For some high school players, the transition to college basketball encounters a number of various speed bumps throughout the first season. Sure, there's the rare situation in which it seems as if a talented individual hits the ground running and makes it look like he's been playing at the same level for years. Usually, when a specific player makes it look so easy, it's because he's one of the top prospects in the country. If that prospect also finds himself landing in the perfect situation...it's easy for a player to enjoy immediate success.
But there's also the other side of the story. Players can come into their first collegiate season with a large number of lofty expectations before struggling to live up to the preseason hype. That might best describe the year that freshman and NBA draft prospect Jaden McDaniels experienced at Washington. Coming into the season, there was a mountain of excitement in the basketball world to see what McDaniels could do at the collegiate level. It's difficult to not fall in love with the potential when McDaniels is at his best. You'll find plenty of fans quick to compare Jaden to Kevin Durant, mainly because of his outside shooting ability and thin frame. The tools have you feeling like a kid on Christmas when you watch the athletic wing. The problem? The flashes were too distant and inconsistent over the year. Still, you can bet yourself that someone is going to bang the table in an NBA draft room, believing that they can unlock the treasure chest of potential when it comes to Jaden.
This is exactly the type of sequence that gains the attention of NBA personnel and talent evaluators all over. It might not look like much at first, but it's how fluid and smooth McDaniels can look at times. It's no secret that Jaden is thin-framed but his coordination and ability to move with explosiveness make you intrigued with his skill set. You can watch this sequence over and over again and realize that this is an NBA-caliber type of move from McDaniels. Simple but effective when it comes to creating separation.
While McDaniels has some mechanics that seems to vary when it comes to his outside shot, he's got a pretty form when he has his feet set. McDaniels has the ability to shoot on the move, but when he's got his feet set and under control...he's a different type of weapon from outside. While McDaniels struggled with his overall percentage from outside during his freshman year (33.9% from 3), he posted a 39.4% in catch and shoot opportunities. The tools are there for him to become a threat from outside, but the consistency hasn't come around yet. Still, in this clip above we get a good look at the compact mechanics and form that Jaden has in his game.
ATTACKING THE RIM
These are the type of plays that Jaden makes that gains your undivided attention in a hurry. Scouts and NBA personnel are so intrigued with McDaniels because of his combination of length and athletcism and his handles for a player of his size. There's still so many raw aspects of Jaden's game that needs to develop over time, but these are the type of "flashes" that make you want to go all-in on a prospect like Jaden. Notice the amount of ground that Jaden covers in two dribbles and how he attacks the basket with bad intentions.
This is an area that evaluators will question when it comes to McDaniels game offensively. Too many times this year at Washington, Jaden seemed to shy away from contact when attacking the basket. Not in this clip, you can see that the "switch" is there for this kid...but he just needs to believe in it. That's McDaniels attacking one of the more physical defenders from Arizona last year in Ira Lee. There's no denying that a strength coach at the next level would do absolute wonders for McDaniels, especially when it comes to attacking off the bounce.
This is a big "buying" point when you want to talk about the potential for an NBA team to take a chance on drafting a raw prospect like Jaden McDaniels. There's a serious amount of defensive upside to his game and I came impressed with his ability off of the ball at a number of times. Washington spends a majority of their time playing zone defense, a realization that could scare teams away...but McDaniels has the quickness and anticipation to become a respectable defender at the NBA level. It was a small sample size this year when it came to overall time spent in man defense for Jaden (25.1% of possessions) but he finished ranked in the 93rd percentile.
This is the type of tight handle that NBA scouts are drooling about for a player with McDaniels measurements. Notice the fluidity and smoothness that Jaden has in and out of his dribbles. It's the reason why teams will eventually want to take a chance on the kid. If a player with this type of offensive potential just starts to "click" randomly...he could be come a problem at the next level. When Jaden is under control and not panicking, he's an entirely different type of beast on the floor.
Another good look at Jaden's ability to create off of the bounce. Notice the shiftiness to set up the counter here in transition. Defender never had a chance. Once McDaniels has daylight, he attacks and finishes with a roughly contested floater in traffic.
Although you can find plenty of games in which McDaniels seems to struggle with finishing, there's some promising clips that tease you of what he could become as well. Here's a great example of just that. Notice the footwork first of all to create this driving lane. It takes the smallest amount of hesitation before Jaden attacks off the bounce and creates a window for himself to get downhill. Takes the contact and finishes with the and-one opportunity. McDaniels finished the year with a 53.9 FG% around the basket.
It's no secret that McDaniels has the potential to be a floor spacing monster at the NBA level but he's going to need to prove the consistency early on in his career. Like stated previously, notice how smooth Jaden's shot looks when he's under control and has his feet set. Too many times during his freshman year you saw Jaden shooting while floating. If he can become more consistent and patient with his offensive game early on, it could be a great stepping stone for his development.
Like we said before, the combination of length, athleticism, and anticipation all pair well with McDaniels to have some serious untapped potential as a defensive asset. McDaniels went on to average 1.8 blocks per game for the Huskies this year.
It's almost a bit surprising that McDaniels didn't have more success in transition offense at Washington this year. He has the ideal skills you would think would flourish in Transition, but he ranked in the 28th percentile despite posting a 47.1 FG%. Still, there's serious upside for McDaniels to become a transition asset at the NBA level due to his athleticism and outside shooting ability. Good job by here to set up the defender with an initial hesitation that creates a window for the step back three.
You'll here us say it plenty throughout the pre-draft process. Washington freshman Jaden McDaniels might be one of the riskiest prospects in this year's class...but he also could turn into a winning lottery ticket. A preseason favorite to be selected in the top 10 of the 2020 Draft, McDaniels didn't have the freshman year that most NBA personnel was hoping for. Unfortunately it's created a serious amount of skepticism about the readiness in McDaniels game. If McDaniels lands with the right team that would allow his confidence to grow and his game to develop, he could turn into something special. But the team that selects him on Draft night will need to be ready to take on a project with some patience and a good plan in place.