Many Rockets players didn't live up to our hopes for them this season. K.J. McDaniels wasn't the only one. But he was indeed part of that group.
The expectation for McDaniels was that he would begin to earn some decent time this season as an athletic, three-and-D player on the wing, using his size and effort to bother opponents, and also improving on his offensive capabilities just enough to snag minutes as a reserve swingman.
Even back before the season started, when everyone had this Rockets squad pegged for 50-plus wins and another trip to the Western Conference Finals, it was obvious Houston could use an injection of youth and energy into it's rotation, and McDaniels looked like he fit the part. And he still may. The guy only just finished his second NBA season, there is time. But it didn't happen this year.
McDaniels did admittedly suffer from a lack of opportunity. With the Rockets struggling to defend anyone this season in finishing 20th in the NBA in defensive rating (105.6), and many of their problems defending coming from the backcourt (Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer all regressed defensively), it seemed like a ripe situation for a young player to earn some court time.
But unfortunately for McDaniels, Kevin McHale's firing was the worst thing that could have happened to him. Interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff often failed to play McDaniels when others were struggling, with K.J. averaging just 6.4 minutes per game on the year.
We've talked about this before, but it bears repeating that with Bickerstaff coaching for his job and his resume, he likely felt more comfortable living and dying with his veterans over the young guys, which relegated K.J. to mostly mop-up duty.
To be fair, McDaniels didn't exactly give Bickerstaff a plethora of reasons to extend his minutes. K.J. did play in 37 games this year, and his per 36 averages of 13.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, and 1.1 steals look perfectly respectable. That is, until you take a closer look at his percentages and his analytics.
K.J. shot just 40.3 percent from the field on the year, and knocked down only 28.0 percent of his three-point attempts. He finished with a negative offensive plus-minus (-3.1), a negative defensive plus-minus (-1.9), was a negative value over replacement player (-0.2), finished with 0.2 win shares (meaning he barely made an impact) and racked up a +2.2 differential percentage (guys shot better against K.J. than against the rest of the league).
Bickerstaff did loosen the reigns a bit down the stretch, with McDaniels seeing action in 17 of the Rockets' last 19 games, in which he scored double-digit points for the only four times all season. But even with the increased opportunity, he never played more than 17 minutes in any game.
Barring trade, McDaniels will likely be back in Houston next season, as he's signed through 2018 at $3.3 million per year, so hopefully whoever the new head coach will be can find not only better ways to use McDaniels, but also ways to get the best out of him.
He may have been under-utilized this year, but he also failed to help his own cause on many occasions. The Rockets need his hustle and his fire, so it's imperative that the young man improves the other aspects of his game.
It's true that K.J. McDaniels needed more playing time this season. But it's also true he failed to make the most of what opportunities he did have.