In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will be profiled in this space and, in this edition, we examine Washington forward Jaden McDaniels.
Jaden McDaniels was a top-10 high school recruit out of the Seattle area entering his freshman year at the University of Washington in 2019-20 with plenty of national attention. When the Huskies’ season ended with a first round lost in the PAC-12 tournament, he was really starting to show something as a shooter, converting 39 percent from the three-point line in his final nine games
The perimeter shot will be a swing skill for McDaniels, a 6’9 forward with a combination of still-developing ball skills that might lead one to believe that he could one day handle guard duties for an NBA team. From the field last year, he barely broke the 40 percent threshold despite impressive physical tools. He graded as an average spot-up scorer and couldn’t manage to do as well in transition, where he graded very poorly, despite possessing a rare set of physical tools that usually serve one well in the open court.
His shooting form is a little slow in the shot prep phase of his motion, but looks like a motion that could be made more efficient with some work.
When discussing McDaniels as an NBA prospect, it is important to differentiate what he seems to be today, at age 20, compared to what he could be should be able to develop in such a way that his raw skills are maximized.
He averaged a competent 13.0 points per game last year. But the best outcome, even if quite unlikely, for him as an NBA player is a rangy wing that can score at all three levels and create in the pick and roll.
As is the case with many young players of his style, McDaniels seems more comfortable shooting off of the dribble especially when exploring the midrange. Playing in a secondary role last year limited the frequency at which McDaniels was empowered to work in that area. He was a more efficient shooter in catch and shoot opportunities despite how much the rhythm of his perimeter shot would come and go at times.
He graded quite well, especially for a (then) 19-year-old non-point guard in the pick and roll. He has a comfortable handle and a fairly robust dribble package that he puts to use while working with reasonable patience in the action.
He seems to see every pass and generally stays under control when creating shots for others in the half court. The volume of turnovers he collected last season were largely related to times when he would struggle to play under control.
McDaniels wasn’t able to consistently convert points at the rim. He seemed a bit uncomfortable with the physical aspect of the college game he’d never experienced before.
He didn’t probably have quite the season, as on offensive player, than most observers were expecting of him considering his status as a high school recruit. In fact, he might have been better served playing at a school, and for a coach, that would have allowed him to operate as the primary focus on that end of the court. To that end, he deserves some credit for the way that he worked within his defined role.
For a player no longer projected to be drafted in the lottery, he possesses some unique upside because of his combination of size/length and intriguing potential as a scorer, ball handler and passer.
As is the case with any prospect coming out of Washington in recent years, the program’s use of zone defense made it challenging to assess the play of McDaniels. He had 43 blocks and 21 steals in 31 games. He would often crash down from his spot at the top of the 2-3 zone to offer substantial help at the rim. At the same time, he didn’t a lot of repetitions defending in man-to-man situations.
He is a very functional, but not quite explosive, athlete despite how he pops in shot blocking opportunities.
A divisive young player, from an evaluation standpoint, McDaniels showed regular flashes of impact plays. He was in frequent foul trouble but not usually as a result of poor or lazy technique. He simply looked the part of a competitive young player that struggled, too often, to keep his cool.
To his credit, he will get into a defensive stance, stay on the balls of his feet and slide. McDaniels plays with active hands that he generally keeps in the right spots. Especially for a highly touted young player, his level of defensive activity was more than acceptable.
There may not be a lot of players in the draft class that have a similar ceiling as a two-way NBA prospect. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could work as a reliable point-of-attack defender and an offensive wing with a valuable ability to shoot and create in fairly advanced sets. With that said, he has a long with you go developmentally.
In an interview setting, he comes off as a circumspective, measured young man that has an excellent grasp of his strengths and weaknesses as a player. He plays like he is at least as invested in the team results as he is in his own numbers. And it doesn’t hurt that he has an older brother, Jalen McDaniels, that was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets a year ago and who, by all accounts, worked hard and made progress as a fringe prospect navigating his first year in the league.
McDaniels would be best served being drafted by a team that offers a player development program that he and the people around him (e.g. his agent) can buy in to, with the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat coming to mind as team both drafting in the latter third of the first round. Mock drafts by a number of outlets project him as a second round pick, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him selected before the draft gets that far.