We are now just about a week and a half away from Thanksgiving which as we all know means it’s time for the NBA Draft! Wait, that doesn’t sound right. Normally of course we would be many months past the draft but this is 2020 so at least we’re getting it eventually (5p PT on Wednesday, 11/18).
The Washington Huskies, despite finishing with the worst conference record in the Pac-12, have a pair of players expected to be drafted this year and we’ll be diving into profiles of each of them. If your favorite team just selected one of them a few days from now then welcome and read on.
Jaden McDaniels, Forward, 6’9, 200 lbs
2019-20 Stats: 31 games, 13.0 ppg, 2.1 apg, 5.8 rpg, 40.5% FG, 33.9% 3pt, 76.3% FT
Jaden McDaniels was always thought of as a bit of an enigma. He entered the AAU circuit in his junior year at Federal Way High School as a fringe top-100 pick. The lanky forward clearly had a raw and intriguing skillset but hadn’t quite put things together on the national stage. But a breakout summer for Seattle Rotary resulted in a rapid ascent to 5-star status and considerable buzz that he was a future #1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. McDaniels had a strong senior year averaging 23 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks per game but some struggles in out of state contests against elite competition kept him in the bottom half of most recruiting analysts’ top-ten.
McDaniels seemed content to take his time making a college decision as the start of the late signing period came and went without Jaden making a pledge. It seemingly came down to Kentucky and Washington with the Wildcats rumored to have won out before the Huskies came back to secure his signature. McDaniels’ aloof nature on the court combined with his apathetic approach to his recruitment raised eyebrows for many.
It was also an up and down season once Jaden got to campus. An eligibility check caused him to miss the team’s summer trip to Italy but he suited up in their first game against eventual #1 overall team Baylor. Jaden shined in the upset with 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks as well as a nifty kick out assist leading to the game tying 3-pointer in the final minute. It might also have been his best game as a Husky. Turnovers and inconsistency plagued Jaden’s season and following a narrow loss to Utah in which a late technical foul was the difference in a 1-point loss, Coach Hopkins benched Jaden and moved him into a 6th man role.
Still, McDaniels finished as the team’s 2nd leading scorer as well as 2nd in minutes per game even when coming off the bench in the back end of the season. Washington though massively underachieved lofty preseason expectations and finished 4-13 after starting PG Quade Green was ruled academically ineligible.
The biggest reason why McDaniels was once thought of as a contender for the 1st overall pick was his scoring ability to go along with his 6’9 height and plus athleticism. Comparisons were made (absurd though they were) to Kevin Durant since Jaden flashed an all-around offensive game in a long, lanky frame. While that ceiling was never remotely fair, there’s still plenty to work with.
Jaden shot 46% on unguarded catch and shoot opportunities and 33.9% overall from deep so he clearly is a plus shooter for your average 6’9 player. Free throw shooting is often more of an indicator of long-term NBA success as a shooter and Jaden was extremely reliable making over 3 of every 4 attempts from the line.
His length allows him to get off a shot against almost any defender and his quickness means he is also capable of getting an off the dribble shot off at any time. McDaniels also showed a penchant for getting his man in the air and jumping into him to draw the shooting foul. That’s a move not very common in college and should be effective considering there’s no way for most opposing forwards to contest without a wild close out.
Jaden was particularly devastating pulling up going towards his left as he was a lights out shooter in essentially all of those zones and clearly favored that side of the court.
The Washington Huskies run the 2-3 zone defense that Coach Mike Hopkins brought with him from many years at Syracuse. That can make it difficult to assess McDaniels’ prowess on the defensive end of the floor. However, the results are mostly promising. There were numerous times where McDaniels showed he has the lateral agility to guard on the perimeter and move his feet to cut off drives from much shorter players. There aren’t many concerns about Jaden being able to guard in space if he’s playing the 3 or maybe even the 2 on the offensive end.
The biggest roles for Jaden’s spot in the zone were cutting off passes to the corner and providing weakside rebounding/shot blocking assistance. McDaniels had a 6.2% block percentage in Pac-12 play which was 5th in the conference and a defensive rebounding rate of 17.3% which was 14th. Considering that he will continue to put on muscle as he develops it bodes well that he held his own in those regards.
And yet most Husky fans will likely remember Jaden’s time at Washington for the elements in this section. Let’s start with the on-court issues. The biggest issues with McDaniels’ game stemmed from a seeming lack of basketball IQ. His shot selection was questionable at nearly all times. Jaden’s favorite shot was a pull-up long 2, a shot that has been completely excised from most NBA offenses. He made those shots at a decent clip considering the range but they were still extremely inefficient options. The average McDaniels shot had an expected value of 0.937 points which was the 3rd worst on the team behind the 2 primary point guards.
Turnovers also plagued McDaniels. He finished with 4+ turnovers in 12 of the 31 games he played in and never went a full game with at least one giveaway. Jaden occasionally pulled off a highlight reel pass but too often he drove into traffic with no apparent plan. His handle is good for a 6’9 player but still not where it needs to be to succeed in the NBA. The dribble is too high and opposing defenders often were able to swipe the ball away from him if he ventured into traffic. Body control was also an issue as Jaden was prone to charges. The combination of poor shot selection and turnovers resulted in Jaden scoring just 0.828 points per possession which ranked in the 40th percentile nationally.
It should have been obvious just seeing the height/weight combo of 6’9, 200 lbs but McDaniels absolutely has to add some muscle to his frame. Even if it results in him sacrificing some speed/agility there’s no way he will hold up in the NBA at that size. Coming into Washington it seemed that Jaden would be an auto-mismatch given his length and skillset. Bigger guys wouldn’t be able to keep up with him off the dribble and smaller guys he could post-up and/or shoot over. Instead Jaden often played like he was 6’3 and mightily struggled to finish through contact or even attempt to do so. He displayed very few post moves and any body between him and the basket was enough to discourage continuing a drive to the rim.
Perhaps the biggest red light though was McDaniels’ seeming antics on the court. Jaden led the Pac-12 in technical fouls and it wasn’t really close. For a team that lost close game after close game there are multiple outcomes that were decided by McDaniels’ immaturity. Perhaps the low point was Jaden already sitting on the bench and hitting a ref that wasn’t looking with the ball with too much velocity to be considered a full accident. More common was McDaniels making a highlight dunk or block and following it up with a taunt resulting in a technical. Many of the actions might not have been called for the average player but he quickly built a reputation and the refs acted accordingly.
It was clear that Coach Hopkins couldn’t fully control Jaden and taking away his starting role made only a slight difference in his play. From a fan perspective it didn’t help that Jaden almost never smiled and his generic game face appeared to be somewhat of a pout. It’s not exactly a fair criticism but certainly didn’t help. You can be sure that NBA executives will want to talk to the coaches surrounding the Husky program to get a better sense for the behind the scenes of Jaden’s one season in Seattle. Hopkins always had McDaniels’ back in interviews and portrayed him as a young kid who sometimes cared too much, resulting in many of the mistakes.
Expectations/Fit in the NBA
There’s no question that McDaniels has the potential to turn things around and become an extremely productive NBA player. If he ends up with the right organization then there’s no question he has an all-star level ceiling. I comped McDaniels to Brandon Ingram coming into college and it’s clear that Jaden fell off the pace to become that type of player. However, with time and the right development plan that is the kind of guy he could become.
However, it always scares me when a player displays this many red flags in a single year in college. If Jaden goes to a perennial bottom feeder that doesn’t have a winning culture in place then it isn’t difficult to imagine a future where he never develops the ability to sacrifice shots for the team to succeed. Recent late 1st round picks from the Huskies like Tony Wroten and Dejounte Murray showcased this dichotomy. Wroten flamed out with the Grizzlies while Murray went to the Spurs and quickly took advantage of his physical gifts.
Most people have McDaniels pegged for the mid-20’s but it wouldn’t shock me to see him go a little earlier than that. The raw upside that had people thinking #1 overall pick just 2 years ago is still there and in a draft without star power at the top there will be some team willing to talk themselves into their ability to develop Jaden. Oklahoma City at #25 has been the popular place for Jaden but I’ll guess he goes a little earlier than that.
Draft Projection: 18th overall to the Dallas Mavericks