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Preseason Player Profiles: Jaden McDaniels

Can the hometown hero live up to lofty expectations?

High School Basketball: McDonald’s High School All American Portrait Day Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Jaden McDaniels; Freshman; Federal Way, Washington

6’9, 200 lbs. Class of 2019: 5 stars, #8 overall (247 Composite)

Nike EYBL Stats: 18.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 48.3% FG, 29.4% 3pt, 70.8% FT

Since the beginning of the Lorenzo Romar era the mantra around the Washington Huskies program has been that if you can just hold onto the elite Seattle area talent then you will have a consistent NCAA tournament program. That both is and isn’t true. There are down periods that require heavy infusions of talent from elsewhere. But when you have a guy like Jaden McDaniels then you need to take advantage. And mark this one down in the win column for Mike Hopkins beating out Kentucky and John Calipari for the stud from Federal Way.

McDaniels was a lanky late bloomer who burst onto the national scene the spring of his junior year and had a rapid ascension from barely in the top-100 to the top-5 of most recruiting rankings. He slightly underwhelmed in his senior season at Federal Way which caused a drop towards the back half of the top-10 for most. Still, McDaniels is viewed to have nearly limitless potential and is expected to be in the conversation for the top pick in next year’s draft. Let’s dig into why.

Offensive Game

Offensive versatility is the name of the game for Jaden McDaniels. There are definitely areas of his play which need improvement but I think in general it’s fair to say that he is at least average across the board. McDaniels has the handle of a player 6 inches shorter, the ability to make difficult passes, and is a good enough shooter to make that part of his game a threat.

I’m excited to see what McDaniels is able to do shooting the ball when he isn’t relied upon to be the primary offensive option. When you look at Jaden’s highlight reels they show him making a lot of really difficult shots. He has that Dirk Nowitzki one-footed fade away baseline jumper in his arsenal. With his combination of length and quickness, he’s capable of hitting those turn around midrange style shots at a higher rate than the vast majority of players. But they’re generally much less efficient than the shots his teammates can make in the flow of the offense. I’m curious to see if his efficiency improves with high level offensive talent surrounding him.

The recruiting rankings list McDaniels as a power forward and that’s pretty much the default for a player who is 6’9. But Jaden has stated and his game backs it up that he’s more effective when deployed as a very tall shooting guard or small forward. If you put a taller defender on McDaniels then he’ll almost certainly have an advantage taking that guy off the dribble. Once near the rim Jaden loves to use his length and athleticism to aggressively slam it home.

Put a smaller defender on him and McDaniels will be able to pull up and shoot over him. His mere presence provides a mismatch as 99% of teams won’t have the personnel to match up effectively against him.

Defensive Game

The biggest concern for Jaden’s game was on the defensive side of the ball. At 6’9 and 185 pounds coming out of high school there was justifiable worry that those mismatches he creates when he has the ball would be punished on the other end if forced to defend a strong college power forward.

That risk was first mitigated by Jaden committing to Washington’s zone defense where his length and athleticism are much more important than raw strength. And luckily Jaden has been putting in some serious time in the weight room for the times when that strength is necessary such as when going after defensive rebounds. He’s up 15 pounds over his listed weight as a senior and he looks noticeably more filled out in recent photos.

The only time I’ve gotten to watch Jaden live in person was during the Crawsover this summer which isn’t a forum especially well known for its defense. But McDaniels guarded Noah Dickerson for several possessions and I was impressed by his agility to stay in front and not allow Noah to get his body into him to bully him near the basket. All of the true freshmen will struggle at times while adjusting to the zone but I have a hard time seeing a scenario where Jaden is any worse than average on this end of the floor.

Expectations for 2019-20

Jaden McDaniels was named to the preseason Pac-12 1st team which means the expectations are that he’s going to live up to his 5-star ranking and immediately be one of the best players in the conference. That is absolutely possible and perhaps even likely. As you’ll see below this, my projections for Jaden don’t quite live up to that level.

There are three main reasons. The first is just the uncertainty that comes with me not getting to see how he fits with the team because of his absence during the Italy tour. The second is that despite putting on extra weight I could see there being times where Jaden struggles with fouls and therefore has his minutes cut into a little bit. And lastly, this is just a really deep Washington squad and it’s going to be tough for Hop to figure out his rotation. I was overly conservative setting my projections for Jaylen Nowell and maybe that tendency makes me look foolish again this year.

If you were setting a Vegas over/under line on the projections I have for Jaden then the smart money would be on the over. I’m confident that Isaiah Stewart is going to be a heavily featured part of the offense. Whether Jaden surpasses the numbers below though depends on whether he or Naz Carter will be the go-to 2nd scoring option. Right this second I’m giving the edge to Carter. But regardless I’m excited to see how this team looks with the addition of a cheat code type player like McDaniels.

Per Game Projections: 24 minutes, 12.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 50.0% FG, 34.4% 3pt, 65% FT

Check out our previous player profiles for: Hameir Wright, Nate Roberts, Bryan Penn-Johnson, Sam Timmins, and Isaiah Stewart.