Babcock Hoops’ manager of video scouting Derek Murray breaks down perhaps the most polarizing prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft, Jaden McDaniels, of the Washington Huskies.
In my opinion, Jaden McDaniels is the most volatile, “boom or bust” prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft. He has the physical tools and skills to eventually emerge into an All-Star, but if his issues are not resolved, he could also end up in the G-League. Let’s take a deep dive.
Position: SF | Height: 6’9” | Weight: 200 | Team: Washington | Class: Freshman
Ability to Play Above the Rim
On and Off Ball Defense
Offensively the biggest draw is McDaniels’ versatility. However, the lack of even one dominant, translatable skill in his game leads to ‘bust’ potential. At 6’9” with a 6'11” wingspan, McDaniels has flashed the ability to score from anywhere on the floor; high flying dunks, mid-range jumpers, pull up threes, you name it. The biggest problem throughout his freshman season though was his consistency.
McDaniels’ ability to shoot on the perimeter will likely control his career floor. If he becomes reliable as an outside shooter, he will be able to add some value to a rotation, at the very least. His shooting mechanics are clean for the most part, as he utilizes a two-motion shot with a deceptively quick release — especially for a player with his length. When given a decent look, he wastes no movement getting to his high release point, making it difficult for his defender to contend. He was blocked only once in 127 three-point attempts this season. He converted 33.9% from beyond the arc, and while that percentage is not as high as you’d like from a potential first-round pick, I attribute his low shooting percentage more to his shot selection rather than his shooting mechanics or underlying ability. He’s a strong catch-and-shooter and he can also create space with an effective hesitation pull up dribble. Despite possessing a knack to hit tough shots, there were numerous plays this season that likely left Coach Mike Hopkins scratching his head. His pre-shot footwork is also worth monitoring, as well as his landing zones; both are sporadic and inconsistent at times. He will need some fine-tuning during his development process with these things. McDaniels’ decision making and shot selection will need to improve in order for him to be successful at the NBA level, but his unique ability to create and shoot from deep should not be ignored. In regards to his ability to create his own shot, he’s one of the best in the entire 2020 class, and probably only second to Anthony Edwards from Georgia.
McDaniels’ lack of physical strength is a legitimate concern, as it hinders his ability to do a lot of things on the floor. Most notably, he struggles to penetrate the lane. His ball-handling is strong and he has an array of dribble moves to employ, but it’s tough to categorize these as strengths if he’s unable to put them to good use. Only 20.2% of his field-goal attempts came at the rim, while 42% of his looks were two-point jump shots, highlighting the ineffective nature of his drives. He hit only 39% of these two-point jumpers, reducing his efficiency even further. Since he’s not able to get to the rim consistently, he’s often forced to use floaters or other unique, off-balance finishes in the lane, which he is capable of making but are certainly lower percentage shots. He does not have overly great touch, as he shot only 55.9% inside. He’s incredibly long and athletic, but he is easily bumped off his line — it's painful to watch at times. At the NBA level, his lack of strength will undoubtedly become even more problematic. McDaniels’ upside as a driver and scorer is purely theoretical at this point, which is a big part of why he is a polarizing prospect.
McDaniels’ passing and playmaking have left much to be desired. On the surface, he had a 25.6% usage and only 2.1 assists per game. For the amount of time, he was in control of the offense and considering his ability to put pressure on the defense, his assist numbers are highly disappointing. Perhaps the most concerning part of his passing is his lack of live dribble distribution. The bulk of his passing came after coming to a complete stop or being contained by a defender. He also posted a measly 0.65 assist-to-turnover ratio. This concerns me because it shows that even when he’s not in live dribble situations, his decision making is questionable. Whether these are indicators of a lack of fundamental skills or awareness to make good decisions quickly, it’s worrisome either way. Whichever NBA team selects him will need to prioritize developing these elements of his game.
In comparison to other wings in this draft class, including Devin Vassell, Isaac Okoro, and Aaron Nesmith, McDaniels has by far the least live dribble passes, which suggests a limited inability to boost his teammates’ offensive value. I searched for notable players that were drafted after NCAA seasons with similar usage and assist-to-turnover ratios. I was hoping to find the light at the end of the tunnel that would help me argue why McDaniels can succeed in the NBA. The three players that popped up were: Doug McDermott, Buddy Hield, and Jodie Meeks — all established NBA players. Although each of those players was more effective than McDaniels from beyond the arc, their on-ball creation roles were minimal — which balances things out to a certain extent. Anyway, this all brings me back to my original point that if McDaniels does not improve physically, it’s absolutely imperative that he shoots the ball well from outside to have a successful NBA career.
It would be unwise for an organization to draft McDaniels to be a primary creator, especially if they intended to have him play a significant role early in his career. Compared to the rest of the prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft, his off-ball activity in regards to relocations, cutting, and screening is low. Therefore, his best role is likely as an ancillary creator and ball-handler who knocks down shots on the perimeter. His tools are legit and shouldn’t be underappreciated just because he had an inconsistent season as a 19-year-old freshman. The weaknesses are glaring though, and for those who question McDaniels, I think the concerns are valid.
Washington’s team primarily uses a zone defense which causes significant individual evaluation issues. As a result, McDaniels and his teammate, Isaiah Stewart II, are both interesting studies, as it is challenging to project exactly how each of them will translate to the NBA on the defensive end.
We do know that McDaniels is capable of affecting the game on the defensive end of the floor. His lack of physical strength is an issue, but he utilizes his length exceptionally well by closing passing lanes and putting pressure on the ball. He tallied only 24 steals on the season, which at face value will not grab your attention, but he constantly puts himself in good positions and racks up deflections on a regular basis. He also has an innate ability to rotate properly to block shots. The static number of 1.4 blocks per game doesn’t give him enough credit considering the impact he often has on the defensive end. There are players in the NBA that are able to get their shot off at will; and subsequently, there are some people who don’t value shot contests as much as others, but I think McDaniels’ ability to block or change shots should be valued. I also trust his potential as a positional defender and his ability to shut down decent shooting looks — especially long term if he is able to develop his body properly. Off the ball, he flashed strong instincts as a help defender, and when physicality caused him problems, he was still willing to contest shots at the rim. He has the lateral quickness, mobility, and toughness you look for in a defender, even though the Washington zone didn’t allow us to see it as much as we would have liked to.
One concern that I have with McDaniels on the defensive end is his lack of overall discipline. He led the Pac-12 in personal fouls this season, tallying a whopping 103 — many of which could have been avoided easily. His aggressive nature comes out when contesting shots; and although he’s effective in making plays, his inability to stay straight and utilize proper body control often puts him in vulnerable situations. It’s clear that he wants nothing more than to spike shots into the third row. While I absolutely love his intent, he needs to find a better balance of continuing to be aggressive while staying under control. If he is able to improve in this area, I think his block numbers will increase while also cutting down his fouls.
McDaniels was called for six technical fouls this season, which was the most by any player in the Pac-12. McDaniels was seemingly quick to express his opinion to referees on calls and taunt opponents after big plays, which raises some questions about his maturity. This is something he will certainly need to get under control, especially early in his career before he is established.
Jaden McDaniels has one of the largest variances in this year’s class, as his draft slot will likely depend on an organization's timeline, and risk aversion strategy. If a team is in win-now mode looking for rotation help, he’s probably not the right guy. While the tools and raw talent to be a lottery pick are there, McDaniels’ lack of physicality and maturity leave a good amount of doubt. He also has the upside to potentially make a general manager look like a genius in a few years too.
I recently watched the film Art of Flight. In the film, professional snowboarders travel to conquer some of the most beautiful, dangerous, and untouched peaks in the world. Some of their runs result in them soaring above the clouds to allow for some of the most incredible camera shots; while other runs are met with collisions and serious injuries, causing stress and chaos. The funny thing is that film made me think about Jaden McDaniels. For teams considering drafting him, pursue at your own risk. It could be worth it, but maybe not… We’ll see.