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Washington Huskies wing Jaden McDaniels (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)
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Utah Jazz NBA Draft Prospects: Jaden McDaniels

Washington Huskies wing Jaden McDaniels (Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz season ended abruptly in a game seven loss to the Denver Nuggets. Now, they prepare for the next set of offseason opportunities to improve the roster, namely the NBA draft and free agency, which are tentatively set for mid-October. In the first of several breakdowns to come, we look at Jaden McDaniels from the University of Washington, currently slated to be drafted between the late lottery and early second round.

The draft currently is scheduled for October 16, though the odds of it occurring on that exact date feel like a coin-toss. Regardless, owning the 23rd pick in the draft, the Jazz have been busy breaking down their options late in the first round, whenever it occurs.

First, some oddities about this draft. Without an NCAA tournament, and likely no draft combine, this draft will be a bit more of a shot in the dark than most seasons. Teams aren’t even sure if they’ll be able to see prospects workout in person before calling their name on draft night.

That could hurt some younger prospects who have fewer games on tape to show front offices, and eliminates the late risers who flourish in the tournament. Truthfully, the impact of the two may cancel each other out. Draft history is littered with teams reaching on players who were chosen based on small sample sizes as freshmen (think Darius Garland) as well as tournament superstars who shouldn’t have been lottery picks (think Derrick Williams).

Teams will still likely be tantalized by the upside of some freshman who appeared in 30 games or fewer in the pandemic shortened season, but may not fall for more veteran players who dominate the tournament.

Jaden McDaniels: 6’9, 200 lbs Wing – Fr – UW

13 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 40% FG/33% 3p/76% FT

Pros:

The first thing that pops out about McDaniels is his incredible length. McDaniels is a full 6’9 with long arms and legs that look the part of an NBA player. In a league transitioning away from back to the basket big men, now favoring longer, leaner forwards, McDaniels fits the mold to a T.

Secondly, the forward is an extremely fluid athlete, easily navigating the floor despite his above-average length. Some players with his length and athleticism appear to be out of control, especially with such long leavers, but that’s rarely the case with McDaniels. Physically, with a frame that should be able to add 15 lbs over the next few seasons, he’s an ideal NBA prospect.

Third, and something I believe is truly important in draft prospects, he pops off the screen. McDaniels routinely makes eye-catching moves on the floor for a true freshman. If you have to convince yourself to like an NBA player because they rarely catch your eye (think Trey Lyles at Kentucky) it should be a bit of a red flag for how he will translate in the NBA. There’s roughly 1,500 Division I basketball players any given season, maybe 40 will get a chance to play in the NBA, 20 of those might make an impact. If they aren’t doing it at the college level, don’t wait for it to happen at the next level.

During his lone season at Washington, McDaniels flashed the ability to score at all three levels, though his shooting percentages left something to be desired. The freshman knocked down just 33 percent of his three-point shots but looked comfortable shooting from deep. One upside despite McDaniels mediocre percentage, he rarely fell in love with his three-point shot, never attempting more than seven threes in any one game. So while it didn’t always fall, he didn’t default to deep three-point shots which tends to happen with prospects trying to prove they are NBA level shooters.

McDaniels shows promise using his elite length from the midrange pulling up over smaller shooters the way the best forwards in the NBA can (think Paul George, Brandon Ingram, and Kevin Durant). That includes some semblance of a floater, hinting at better touch than his percentages would suggest.

Finally, on the offensive side of the ball, McDaniels is an aggressive finisher at the rim, trying to finish over and through opposing defenders in the paint, and he does so with success. Despite a somewhat slight frame as a freshman, McDaniels knew how to use his length to finish against bigger players, and that will benefit him at the next level.

Cons:

As previously mentioned, McDaniels shooting shows promise but was far from efficient during his freshman season at Washington. It’s hard to play non-shooters in the modern NBA, and teams will have to believe he can develop into a better three-point shooter with more efficiency inside the arc to become more than just a great physical specimen the next level.

At this point, McDaniels is more of an off the ball scorer, yet to show high-level playmaking in the pick and roll (despite playing with a fellow first-round draft pick at the five), and has a high, undeveloped handle. That isn’t to say McDaniels couldn’t become a complementary ball-handler in time, but he won’t enter the league as developed at his size as more highly touted combo forwards like Ingram and Jayson Tatum. If he never develops that type of ball control, his offensive upside will be limited considerably.

Like a lot of mega-talented freshmen, McDaniels tended to float for stretches of games, while dominating others. Playing hard is a skill that translates at the NBA level and makes up for a lack of talent elsewhere (think undrafted Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Lu Dort). Meanwhile, taking plays off mentally and physically can derail even the best prospects (think former number one overall pick, Andrew Wiggins).

For some players, the lack of attention is due to focusing on the next level, and the lack of team success around them. Paul George comes to mind as a player that coasted through much of his college career but transformed into a near superstar once he was playing among superior talent. Others, like the aforementioned Wiggins, never learn to compete at a high level and wind up in an endless cycle of tantalizing highs and disappointing lows.

Despite having strong body control for a player his size, he fouled out of more than 25 percent of his games as a freshman. That’s not an entirely bad sign, as it highlights his aggressive approach, especially as a help defender, but also illustrates the amount of patience a team will have to show him as he develops into a productive NBA player.

Defensively, McDaniels’ length and athleticism create an intriguing combo. Every NBA team is trying to load up on multi-positional defenders that can defend anywhere from the perimeter to the paint, and switch on to any defensive assignment.

Based on size alone, McDaniels should be able to do it. The problem? Washington is predominantly a zone defensive team, meaning the amount of film available from McDaniels as a freshman in man to man defense is extremely limited. The Jazz have shied away from drafting players from zone heavy rosters (think Syracuse) but certainly do their homework from seeing players in pre-college camps and All-American games.

The freshman averaged 1.4 blocks per game, a nice number for a player who projects as a weakside help defender at the next level, and showed that skillset when collapsing on opposing drivers. However, his 0.8 steals per game hint that he lacks high-level instincts against opposing offensives at this point in his development.

The one upside, Daniels was asked to defend on the perimeter in Washington’s zone, rather than acting as a default rim protector due to his size. That means he’s got some experience as a perimeter defender, rather than having to unlearn tendencies as an out of position rim defender.

Without certainty that McDaniels will be a productive NBA defender, and lacking an NBA ready offensive game, there’s no doubt the team that drafts the Washington freshman will be taking a gamble and will have to show patience as they won’t get a difference-maker right away.

However, with McDaniels’ physical tools, and semi-regular flashes of brilliance, there’s little question he’s worthy of a first-round selection.

How McDaniels fits with the Jazz

McDaniels offers the Jazz elite size and athleticism for a wing in the NBA, and that’s something the team desperately lacks. Outside of Rudy Gobert, the Jazz are either undersized or under-athletic within their projectable core going forward.

As the NBA trends more and more towards lanky wings, a player with McDaniels will be a staple on every roster over the next decade, including the Jazz.

With Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic under contract for the foreseeable future, the Jazz wouldn’t need McDaniels to become an elite scorer. The Jazz could work with the UW prospect to develop as a shooter who attacks closeouts and scores in transition a la Royce O’Neale with a far higher ceiling.

Overall, despite the question marks outlined above, due to his size and physical tools, it’s hard to imagine McDaniels not finding some role in the NBA, making him one of the safer one and done picks available late in the first round in recent years.

Additionally, as a former top 10 high school prospect, with NBA DNA (brother Jalen McDaniels plays for the Charlotte Hornets, cousin is longtime NBA starter Juwan Howard), and hailing from Seattle, one of the country’s best prep basketball cities, McDaniels upside is tantalizingly high.

With a strong history of development, close relationship with the Salt Lake City Stars, and lack of need for a high-level contributor early, the Jazz could be an ideal landing spot for a player who needs a bit of seasoning before seeing the NBA floor.