The San Antonio Spurs need a lengthy two-way small forward to fit into their young core, and Washington freshman Jaden McDaniels fits the bill.
Last time the San Antonio Spurs took a swing on a Seattle-native playing at the University of Washington, they landed a starting point guard in Dejounte Murray. The 23-year-old has bought into the culture of the team and proved himself to be one of the most determined individuals the organization has selected since Tony Parker in 2001.
UW Head Coach Mike Hopkins has a defensive-minded culture, where his players are taught to emphasize defense through learning his zone schemes and playing to each other’s strengths. For freshman small forward Jaden McDaniels, Hopkins’ coaching style is helping to harness an extraordinary two-way skillset that projects to translate nicely to the NBA.
McDaniels is a 6-foot-10 forward with a wingspan just half an inch short of seven feet long. He projects to play the three at the professional level, but can defend positions two-through-four proficiently while stepping out to guard the perimeter well.
Through 27 games in college, McDaniels is averaging 12.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 40.2 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from beyond the arc. His shooting percentages leave some to be desired, but he’s working his way through the next level of play and has put on some stellar scoring performances to offset those concerns.
As a scorer, McDaniels is the total package. He moves extremely well for a player of his size, using quickness and an advanced handle to create shots for himself around the perimeter. He can shake his way into the paint using an array of dribble moves including a killer crossover and a similarly disheartening stepback jumper.
McDaniels likes to break down defenders and spot up for jump shots in both the mid-range and painted areas, but that’s not for a lack of slashing ability. He has a soft touch that allows him to finish through contact and convert on high arching floaters.
Though he’s not shooting a great percentage on his threes, McDaniels has immense potential from range due to his crisp form and high release point. It’ll be difficult to contest his jumpers at any level since he uses verticality and size to shoot over defenders when need be.
After some time with Spurs shooting coach Chip Engelland, his jump shot should translate even better to the pros. His solid free throw returns (70-of-93, 3.4 per game) suggest that his jumper could take a step with the proper time and attention.
While McDaniels needs to work on his turnovers (3.2 per game), he’s a skillful and willing passer who can develop that side of his game once he masters his fundamentals. The Spurs’ structure would do dividends in maximizing his untapped potential as a scorer and playmaker.
The place where San Antonio would benefit the most, however, if from his flexibility as a defender. Washington teaches players to hone their defensive capacity and become smarter defensive players both on and off the ball. McDaniels naturally has a high motor, which is a quality the Spurs desperately need from their wings.
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He can switch off of screens, keep up with shifty ball-handlers, rotate near the rim and identify passing lanes ahead of the curve. As time goes on, that innate drive on defense should help him develop into a flexible and versatile player in the professional ranks.
Murray is the perfect leader to help McDaniels in his transition from college to NBA life. He’s already a mentor to rookie Keldon Johnson and can relate with McDaniels on an even deeper level, having come from the same school and city. San Antonio wants Dejounte to be the next gatekeeper to the Spurs Way, and pairing him with McDaniels ensures that the teaching of Gregg Popovich continues for years to come.
Assuredly, it’ll take time for McDaniels to become the player that San Antonio needs him to be for the future. Even so, he fits incredibly with a future lineup consisting of Murray, Johnson, Luka Samanic, Jakob Poeltl, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV.
The youth movement is in full effect, but the Spurs need that starting small forward to solidify their outline for the future and McDaniels could be that missing piece.