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Commitment Analysis: 5-Star Jaden McDaniels

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What does this news mean for next year’s Husky team and beyond?

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

Now that the Huskies have secured a commitment from Jaden McDaniels they are likely done with their 2019 recruiting class. The Huskies currently have 12 of their 13 available scholarships spoken for. It’s still possible that Lynden 4-star SG/SF Cole Bajema could ask out of his LOI with head coach John Beilein leaving Michigan for the NBA and come to UW instead (where his sister plays volleyball). We’ll see what happens on that front once Michigan hires a new coach in the coming days (ex-Wolverine and Fab Five member Juwan Howard appears to be the favorite) but for now I’m assuming that we leave the 13th and final scholarship spot either open or reserved for a transfer.

McDaniels is of course an assumed one-and-done prospect. He finished 8th overall in the 247 Sports composite rankings. Since 2012 there have been 60 top-8 prospects to end up at a power conference school. 45 (or 75%) of them left for the NBA after their freshman season. But many of those were players that would certainly be better college players due to either a lack of ideal NBA athleticism or height. That number leaving for the NBA Draft increases to 87.5% if you just look at top-5 overall prospects which McDaniels was viewed at consistently from August to March.

Most analysts expect that McDaniels will end up a better pro than a college player because he needs to fill out his frame and improve his shooting but otherwise has all the tools. It’s always preferred when a player stays for multiple seasons but with Sam Timmins as the only senior on the roster, having two supposed one-and-dones in Stewart and McDaniels means there’s room for a loaded 2020 class as well.

Here’s a run down of the potential depth chart. Don’t get too bent out of shape about positional designations. The 1/2 and 3/4 spots are essentially identical on defense in the zone while the 2/3/4 spots are often interchangeable on offense depending on who is playing them. Jamal Bey and Naz Carter could both be 2’s or 3’s while McDaniels could be a 3 or a 4 etc, depending on who they’re sharing the court with at the time.

PG: Quade Green*, Elijah Hardy, Marcus Tsohonis

SG: Jamal Bey, RaeQuan Battle

SF: Nahziah Carter

PF: Jaden McDaniels, Hameir Wright, Nate Roberts

C: Isaiah Stewart, Bryan Penn-Johnson, Sam Timmins

*Green is currently not set to become eligible until the start of winter quarter.

The addition of McDaniels increases the possibility that this team can become a defensive juggernaut despite the loss of National Defensive Player of the Year Matisse Thybulle. In addition to Thybulle the Huskies also lost Jaylen Nowell, Dominic Green, David Crisp, and Noah Dickerson. Judging individual defensive performance in a zone is tougher than for man-to-man but I think few would say that any of those other players were a true plus on that end of the floor. At least slight defensive upgrades everywhere else on the floor might be able to make up for the loss of Matisse, transcendent as he was.

It’s true that the best zones are usually those that have experience playing together and so know how to react in a given situation instinctively. But there’s something to be said for pure physical talent as well. Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels each averaged nearly double digit rebounds on the Nike EYBL last season which should help UW improve from one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country to merely below average (it’s essentially impossible to be a legitimately good defensive rebounding team playing exclusively in a zone). Stewart’s arms are at least 6 inches longer than Noah Dickerson’s at the center spot. They’re also longer than Hameir Wright while Stewart is much stronger meaning he should be an upgrade at center over Wright as well. And Wright was extremely effective in that spot despite his wiry frame.

If the Huskies are in need of a stop late in the game I could see Washington rolling with a forward/center combination of Stewart, McDaniels, and Wright which would challenge opponents with 6’11, 7’2, and 7’4 wingspans. Good luck driving to the rim against that. Especially with 6’6 Naz Carter and/or Jamal Bey up top. This is the kind of elite size that Syracuse has been known for and which generally only the cream of the crop are able to assemble.

And all that without even mentioning Bryan Penn-Johnson and Nate Roberts who each have a 7’4+ wingspan or Sam Timmins who will be a senior at the center position. Depending on how each of those players develops it could mean that we see more of those “jumbo” lineups with either Isaiah Stewart or Hameir Wright nominally at the 4 and McDaniels at the 3 in order to facilitate playing time for BPJ/Roberts/Timmins at center.

The question is how will such a jumbo lineup look on offense? A big reason why McDaniels was so coveted was because his playmaking ability is that of a 6’4-6’6 player except in the body of a 6’10 one. That gives you the flexibility to go big on defense without sacrificing much on the offensive end. Jaden is the offensive player this past year’s team desperately wanted Hameir Wright to be. McDaniels can take the ball up the floor without getting it stolen (a nice change) and then can find an open shooter in transition or use his length to go around defenders when he drives to the rim.

The model for success with next year’s team will unfortunately likely come from copying Oregon’s Sweet 16 squad (shudder). The Ducks made their late season surge by surrounding PG Payton Pritchard with four athletic 6’9 players, 2 of whom could shoot to space the floor on offense and 2 of whom could catch lob dunks or post-up/cut while running a zone.

A lineup with Quade Green, Naz Carter, McDaniels, Wright, and Stewart has enough shooting to keep the floor reasonably spaced while putting out enough size to guarantee at least one mismatch somewhere on the floor. If Wright shoots like he did over the final 15 games then all 5 of those players are capable of shooting at least 30% from 3-pt range. Spreading the floor and then either having Stewart working his man down low or Jaden McDaniels guarded by a 6’5 SF in the post sounds like a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Pritchard put up 16.3 points and 5.4 assists per game with a 2.5:1 A to TO ratio during Oregon’s 10-game winning streak. If newcomer Quade Green could put up 80% of those numbers with the scoring potential of Carter, McDaniels, and Stewart then there’s a chance that next year’s team can be just as good on offense even without Nowell, Crisp, and Dickerson.

Despite the addition of a pair of 5-star players (plus fringe former 5-star Quade Green) question marks still abound. That’s natural when you’re replacing 5 of your top 6 scorers. But the Dawgs are in really good shape considering the primary replacements for those 5 players are going to have played only a combined 150 minutes for the Huskies in the regular season last year.

Since 2012 there have been 12 other teams to have a pair of top-10 ranked freshmen on the same team. The count by school: Duke (4), Kentucky (4), Kansas (1), Arizona (1), UCLA (1), and California (1). It’s not surprising but every single one of those teams made the NCAA tournament. There were #1 seeds (3), #2 seeds (4), #4 seeds (2), #6 seeds (2), and a #8 seed (1). All but one of those teams made it out of the first round with the lone exception being the Cal team which was without one of those 5-star players, eventual #3 overall pick Jaylen Brown, after he suffered a hand injury just before the tournament started. And the #8 seed was 2014 Kentucky who still went on to make the National Title game. Needless to say that the bar for next season just got raised substantially.

There’s plenty of time to go deeper into the numbers later in the offseason. But the average player with Isaiah Stewart, Jaden McDaniels, and Quade Green’s recruiting resume and experience more than replaces the loss of Jaylen Nowell, David Crisp, and Noah Dickerson. They might not be 1 to 1 replacements but the data says it’s reasonable to expect them to come in and not skip much of a beat. If you can combine that with expected leaps from Naz Carter, Jamal Bey, and Hameir Wright then you have the recipe for a team that is once again squarely in the NCAA tournament and has a real chance to do some damage when they get there.

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