Although former Clemson star KJ McDaniels will not be attending the NBA Draft in New York tonight, he and his family will likely be in for a long night waiting to hear the ACC Defensive Player of the Year’s name to be called. McDaniels, who is projected as a late first round pick in mock drafts (some as high as 22nd and others as low as 28th), had a break out season for the Tigers this year most notably marked by his supreme athleticism, defensive tenacity and uncanny ability to block shots.
However, despite the unmatched defensive ability McDaniels would bring to any team, his fate within the draft is still almost entirely uncertain. Teams toward the middle of the first round, such as the Boston Celtics with the 17th pick, have showed interest and could reasonably reach for McDaniels. On the other hand, it is possible he could slip through the cracks and to the rear of the first round or even as far as the second. As the league wide focus on offense continues to trend upward, a defensive oriented small forward such as McDaniels could easily be overlooked for more capable offensive weapons. McDaniels’ style of play, though impressive upon examination, did not earn him much national publicity (outside of his weekly appearances on SportsCenter’s Top 10), and he finds himself flying under the radar. Don’t be surprised if he does not get drafted until Friday.
The most likely scenario, however, is that McDaniels gets drafted where he was originally projected, early in the last third of the first round. The two teams that are showing the most interest in him leading into tonight are the Memphis Grizzlies (22nd pick) and the Charlotte Hornets (24th pick). Although the Grizzlies are a very well rounded and talented team at the power forward and guard positions, McDaniels as an athletic, small forward could serve as the perfect connecting piece to bolster an already strong defensive squad. According to the Memphis staff, McDaniels impressed them in his workout with the team, making him a very viable selection. If KJ were to slip below Memphis, the Hornets would become his next likely destination. Charlotte has shown they are all but set on taking a small forward with the 24th pick (they also have the 9th overall pick) and have focused on McDaniels and Duke’s Rodney Hood. Hood, who was a quite capable defender for Coach K, has a much more complete offensive arsenal than McDaniels, which could prove to be a deciding factor for a Charlotte team that struggled to manufacture points against the league’s better teams last season. However, if Hood is off the board by this time (which is fairly likely), the Hornets could very easily select McDaniels.
Although anything can happen on draft night, McDaniels’ consistently strong workout performances make him all but a sure lock to be selected within the first round tonight. KJ, his family and Clemson basketball fans are certain to be in for a long night of wondering and speculation as to which team will take a chance on the promising Clemson star.