The Houston Rockets’ roster is loaded with talent, but this season was lacking in effort and willingness to go the extra mile.
However, there’s one man on the roster who made it consistently clear that he would not only do whatever was asked of him, but that he would put 100% effort into the task at hand. We’ll continue our end-of-year analyses with the man at the head of the next generation of Houston Rockets: KJ McDaniels.
To be a successful member of the Rockets, a player must meet a few unofficial qualifications. First, a player must be willing to pass to James Harden whenever he wants the ball. Second, a player must be willing to give effort on defense (not many players did much of this in 2016). Thirdly, he must be able to knock down an open three-point shot.
KJ meets two of the three qualifications more assuredly than anybody else on the roster. When he comes in a game, the entire team feeds off of his wild energy. He knows his place on the court and has no problem giving up the ball to players whose reputation precedes his own.
So, why is it then that he didn’t get the playing time that fans wanted and that the team could’ve used? Well, the Rockets’ offense consists of shooting a LOT of threes, hence the third qualification. McDaniels’s 28% shooting from beyond the arc has been his Achilles’ heel throughout his time in Houston.
Still though, McDaniels provided a lot of excitement about the future of his career, showing off his athleticism and great attitude over the course of this season.
Next: Season Analysis
Apr 3, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard K.J. McDaniels (32) dribbles the ball as Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (12) defends during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Season Stats and Analysis
Not many players can make the claim that they’ve improved in literally every single category, but KJ McDaniels can. From his partial season with the Rockets last year to his full stint this season, KJ posted higher numbers in literally every statistical category. From points to minutes played to offensive rebounds, he proved that he wanted to get better as a basketball player.
His most notable improvements can be found in his per-36 minute numbers, where he impressed by averaging 13.6 points and 6.4 rebounds. While 13.6 points isn’t jaw-dropping, it is worth pointing out that McDaniels had better per-36 minute averages than Klay Thompson in steals, rebounds, and blocks.
KJ only touched the floor in 37 of the 82 regular season games, but his production from an analytical point of view shows tons of promise. Being only 23 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to improve his three point percentage (28%), and his wide-ranging improvements from last year to this year show his dedication to work at it.
Next: Playoff Production
Oct 15, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard K.J. McDaniels (32) dunks the ball against Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Well, there isn’t much to say about McDaniels’s playoff performance, considering the quick fate that met the Rockets by way of the merciless Golden State Warriors. Despite my wishing, JB Bickerstaff only allowed McDaniels to see an average of about 8 minutes per game during this year’s playoffs, nearly all of which were garbage minutes when his team was down by 20 or more in the fourth quarter.
Mostly due to the unimportant nature of his minutes, McDaniels did not play well during his limited court time. He shot just 31% from the field despite shooting 33% from beyond the arc, an improvement from his regular season average.
I wrote before the playoffs started that I wanted to see McDaniels hound Steph Curry up and down the court during the playoffs, using his length and athleticism to slow him down as much as possible. But Bickerstaff’s rotations left much to be desired throughout the course of the season, so needless to say I did not get my wish.
Next: Best Moments
Mar 9, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Houston Rockets guard K.J. McDaniels (32) dribbles the ball past Philadelphia 76ers guard Hollis Thompson (31) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
For a guy who averaged just 6.4 minutes per game and only suited up in 37 of them, it’s understandable that there aren’t just a ton of highlights. However, KJ McDaniels is a freak athlete and there were several moments when that was made obvious.
In one game against the Philadelphia 76ers, KJ threw down two ridiculous dunks that were ESPN Top-10 worthy.
I am of the opinion that McDaniels would be one of the best defenders in the league if he were given a shot, and this block works to back up my claim.
The next video is one that was made infamous, when McDaniels fouled Andre Drummond five times in just nine seconds. While it was used to showcase how silly the Hack-a-Shaq strategy has become, it meant something else for KJ McDaniels. It was an opportunity for him to prove that he was willing to do whatever was asked of him, a quality in a great teammate that was a rarity in Houston this year.
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
The Houston Rockets’ offense is built off of shooting two kinds of shots: three pointers and dunks/layups. While there aren’t very many highlight reels of KJ knocking down triples, he can always be counted on for an acrobatic layup or rim-shattering slam.
Next: Goals For the Future
Nov 16, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard K.J. McDaniels (32) passes against Boston Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) in the second half at Toyota Center. Celtics won 111 to 95. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
The Future of KJ McDaniels
Last summer, McDaniels signed a 3 year contract with the Houston Rockets. After this disappointment of a season, he is one of the few players who will most assuredly be kept around. Many players have either a player or team option that could be acted upon this summer, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the landscape of the Rockets looks distinctly different after the next few months.
Source: K.J. McDaniels signed a 3 year deal worth $10 million with the Houston Rockets. Player option for 3rd year.
— Jake Pavorsky (@JakePavorsky) July 19, 2015
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McDaniels is signed for just about 3.33 million dollars next year, so his salary won’t affect the Rockets’ pursuit of various free agents. He’ll most likely be kept on the team as James Harden’s primary backup, but won’t see a huge increase of minutes unless and until he becomes a more reliable shooter.
Whomever gets hired as the new coach could change things up as far as rotation and role of players in concerned, but with Daryl Morey as GM, the philosophy of the Houston Rockets will likely remain the same. KJ McDaniels has become one of my favorites on the team, and has consistently proven to be one of the few guys that seems to care about being the best he can be on and off the court. I hope to see a lot more of KJ next season.
Be sure to check out our Draft Prospect Series and our Year End Player Reviews.
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