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 PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors
Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.
As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.
Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.
The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.
Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.
Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.
Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.
When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.
“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”
Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.
Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.
In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.
“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”
It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”
“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.
Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors
Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions
Opening week is finally upon us.
Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.
The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.
In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.
Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.
But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.
The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.
What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.
That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.
Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.
Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.
Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.
It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.
As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.
Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.
Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.
Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.
The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.
Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.
The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.
See you at tip-off.
NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season
NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.
The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.
In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.
Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.
New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:
- Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
- A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
- A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
- Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
- Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
- NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.
Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:
- Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
- Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
- NBA Team Pass: $119.99
- Single Game Pass: $6.99
- Virtual Reality package: $49.99
- Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
- Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
- NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99
As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).
This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.
Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.