The Philadelphia 76ers have enjoyed a winning atmosphere during both Summer Leagues and one of the major reasons for the success is a man by the name of KJ McDaniels.
When it came to the 2014 NBA draft, much of people's criticism and praise came from Philadelphia selecting Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. It's impossible to take anything away from either player as they both have a chance to be great one day, but anything they do is going to have to come in time. We won't see Saric for at least two years, and there's a possibility of the Sixers holding Embiid out all season.
Luckily, Philadelphia did select a number of players who have the ability to contribute during the 2014-15 season. Jerami Grant and Jordan McRae have both looked like they could end up on the final roster at times, and the Sixers got a potential diamond at pick No. 32 in McDaniels.
Here's a look at what we can expect from the Clemson product come regular-season time.
McDaniels could very well be one of the first people off of Philadelphia's bench when the regular season rolls around, but it won't be because of his offensive game. This isn't meant to sound like he isn't skilled on this side of the ball because he is. It's just that he doesn't do any one thing particularly well, which limits what he's able to do.
McDaniels is a solid ball-handler who combines it with a great level of athleticism to make his way to the basket. He put it on full display during the Orlando Summer League as he was able to get to the free-throw line 17 times. His speed and slashing ability could become a weapon when the Sixers get out in transition.
One of the more surprising things to see was how well he shot the ball in Orlando. McDaniels had a career three-point percentage of only 31.3 while in college. It looks as if he's put work in on his stroke based off going 7-of-11 from out deep over the course of five games.
His best offensive trait could very well be his decision-making, though. Summer League action is oftentimes full of players wanting to prove how good they really are by jacking up unnecessary shots in hopes of putting up big numbers. McDaniels did the opposite of this and was very selective with his looks. Shooting 46 percent from the field while averaging 11 points per game is something to be proud of.
He'll need to fine tune his abilities and really hone in on one skill to thrive on, but it looks like the foundation is all there. It just likely won't all take place during his rookie season.
Philadelphia had the NBA's worst defense during the 2013-14 season, giving up 109.9 points per game.
McDaniels has the ability to make a major dent in that number.
Most rookies will experience a learning curve on the offensive side of the ball as it's difficult for certain skills to translate to the NBA game. Players need to have a lower dribble, quicker release on their jumper and learn how the floor is spaced.
Defense is a completely different story. The majority of defense is built on effort and physical capabilities. If someone can defend in college, then there's a good chance they'll be able to defend at the professional level.
McDaniels is no exception.
He has all of the physical tools necessary to be a very good defender. His height at 6'6" will see him mostly guarding shooting guards, but a 6'11" wingspan will allow him to defend both point guards and small forwards alike. His final step will be effort, and this shouldn't be an issue if his performance against Andrew Wiggins in the Las Vegas Summer League is any indication.
Sixers.com's Max Rappaport talked to Philadelphia assistant coach Chad Iske about McDaniels' defensive performance against the No. 1 pick after playing the Cleveland Cavaliers. Here's what Iske had to say:
It’s what we want to see, and it’s one of the main reasons he was drafted where he was drafted and why he was considered such a prospect. His athleticism on that wing, and his ability to be a defender and a shotblocker is something we’re excited about, so we wanted to throw him out there on the #1-overall pick, and a very talented kid, and see how he answered that bell.
For any of those wondering, Wiggins only scored four points on three shots in the 20 minutes that McDaniels covered him. It's a Summer League game so we can't put too much stock into it, but there's still room to give McDaniels some credit.
Locking down one of the NBA's most athletic players for 20 minutes is a good indication that he'll be capable of doing that against a number of other professionals.
Defense is just one of those skills that translates well, and it appears as though McDaniels knows what he's doing.
What rookie will make the biggest impact?
None of his numbers jump off the board as spectacular, but Philadelphia doesn't need that right now.
The Sixers are positioning themselves as a postseason team in three years, with the potential to compete for a championship in around six. There's nothing extreme or drastic in having these kind of goals, but a number of aspects must first be in place.
Philly needs to have a special player at point guard, and it looks like Michael Carter-Williams could be that guy. The next step is to have some kind of post presence. The evolution of Nerlens Noel and Embiid will have to take place in order to knock this out. Another crucial piece will be to have a scorer on the wing. That's where Thaddeus Young and Saric come in.
The final part is to have a bench and supporting cast who can keep the level of play up when Philadelphia's starters hit the bench.
With some development, McDaniels could eventually turn into one of the driving forces of the Sixers' second unit.
The 2014-15 season is the first step in this process, and it will certainly be fun to see how he handles himself on Philly's short-handed roster.