I’ll forgive Husky fans for holding off briefly on celebrating given that the last time the Huskies beat Kentucky in a head-to-head battle for a Northwest 5-star prospect, Terrence Jones, the victory was short lived. But Federal Way’s Jaden McDaniels announced today via Instagram and Twitter that he has committed to the University of Washington. The Huskies move up to 10th in 247 Sports’ team recruiting rankings with his addition to 5-star PF Isaiah Stewart, 4-star SG RaeQuan Battle, and 3-star PG Marcus Tsohonis in the 2019 class.
McDaniels soared up the recruiting rankings last spring and summer when he was one of the most dominant players on the Nike EYBL circuit averaging nearly a 20/10 for Seattle Rotary. He went from a fringe top-100 overall player to consensus top-5 in the class and viewed as a potential future #1 overall NBA Draft pick. Jaden went on to average 23.3 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks at Federal Way as a senior. However, he had a relatively lackluster showing on the postseason All-Star circuit which caused 247 to drop him to just 13th in their final rankings and 8th overall in the composite.
Jaden has been known as one of the most unique prospects in a long time off the court because of his seemingly complete lack of interest in where he’d be playing basketball after graduating from high school. That apathy combined with a tight lipped inner circle made it nearly impossible for recruiting analysts to determine where McDaniels was leaning after naming a Final 5 of Washington, Kentucky, San Diego State, UCLA, and Texas in the fall. He almost never talked with the media or posted on social media and rarely said anything more than platitudes when he did. But it eventually became apparent that the battle for McDaniels was down to just Washington and Kentucky.
The last few months provided numerous happenings that seemingly improved Washington’s chances of landing Jaden. Fellow 5-star and UW commit Isaiah Stewart played with McDaniels multiple times in All-Star games while trying to recruit him to Washington. Jaylen Nowell’s decision to remain in the NBA Draft opened up plenty of shot attempts at Washington without a lot of bodies remaining on the wing. Those were added to the previous advantages UW held of being the local school and having two other members of his AAU team in the recruiting class (Marcus Tsohonis and RaeQuan Battle).
Conversely, the Wildcats lost players to the NBA as well but have 4 other high 4 or 5-star small forwards coming in with their recruiting class (which is Jaden’s preferred position) as well as a stretch 4 grad transfer.
Still, everything looked bleak within the last 2 weeks when the primary national recruiting analysts all changed their crystal ball picks to Kentucky. They expected an imminent commitment to UK over that weekend but when that deadline came and went it became clear that Washington had re-gained the upper hand and as the week progressed more and more leaks emerged that it was a done deal. Despite yet another weekend without a commitment, McDaniels went public with the decision on Tuesday night.
Expectations should be somewhat tempered for McDaniels despite a substantial amount of hype. The highlight video at the end of the article calls Jaden the Kevin Durant of HS basketball in the title. He is not the next Kevin Durant. And before you say anything, It’s not a slight against Jaden to say that he’s not going to be one of the 10 best if not the 5 best players of all-time. Durant coming out of high school was about the same height but had an extra 10-15 pounds on McDaniels and had a 6-inch longer wingspan. He was also an otherworldly one of a kind scorer.
A better comp for Jaden might be a worse shooting version of Brandon Ingram who was also compared to Durant at this stage in his development and ended up averaging 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds in his one season at Duke. That rebounding figure seems reasonable but I think Jaden’s scoring is more likely to end up in the 13-15 points per game range. There are people out there who think Jaden could be a potential #1 overall draft pick but everyone agrees that fellow 5-star UW freshman Isaiah Stewart is a much more college ready player even if McDaniels winds up getting drafted more highly.
There’s reason to think that playing in Washington’s zone could be quite helpful for McDaniels’ productivity though. Jaden’s biggest weakness at this point is his wiry frame, as he is essentially the same weight as David Crisp despite being almost a foot taller. Every team in the country would love to use McDaniels as a stretch 4 on offense so they don’t have to give up height in order to space the floor better. The problem is that if McDaniels has to guard a Noah Dickerson type traditional power forward he’ll get bullied on the defensive end and likely end up in a lot of foul trouble. But in the zone, McDaniels will just have to worry about using his length to stop corner 3 attempts and provide weakside rebounding/shot blocking help if someone is able to drive to the rim.
McDaniels should fit in fairly seamlessly on the offensive end of the floor. He’s not an elite shooter by any stretch but he should be able to shoot at least as well if not better from 3-pt range than the ~30% that Matisse Thybulle and Naz Carter shot last year. He’s not a point guard but McDaniels can create off the dribble and replace some of the shot creation the team lost when Jaylen Nowell declared for the NBA draft. If you get McDaniels the ball late in the shot clock he has the skills/size to get off a decent look against almost any defender. He provides the flexibility to play either at the 3 in a jumbo/defensive-oriented lineup or as an extra wing at the 4 spot in order to give Isaiah Stewart space to dominate inside.
Check out our analysis piece for more details on how McDaniels fits in and what this means for the expectations for next year’s team.
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