McDaniels’ Hard Work is Paying Off
K.J. McDaniels had just spent several hours working out and doing drills in a gym full of NBA executives and coaches at the 2014 NBA Draft Combine, but he didn’t feel satisfied with the work he had put in. He wanted to go through the drills again and put up some shots. So while other draft prospects were exploring downtown Chicago with friends or lounging at the NBA hotel, McDaniels purchased a basketball from a nearby sporting goods store and asked his trainer, Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball, to meet him at a local gym late that night.
That evening, McDaniels spent two hours going through an NBA-level workout and shooting from the areas where he felt he struggled during the combine drills. He went through his workout on one end of the floor, while a pair of high school kids were shooting on the other (oblivious that they were sharing the court with an NBA prospect). The forward from Clemson worked out until the gym’s employees told him that they were closing. McDaniels seemed disappointed to leave, but he finished up his final drill, grabbed his ball, wiped off his sweat-covered face and trekked back to the hotel. He was finally ready to call it a day.
This is who McDaniels is – a kid who loves basketball, works harder than many of his peers and wants to be great. He’s been doing these intense late-night workouts for years and he’s not changing his approach just because he made it to the NBA.
Some players in McDaniels’ position wouldn’t train as hard as he does. After all, he could probably get by with a worse work ethic due to his freakish athleticism, 6’11 wingspan and 8’6 standing reach. But McDaniels isn’t content with just getting by or being average. Being an elite athlete isn’t enough for him; he wants to be an elite player and he knows the only way to become one is by living in the gym.
“I’ve watched the greats – from LeBron to Kobe to Michael to Carmelo to D-Wade – and I’ve seen the amount of work that they put in,” McDaniels told Basketball Insiders. “I’m on YouTube a lot watching those guys, and I try to model myself after them. I want to be the greatest out there. I’m going to keep trying. It’s only my rookie year, but I feel like I can do that. My work ethic isn’t going to change. The work never stops.”
Abunassar has been training NBA players for nearly two decades, including stars such as Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Chauncey Billups, John Wall, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka among others. He trained McDaniels in Las Vegas during the pre-draft process, and afterward stated that the young forward was one of the hardest workers he’s ever encountered.
“K.J. was unique in the sense that he always wanted to do more,” Abunassar said. “He never needed a day off. His work ethic and focus were as good as any player I’ve had in the last 18 years. His play this season is not a surprise to me at all.”
McDaniels’ intense work ethic is clearly paying off. The Philadelphia 76ers selected him after he shockingly slipped to the 32nd pick in this year’s draft, and now he’s outplaying many of the players who were picked ahead of him. The 21-year-old is making plenty of teams regret passing on him.
“I use it as motivation, most definitely,” McDaniels said of falling into the second round in the draft. “I can’t really be mad about what happened at the draft, I just have to take advantage of what happened and do everything I can to be the best I can be.”
McDaniels has emerged as one of the most productive rookies in the 2014 class. He has averaged a well-rounded 9.3 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and one steal in 25 minutes off of Philadelphia’s bench. He’s 12th in the NBA in blocks per game (as well as first among rookies and first among perimeter players). Those numbers aren’t a fluke either, as he led the ACC in blocks per game (2.8) last season and earned the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
While the stats are impressive, McDaniels also impacts games in many ways that don’t show up in the box score, using his excellent motor to play suffocating defense, alter shots and dive for loose balls. He is a two-way player who makes his presence felt all over the floor.
In fact, McDaniels has been so good early in the season that he has even been mentioned as a Rookie of the Year candidate. The race is wide open now that Jabari Parker and Julius Randle are out for the rest of the campaign and other lottery picks like Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart and Doug McDermott have been sidelined as well. While Andrew Wiggins is likely the frontrunner to win the award at this point, McDaniels is certainly in the mix, which he admits is a bit surreal.
“It means a lot to have my name in that conversation,” McDaniels said of the Rookie of the Year talk. “Thinking back to the night of the draft, I just wanted to get picked. I just wanted to be drafted – that’s it. Now, to be in that conversation is a blessing and it pushes me even harder to go out there and not only score, but also play great defense. That’s [my top priority], being the best I can be on the defensive end. My job is to go out there and play defense and try to help my teammates win on that end.”
Philadelphia fans have started campaigning for McDaniels to receive Rookie of the Year consideration, just as they successfully did for Michael Carter-Williams last season. McDaniels has become a fan favorite in Philly, winning over the team’s supporters with his highlight dunks, monster blocks and impressive hustle plays. His work ethic, scrappiness and team-first approach also resonated with the Philadelphia faithful.
“It’s a great feeling,” McDaniels said when asked about being a fan favorite in Philadelphia. “It feels like my Clemson days, like it’s rubbing off on the league. I’m definitely starting to get more comfortable. It’s a blessing to make it this far and be a fan favorite, but I’m still trying to get better every day.”
Some rookies have trouble adjusting to the NBA, struggling with things like the pace of the game, tougher competition and rigorous schedule. McDaniels, though, seems like he’s having a blast. On the court, he seems comfortable and confident. Off the court, he says he’s enjoying all of the traveling that comes with the 82-game NBA schedule.
“It’s been fun,” McDaniels said. “I’m with my teammates and we have fun. Every time we’re on the road, we try to have a great time and entertain each other. It’s definitely a big adjustment though, traveling from city to city and going to some places where I’ve never been at all. To be at this level and be able to see all of these different places is special.”
McDaniels’ teammates rave about him and the impact he makes on both ends of the court.
“He has helped a lot,” Carter-Williams said of McDaniels. “He saves a lot of baskets with his shot-blocking ability, he hits some big shots for us and he gets to the rim [consistently]. He has really helped us out a lot this year.”
While this has been a rough year for the 76ers (who currently have the NBA’s worst record at 3-23), McDaniels has been one of the team’s few bright spots this season and it seems like he’ll be a significant piece for the franchise moving forward.
McDaniels can become a restricted free agent this summer since his deal with Philadelphia is a one-year, non-guaranteed contract worth just $507,336. He decided to ink that deal rather than locking himself into the usual contract that the 76ers have been giving to their second-round prospects, which is a multi-year pact that features two guaranteed years and up to two additional non-guaranteed options. Those contracts aren’t very player friendly and they can be dangled in trade talks since they aren’t guaranteed. McDaniels believed he’d play meaningful minutes and do well this season, so he essentially turned down two guaranteed years and a couple hundred thousand dollars more this season in order to bet on himself and enter free agency immediately after what he predicted would be a productive rookie campaign. In order to make him a restricted free agent, the Sixers must extend him a $1,045,059 qualifying offer (which would be a nice raise), and he could make even more if another team comes to the table and tries to pry him away from Philadelphia with a strategically structured offer sheet. Signing the one-year deal is looking like an excellent decision for McDaniels, especially since it’s hard to imagine Philadelphia letting him go with the way he has played.
For now, though, McDaniels is just focusing on the team’s results and doing what he needs to do as a pro on a daily basis. Adjusting to all of the losses has been frustrating for McDaniels and his teammates, but he’s just grateful to be in the NBA and in a situation that allows him to develop as a player and be a significant contributor each night.
“It’s tough,” McDaniels said. “You win some and you lose some. But just being able to be in this NBA environment is a blessing to me. And we’re still a young team. We’re going to keep trying to improve and get better every game. We take things very seriously in practice as well, which I feel like carries over.”
After a recent 76ers loss in which McDaniels played a lot of minutes, he decided to remain in the empty arena to work on his free throws. He puts in this extra effort because he wants to perfect his craft and someday hear his name mentioned on a list of “greats,” alongside the superstars he rattled off who are instantly recognizable by one name. For now, he studies their film and copies their habits, determined to do whatever he can to realize his full potential.
McDaniels has made it to the NBA, carved out a key role in Philadelphia’s rotation and started to make a name for himself, but that’s just the beginning. Now is when the real grind begins. After all, when you’re trying to achieve greatness, the work never stops.
O’Neal Talks About Decision to Play
It remains to be seen if Jermaine O’Neal will suit up in the NBA this season. The 36-year-old O’Neal obviously has a lot of wear and tear on his body after playing 18 seasons in the NBA, but he can still contribute to a team.
Over the last two seasons – one with the Phoenix Suns and one with the Golden State Warriors – O’Neal showed that he can still be a solid rebounder and interior defender. When pressed into the starting lineup due to injuries last year in Golden State, he averaged 10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 13 games.
O’Neal has said that he’ll make a decision about playing early in January, which means he could sign very soon. The Dallas Mavericks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors have reportedly expressed interest in O’Neal.
Earlier today, O’Neal tweeted that he feels physically ready to play and stressed that his family (who lives in Dallas) will play a big factor in his decision:
So I know it's been some talk about if I will play again or not and if so then what team will I choose. So I thought I would speak on this.
— Jermaine O'Neal (@jermaineoneal) December 23, 2014
For 18 long years sports has dominated my families life to a point that they have had to sacrifice things that was important to them.
— Jermaine O'Neal (@jermaineoneal) December 23, 2014
So you can believe now whatever decision I make will be a pure family decision that my family will have a huge part on making with me.
— Jermaine O'Neal (@jermaineoneal) December 23, 2014
Can I physically still play?Probably better than 60% of the bigs in the league today! That's not a knock on anyone but more about how I feel
— Jermaine O'Neal (@jermaineoneal) December 23, 2014
My decision will not be based off any personal relationships with a cityor organization which will be tuff because Ofthe love I got for them
— Jermaine O'Neal (@jermaineoneal) December 23, 2014
I will say this, if the decision is to play I promise you that when I hit the court I will be ready physically and mentally to help a team!
— Jermaine O'Neal (@jermaineoneal) December 23, 2014
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.