The Houston Rockets have acquired rookie sensation K.J. McDaniels from the Philadelphia 76ers. Who is this guy? What's his story? How will he fit in?
Who is K.J. McDaniels?
K.J. McDaniels is a 6-6, 21-year-old rookie from Clemson. He's a high-flying, athletic wing whose bread and butter is perimeter defense. He averaged 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 25 minutes per game for the Sixers in the first half of the season.
Even as a rookie, McDaniels made a huge impression on 76ers fans because of his fierce competitiveness and highlight-reel potential. Jake Pavorsky, the managing editor of Liberty Ballers, told me Philadelphia fans are devastated at the loss of K.J.
"He was everything Philly fans could want: talented, passionate, and a hard worker," Pavorsky said in an email. "I've heard a handful of stories about him getting up several hundred shots after games. He's super dedicated to his craft. Seeing him in Houston just won't feel right."
The Clemson standout will immediately make some sort of impact on the Rockets, most likely on the defensive end. Worst case scenario: he doesn't fit into Morey's system at all and he's reduced to a defensive energy guy who gets the crowd going with jams like this...
And creative, awesome plays like this...
What's his game?
K.J. McDaniels is a super athletic, instinctive player with a 6'6 frame and a 6'11 wingspan. He's an excellent rebounder for a small forward and has a knack for throwing down acrobatic put-back slams. Defensively, he can shut down opposing twos and threes on the perimeter and can swat away shots from the weak-side.
Pavorsky has watched plenty of McDaniels this year and believes "Houston got an absolute steal."
"K.J. is a rare player. He's an excellent on ball defender, with great instincts. He can come across from weak side and block shots, or he'll chase them down from beyond and stop a layup. He is a walking highlight reel," Pavorsky said.
A flaw in McDaniels' game is clearly his outside shooting. The "Walking Highlight Reel" (not to be confused with Dominique Wilkins, the Human Highlight Reel) is shooting just 29 percent from behind the arc and 40 percent from the field.
"He's not the best of shooters, but he's shown progression throughout the year," Pavorsky said. "His handles aren't great -- he's super slow and methodical -- but he makes it work. You'll learn to love him."
Although he hasn't showed much offensively, he is still raw and can affect games defensively and on the glass. He fills up every category in the box score and is 12th in the league in block percentage.
What's his story?
McDaniels grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and attended Central Park Christian School. There, he averaged 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks per game while earning two NACA All-American honors. He was considered a three-star recruit by ESPN.
At Clemson, McDaniels led the Tigers in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals his senior year. Despite the major success in the ACC, he was drafted by the Sixers with the 32nd pick.
Instead of accepting the two-year rookie salary with team options in years three and four, McDaniels bet on himself and took a 1 year non-guaranteed deal. This way, he could get a bigger pay day after this season if he plays well enough. He becomes a restricted free agent in July.
What's up with his mom?
I'm sure K.J.'s mom is very happy that they're moving to Houston. It seemed like she really wanted out of Philadelphia. She publicly crushed the Sixers organization on Twitter in November and was livid when it came to their tanking strategy. Since then, Shawn Chapman has deleted her Twitter account and kept quiet for a while. For more on Mama McDaniels, click this link.
What to expect from K.J.
McDaniels played 25 minutes per game in Philly and that will likely be reduced. The Walking Highlight Reel will join the Headband Bros on the second team. He will play most of his minutes alongside Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, and Donatas Motiejunas.
That's a scary group that can really get up and down the court and should be excellent defensively. They'll heavily rely on D-Mo and Josh Smith in the half court, but McDaniels will thrive with Brewer on the fast break. Hopefully, with Brewer, Smith, and McDaniels running the break, we'll see a lot more of plays like this:
McHale will probably ease K.J. McDaniels in, but I expect him to eventually play around 15-20 minutes depending on the night. He will help Ariza limit his minutes and maybe we'll see some of the starting unit with Brewer or McDaniels.
The 6'6 swingman who has already drawn comparisons to Kawhi Leonard makes his Rockets debut tomorrow in Houston against the Toronto Raptors.