**1st Round: Dante Exum
***2nd Round: Mitch McGary, Johnny O'Bryant
K.J. McDaniels has rocketed up draft boards this season as his high-level athleticism propelled a sub-par Clemson team into the NIT. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express ranks McDaniels 23rd on his big board, as the #2 junior in the draft. If you want to get technical, his #1 junior, P.J. Hairston is in the D-League after being kicked out of UNC, so you could say McDaniels is the #1 junior. McDaniels doesn't quite have elite size to play the SF position in the NBA at 6'6, but his length and athleticism should mitigate that against the league's taller wings. His 6'9.5" wingspan won't hurt either.
The Pistons could have an opening at SF going into this year's draft, assuming they move one of either Josh Smith or Greg Monroe. While it wouldn't be ideal to add a wing who isn't a strong shooter, players of McDaniels' athleticism don't come along in every draft. He already possesses an NBA body and physicality, but needs to add some of the skills that come along with playing on the wing. At 21 years old, McDaniels has plenty of time to expand his range and improve his ball-handling. Let's take a look at what specifically makes his game tick...
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K.J. McDANIELS - SF - 6'6, 200 - CLEMSON
If Blake Griffin were a SF, his name would be K.J. McDaniels; and that's only part one of the video. According to Clemson's official website, McDaniels' vertical leap has been recorded at 35.5". Either his long arms add some deception or he's improved since that was measured. If nothing else, McDaniels will be fun to watch in the NBA. I should reiterate that the highlight video above isn't a basis for evaluation, in this case, it's just something cool to watch. Living in Big Ten country, I don't get to see McDaniels play very often, so to scout him, I watched full game tape of Clemson-Duke from January 11th. McDaniels spent most of his time matched up with pro prospect Rodney Hood, and finished the game with a very strong 24 points on 8-15 shooting to go along with three blocks.
The game tape did show a few concerning things about McDaniels' game. First, his on-ball defense on the perimeter could use some work. While that's true for most college players, there were multiple occasions where McDaniels looked helpless to stay in front of his man. He's got the body and the athleticism to be a good defender, but he plays too high to utilize any lateral quickness he has. On the offensive end, McDaniels took a few ill-advised shots, which appears to be a trend. McDaniels, a 30 3P% shooter, attempted just about four 3-point attempts per game this season. Some of those may be attributed to the fact that he was Clemson's only viable option on offense, but that's still too many. For someone who is efficient at the rim and good at getting to the free throw line, McDaniels should make attacking the basket the focal point of his game.
As far as his strengths go, McDaniels relies heavily on his physical attributes. His 40.2% Free Throw Rate is an example of how he uses his frame and aggressive style of play to create contact. In the game film, it showed on more than a few possessions that Rodney Hood just wasn't prepared to defend McDaniels in the post, or when he had a full head of steam to the hoop. To go with his high FTr, McDaniels improved his FT% to 84.9% this season, up from 68.4% last year. It may be a bit of a stretch, but in the best case, this is an indication that he can develop his three point shot. His vertical leaping ability is also a skill he puts to use (if you couldn't tell from the dunk reel), and it was a factor for the whole Duke game. McDaniels is great at timing his jumps on offensive rebound opportunities and is always in the area for a potential tip slam. On the defensive end, McDaniels is an excellent shot blocker for a SF. He blocked 2.69 shots per game this season, ranking 29th in the nation among players with enough minutes to qualify, according to ESPN. Most of his blocks come on help side attempts, and they're usually entertaining due to his impressive elevation. Along with his ability to block shots, McDaniels' other defensive strength is his high DReb% when compared to other college SFs. His DReb% compares favorably to other SF prospects such as Andrew Wiggins and Rodney Hood.
With McDaniels slated to be picked in the mid-to-late first round, it would take one of two circumstances for the Pistons to take him and not have it considered a huge reach. First, the Pistons could trade their pick (say the 8th for Phoenix's picks #14 and #17) for two lower picks. This would allow the Pistons to fill two needs, or build the team's depth. Taking McDaniels with the 17th pick wouldn't be too much of a reach due to his upside if he can develop perimeter skills. The other situation would be if McDaniels were to slip into the 2nd round. The Pistons are slated to have the 38th overall pick, and while I don't think he would fall quite that far, anything's possible. If McDaniels does find his way on to the roster, it would deepen the need for more shooting from the PG and SG spots. For everything McDaniels offers, he isn't a great fit on the Pistons' roster right now. As far as his upside goes, McDaniels may have a ceiling similar to that of this year's Gerald Green if he can find his jumper. His elite athleticism would be nearly impossible to guard if he also had the ability to stretch the floor. For the time being, McDaniels is a bit of a project, but has enough potential to warrant a pick in the 18-22 range.