The draft-night slide of Philadelphia 76ers rookie K.J. McDaniels never made sense. Projected by some as a late-lottery pick at certain points leading up to June 26, the University of Clemson product inexplicably fell to the top of the second round before being quickly snatched up by Philly GM Sam Hinkie. A few months later and to no one’s great surprise, McDaniels is proving his draft slot wrong with flashes of dominant defensive potential during the preseason, and his latest one might be hist best: A huge, two-handed, chase-down block of the Brooklyn Nets’ Alan Anderson.
Okay, Rookie. We’ll need another look at that.
The thing about McDaniels is that he makes these plays seem relatively commonplace. Despite standing just 6-6, the human pogo-stick averaged an incredible 2.8 blocks per game in his final collegiate season and swatted at least four shots on a mind-boggling 10 occasions. That wholly unique defensive ability coupled with an offensive game clearly on the upswing should have made him a surefire first-rounder. Instead, the Sixers are already reaping the benefits of his slide.
Perhaps sensing success his rookie season, McDaniels took the unorthodox route of signing a one-year deal with Philadelphia that will push him to restricted free agency after 2014-2015. Obviously, the 21 year-old could be in for a big payday if his impact defensive playmaking translates to the regular season: McDaniels is averaging two blocks and one steal per game during the exhibition slate despite playing only 22.3 minutes a night.
Is he without flaws? Of course not. After only emerging as a star last season and playing power forward for the entirety of his college career, McDaniels has a long way to go offensively. But at the very least, it’s easy to imagine him developing into a proficient three-point shooter given time. And in the modern NBA, few role players are more valuable than those that can knock down open shots and offer elite defense while checking multiple positions.
McDaniels doesn’t fit that bill yet, but we’ve a sense it becomes clear this season that he’s destined for such a profile. The bidding war for his services come summer will make that even more obvious than highlight-reel plays like this one.
(Video via NBA)
Was McDaniels the steal of the draft?
Follow Jack on Twitter at @ArmstrongWinter.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.