The Philadelphia 76ers are rather shamelessly not trying to win basketball games this season. As the NBA's only winless team at 0-7, they're off to a terrific start. Even as the losses pile up, though, there's something strangely endearing about these Sixers if viewed through a certain lens.
If nothing else, Philly is allowing several young players to get opportunities they never would have seen elsewhere. One of those players is K.J. McDaniels, a rookie wing out of Clemson. If you can find the inner strength to actually sit through an entire 76ers game, McDaniels is bound to come away as your new favorite rookie.
This is what McDaniels did last week in only his fifth career game:
And this is what he did on Sunday night against the Raptors:
At this rate, K.J. McDaniels is going to put every NBA player on the wrong side of a Vine before the All-Star break. This is no surprise. College basketball fans learned all about McDaniels' penchant for covering the basketball court in a sudden burst of flames throughout last season. If you're just catching up on the K.J. bandwagon right now, here's what you need to know.
Who is K.J. McDaniels?
McDaniels came to Clemson as a lightly recruited wing from Alabama. He didn't appear on any Top 100 recruiting lists. It's difficult to even tell what other offers he had because ESPN lists Clemson as his only one.
FanDuel Fantasy Basketball
FanDuel Fantasy Basketball
After barely playing as a freshman, McDaniels started to establish himself as a sophomore. He was a starting wing in the ACC, but few noticed because he was playing for a terrible Tigers team that lost 10 of its last 11 games to finish the season 13-18.
But as a junior, McDaniels really started to take off. The Tigers went 23-13 in McDaniels' final season in college, and he was the unquestioned star of the show. He averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 blocks on his way to being named ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He was ranked No. 56 in the country in block rate (per KenPom), and at 6'6 he was the shortest power conference player on the leaderboard by several inches.
Big men are supposed to be the shot blockers on a basketball team, not the wings. By now you should realize K.J. McDaniels is no ordinary wing.
So, McDaniels made highlight reel plays in college, too?
McDaniels established early in his junior season that no one was scoring over the top of him. He swatted South Carolina seven times in Clemson's third game of the year. The next game against Temple, he finished with seven more blocks.
He finished the season with 100 blocks in 36 games.
How did he end up on the 76ers?
In addition to two top-10 picks, the Sixers also had five second-rounders. McDaniels was the first of those picks at No. 32 overall, two slots away from being chosen in the first round.
The 76ers wanted McDaniels to commit to a four-year contract with the last two years not guaranteed, but he decided to make a bolder choice instead, signing a one-year non-guaranteed deal for $507,000 that makes him a restricted free agent next season. To even retain the right to match any offer to him, the 76ers would have to extend McDaniels a $1.2 million tender.
It was a risky move for a second-round pick because he can be cut at any time without any sort of guaranteed money coming his way, but McDaniels knew he was coming into a situation in Philly where he could find early playing time. If he keeps playing the way he has been through the first seven games of his career, the bet he made on himself is going to pay off.
How's he been as a rookie?
On the stat sheet, McDaniels is averaging 9.3 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. Perhaps even more impressively, he's shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 42.1 percent on nearly three attempts per game from three-point territory.
But the stat sheet can only tell you so much. It doesn't, for example, capture the volume of McDaniels chasing down an offensive player in transition and smacking the ball against the backboard:
K.J. McDaniels doesn't just block shots. He blocks shots the way a tennis player winds up for a serve:
Get on the K.J. McDaniels bandwagon immediately. He's just getting started.