The 2020 NBA Draft is nearly a month away, and that means the San Antonio Spurs are right around the corner from making their first lottery selection since they took Tim Duncan out of Wake Forest in 1997 and forever changed the fortune of the franchise.
While there almost definitely won’t be an organizational savior at 11 in what many consider to be one of the weaker classes in recent memory, the Silver and Black will have an excellent opportunity to add a building block on their journey back to the postseason.
From a top-five prospect to begin the NBA season to a mid-to-late first-rounder by the All-Star break, let’s explore what the gifted Washington University freshman Jaden McDaniels can bring to the team if PATFO take a risky swing on him at the end of the lottery.
Jaden McDaniels | Washington | Freshman | Wing |
Weight: 184 lbs
2020 Stats (31 GP)
Per Game: 13.0 PPG/5.8 RPG/2.1 APG/0.8 SPG/1.4 BPG
Per 36: 15.0 PPG/6.7 RPG/2.4 APG/0.9 SPG/1.6 BPG
Shooting Splits: .405 FG%/.339 3P%/.763 FT%
Much like RJ Hampton, Jaden McDaniels figures to be a long-term project rather than an immediate impact player once he joins the ranks of the NBA. Although the Washington freshman is one of the most intriguing raw offensive talents in the 2020 Draft Class, he has quite a way to go before any team will feel comfortable handing him the ball and letting him go to work. After being heralded by some as the next Kevin Durant, his lone season of NCAA basketball was a major disappointment that brought many questions about his motor, feel for the game, and maturity.
McDaniels possesses exceptional mobility and fluidity for a player of his size, though narrow shoulders and a spindly frame make it unlikely he’ll ever gain the muscle mass necessary to hang with bruising bigs. However, considering his perimeter-oriented play-style and a couple of genuine guard skills, the post isn’t where Jaden will make a name for himself in the league. And though he isn’t the most explosive athlete, both in space and in traffic, his ability to fill the open lane makes him a serious scoring threat in transition and on fastbreaks.
Jaden implements his quick first step and shiftiness to get past larger defenders but rarely drives to the rim, instead opting for difficult pull-up jumpers. Even when he decided to attack the tin, the lanky forward lacked the strength to turn the corner, often left the ball exposed, and didn’t always use his length to his advantage. In addition to his struggles as a finisher, McDaniels’ tunnel vision left him settling for tough contested layups and missing wide-open teammates. That in mind, the oversized wing showed a propensity for drawing contact, averaging 6.7 free throw attempts per 100 possesions.
In terms of pure scoring potential, it doesn’t get much better than the former top-ten high school recruit. Jaden has an extensive repertoire consisting of a combination of up-and-unders, step-throughs, euro-steps, jab-steps, side-steps, step-backs, spins, crossovers, hang-dribbles, between-the-legs, behind-the-backs, in-and-outs, rip-throughs, and one-dribble pull-ups to create space. And though his dribble-package is advanced for his height, over-dribbling, a loose handle, and subpar shot selection early in the shot clock and late in close contests plague his effectiveness.
One of McDaniels’ worst shortcomings was his inability to take care of the ball. Jaden committed an alarming 5.7 turnovers per 100 possessions while posting a not-so-encouraging 20.4% turnover percentage and a paltry 0.65 assist-to-turnover ratio. Smaller defenders undercut his dribble, and the freshman forward picked up a fair share of giveaways on forced passes into non-existent windows, travels caused by rushed footwork, and charges as a by-product of lowering his shoulder to generate separation. Although he made a few impressive passes, in general, his decision making and vision were less than satisfactory.
We talked about his talent for putting up points earlier, and his three-point shooting is just another weapon in his arsenal. The percentage (33.9%) isn’t quite where you want it to be yet, but a pretty stroke and quick release are a solid foundation. As his 4.1 long-distance attempts suggest, McDaniels is confident from beyond-the-arc and won’t hesitate to let it fly. Despite some flashes as a movement shooter, Jaden was most effective in catch-and-shoot situations, where he produced 1.18 points per possession. And while he’ll likely never be a valuable roll-man in the pick-and-roll, I could envision him becoming an efficient pick-and-pop shooter.
Defensively, McDaniels was a mixed bag of results, and it was tough to break down certain aspects of his game since Washington ran such a zone-heavy system. Jaden primarily operated at the top of the zone and was rarely put in a compromising position to guard power forwards or centers. His light-feet and lateral mobility helped him to cover ground quickly when engaged, and he rotated well as the help-side defender. Jaden accumulated a majority of his blocks in these scenarios, and his long arms bothered shooters on closeouts. His length was particularly dangerous in the passing lanes, where he was able to come up with several steals and deflections.
Although the 20-year-old wing showed promise as both a multi-positional and isolation defender, this projection is more hypothetical than set in reality, and his footwork in almost every area will need to vastly improve for him to live up to this theoretical versatility at the next level. Additionally, McDaniels must learn to defend without fouling. Jaden fouled out of eight times this season, committed at least four fouls in seven other outings, and averaged 3.3 fouls per game as a freshman. He played undisciplined defense, reaching and swatting with little chance of touching the ball, and frustration fouls, though not a pressing issue, became more frequent as his frustration grew.
The most concerning problems for Jaden McDaniels were his motor and maturity. He regularly allowed his performance on the other end to dictate his defensive effort and would check out of games mentally when he wasn’t as involved in the offense as he wanted to be. His motor appeared to fluctuate even when things were going his way, and that sort of indifference won’t go unpunished by coaches in the NBA. One thing that stood out to me was the on-and-off benching of McDaniels over the last 11 games of Washington’s season. And though head coach Mike Hopkins was noticeably upset with his star underclassmen, Jaden responded by posting his best shooting-splits of the year during that stretch.
To check out more potential 2020 draft targets, click here.