never contributed in Houston. Last year, he was traded to Brooklyn.
While hope was once high for a young McDaniels to become a high-flying sensation, the onus is now on the 24-year-old to prove that he belongs in the NBA. From an un-hyped freshman in college to a highlight star in his rookie year (potentially with the dunk of the year in his self-assisted Kobe dunk) to a partial-guarantee camp-deal vet in just his fourth year in the league, McDaniels has truly followed the rags to riches to rags path.
I don’t usually like to post unadulterated highlight videos just to beef up a piece, but it’s worth including one here just to show how Philadelphia was so easily able to boost the value of the athletic guard:
But is McDaniels anything more than an athlete? Over the course of his young journeyman career, he has had a somewhat high usage rate for a role player, hovering around 19 percent (20 percent is average). He’s a poor passer who’s turned the ball over on more than twice as many possessions as he’s created assists on. And despite a willingness to shoot and a reputation as a potential 3-and-D player, McDaniels has never topped 30.3 percent on 3-point attempts over the course of a full season. He shot just 31.3 percent on threes in college, too, and he’s only ever really had a sustained hot streak during a 16-game G-League stint in 2015-16 (35.3 percent on 85 attempts).
Here is a shot chart for McDaniels from his only high-minute season, his rookie year:
That’s a lot of blue for a so-called shooter and finisher, even if it’s only 150 3-point attempts and fewer than 300 inside the arc. He has shown an ability to get to the free-throw line, at least, with a 29.8-percent free-throw rate, but that’s only been enough to reach league average in true-shooting percentage once. (He also improved notably as a finisher at the rim last year, which helps, and hopefully suggests improvement in that area despite a small sample).
On the other side of the court, his defense has been based more on flash and highlights than consistent effort or smarts. As Blake pointed out last week, McDaniels does own the highest block percentage ever for someone 6-foot-6 or under, it just hasn’t resulted in much of a consistent impact. There’s still a lot to prove there.
At this point in his career, expecting McDaniels to be anything more than a garbage time sensation is probably a bit too much, if he even cracks the squad. Athletic players sometimes are able to put it together later in their careers to become meaningful players, but McDaniels has never shown anything more in his game than highlights, at least on a consistent basis. Until we see him on the floor in the preseason, it’s a bit of a leap to just believe that will have changed in a Raptors uniform.
The Raptors haven’t lost anything by adding him to the training camp roster, and he will be given a fair shot to compete for a roster position. It makes sense as a tryout flier. However, it is unlikely McDaniels will agree to play for the 905 (he can reject an assignment and would probably try to sign elsewhere or overseas if waived). He is in a Raptor-or-bust position. Perhaps his game has changed enough that he can offer a few valuable minutes if injuries strike DeMar DeRozan or Norman Powell. McDaniels should only serve to make more fun the last few minutes of blowout games, which is, in a way, the modern American Dream.