The man buried on the Houston Rockets bench – K.J. McDaniels


Who Is This Mystery Man K.J. McDaniels?

The million dollar question Houston Rocket fans want to know, who is K.J. McDaniels?

Why is K.J. buried on the Rockets bench?

Will he eventually get playing time this year? In this article we dive into K.J.’s college career, the positives and negatives of his game, and can he contribute to the Rockets right now.

K.J. McDaniels played three years for Clemson. Most of his stats improved dramatically each year and the one that sticks out the most was his free throw percentage, which jumped from 57.9% his 1st year to 84.2% his last year with Clemson.

Take a look at the advancement from year one to year three:

First year at Clemson:

  • 10.1 minutes per game
  • 3.9 points per game
  • 1.8 rebounds per game
  • 0.2 assist per game
  • 0.7 blocks per game

Second year at Clemson:

  • 27.5 minutes per game
  • 10.9 points per game
  • 5.0 rebounds per game
  • 0.8 assist per game
  • 2.1 blocks per game

Third and final year at Clemson:

  • 33.7 minutes per game
  • 17.1 points per game (6th in the ACC)
  • 7.1 rebounds per game (9th in the ACC)
  • 1.6 assist per game
  • 2.8 blocks per game (1st in the ACC)
  • 90.8 defensive rating (2nd in the ACC)

Notice the transformation each year at Clemson, which is probably the best turn around out of any college player ever in a three year span! Not to mention in McDaniels’ third year with Clemson, he was awarded 1st team All-ACC and Defensive Player Of The Year for the ACC. Improvements every year is what NBA scouts look for. K.J. McDaniel’s three year development in almost every category shows scouts a willingness to learn, take direction from coaches, a great work ethic, and huge upside potential.


McDaniels was drafted in the second round of the 2014 Philadelphia 76ers (32nd overall). McDaniels decided to only sign a one year deal with the 76ers, which came as a shock to everyone. Most rookies would rather sign a three to four year deal to get the security blanket and guaranteed money. Well KJ decided to bet on himself and he captured the eyes of all general mangers and players with that gamble.

McDaniels is a high jumping super athletic 6’6 forward with a 6’11 wingspan. His athleticism is off the charts which is partially why he became a fan favorite instantly down in Philly.

As for his talent he is an excellent defender who can guard multiple positions; some say 1 through 4, but with more small ball being played it’s feasible he could guard all five positions. McDaniels is an excellent rebounder and shot blocker. He has a very high motor which is obvious when you isolate your attention on him in games as he runs the entire court. Notably KJ loves to chase down opposing players from behind on fast breaks for the emphatic shot block.

Example A:

McDaniels gained a lot of national media and fan recognition as a rookie with his high flying dunks which often were punctuated by precision and strength. Here is one of the many jaw dropping dunks with the 76ers last year:


Lets take a look at his 2014-15 rookie year stats:

  • 7.9 Points Per Game (10th in the 2014 rookie class)
  • 3.2 Rebounds Per Game (three way tie for 13th in the 2014 rookie class)
  • 0.7 Steals Per Game (two way tie for 12th in the 2014 rookie class)
  • 1.1 Blocks Per Game (2nd in the 2014 rookie class)

Pretty impressive, knowing that KJ McDaniels was picked 32nd in the 2nd round.

Areas for growth

McDaniels’ shot release is quite odd, specifically the form is awkward and it isn’t a fast release which needs to be fixed immediately. KJ averaged 45% shooting in his three years at Clemson which is neither bad nor great. Now in the pros those certain type of flaws get exposed in the next level. In his rookie year he averaged 39.6% from the field and 28.7% from three, which is below average. Although every player seems to lack a consistent jumper coming from college to the pros, so it’s expected.

Here are the areas of  McDaniels’ game that he should prioritize improving:

  • 39.6% Field Goal Percentage (ranked 23rd out of the 2014 rookie class)
  • 28.7% Three Point Field Goal Percentage (ranked 20th out of the 2014 rookie class)
  • 1.7 Turnovers Per Game (ranked 32nd out of 36 players in the 2014 rookie class)
  • 3 Technical Foul Calls (three way tie for 1st in the 2014 rookie class)

In review of these areas the one positive take-away is his shooting can be improved through practice (and something he’s demonstrated is that work ethic). The other factors are mostly a matter of him playing smarter to not turn over the ball or lose his temper on no calls. This second area will also improve as the game begins to slow down for him.  Obviously the shooting is the key area for him to focus on and for the coaching staff to work with him on.

McDaniels traded to Rockets

The 76ers general manager was not going to wait until the summer to let KJ walk for free so at the trade deadline McDaniels was relinquished to the Rockets for Isaiah Canaan and a future 2nd round pick. Come to find out Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has been eyeing KJ since draft day. Morey went on a local Houston radio station called Sports 610 Radio after the pick up of KJ McDaniels and explained:

"“We added K.J. as more of a long term bet and we really wanted to get K.J. in the draft.”"

Defensive players are very important, especially in the playoffs. Unfortunately McDaniels had to undergo season ending surgery at the end of the season on his wrist. When McDaniels got his opportunity to showcase his talent in garbage time, you could tell he was having a real hard time catching up to the speed of the NBA. Remember shooting efficiently and catching up to the speed of the game is expected for first year players. This is why the development league is so important to young players.

McDaniels’ 2014-15 Season

McDaniels hasn’t played much this season because the Rockets coaching staff deems it necessary to play veterans over young players. Although when KJ enters the game in garbage time the improvements are noticeable. Take for instance this block at the rim against Ryan Kelly of the Los Angeles Lakers:

It hasn’t been pretty all season for McDaniels especially vs the Detroit Pistons.  McDaniels got some playing time and started at the small forward position in the second half. Rocket fans started to get excited to see KJ starting over Corey Brewer who’s been just been god awful all season.

J.B. Bickerstaff decided to utilize the Hack-A-Andre Drummond to start the third quarter. Guess who was the Guinea pig? Bickerstaff nominated K.J. for the task to foul Drummond on purpose. McDaniels was treated like a player with no value to his team as he intentionally fouled Andre five times in a matter of nine seconds.

Plain and simple this was embarrassing for this young kid who has been fighting to get some playing time. Bickerstaff felt it was necessary to treat KJ like a bum who’s only way of getting playing time was handing out fouls on purpose. Check out KJ’s response to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle about his role against the Pistons:

KJ McDaniels on his five intentional fouls in nine seconds: "Anything for my teammates. I know they'd do anything for me. "

— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) January 21, 2016

That’s a great response by him, but I’m not sure it’s believable! Picture this scenario as a second year player, you finally get some playing time to show the coaches you deserve to be in the rotation and all of a sudden your task is to intentionally foul Andre Drummond five times in nine seconds. To add the cherry on top of the sundae, *J.B. Bickerstaff decided to take KJ out for the rest of the game. Take a look at one particular Rocket fan who caught K.J. McDaniels tweet before he eventually deleted it right after the game:

KJ McDaniels is clearly frustrated with his role. Don't blame him. Can tell by his last tweet

— Sicario (@mccauley318) January 21, 2016

This doesn’t sound like a player happy with his assigned role against the Pistons. In fact it comes off as a guy who is ashamed of being picked to carry out this task.

McDaniels’ Present & Future

More from Space City Scoop

I want people to understand KJ McDaniels is going to be a work in progress and this is going to be a long term project. KJ in his first two years with Clemson didn’t even look like a player that would be drafted. The third year is when he  started to put the puzzle together .

If defense is the Rockets problem (25th rated defensive rating out of 30 teams) why not insert McDaniels into the rotation over Brewer? Brewer lives off getting out on fast breaks and steals. Well so does McDaniels, but he is also younger then Corey, more athletic, and way better defender then Brewer.

I’ll finish with these thoughts, can McDaniels be any worse at shooting then what Brewer is shooting this year (42% FG% and 29% from three)?

If not why not give McDaniels a shot?

Who knows McDaniels might end up fixing this Rockets defense.

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