In a piece titled ‘Finding the Next Kent Bazemore’, The Ringer recently zeroed in on Houston Rockets forward K.J. McDaniels, highlighting him as one of three hidden gems currently wasting away on an NBA bench:
The Rockets’ depth might force McDaniels to play the majority of another season in the D-League, but he needs the opportunity to work through mistakes and focus on his development. Wallace spent three seasons stashed on the Kings’ bench before the expansion Charlotte Bobcats let him find his footing. That’s what can happen for McDaniels in the D-League, and maybe someday in the NBA.
I touched on McDaniels back in May in my season recap series:
When he actually did play, K.J. McDaniels did seem to bring the dynamic I spoke of in that previous piece, giving the team flexibility, and at times allowing it to play James Harden at point guard. Indeed, McDaniels had far and away the highest net rating on the entire team at +18.9, though that figure should be taken with at least a small grain of salt, given the sample size. But for whatever reason, McDaniels rarely played, failing to crack the rotation, appearing in only 37 games and averaging 6.4 minutes per contest. He shot 40% overall and 28% on 3’s, likely the cause for Bickerstaff’s reluctance, though those numbers are almost identical to Corey Brewer’s.
The Ringer piece agrees: McDaniels wasn’t just a highlight reel. He was a positively impactful player in the small amount of minutes he got. But for whatever reason–most likely his shooting deficiencies–he was never given a good faith opportunity to crack the rotation. This while Corey Brewer was one of the worst regulars in the entire league.
I posed many theories during the year as to why Bickerstaff stuck with Brewer, who wasn’t producing. Perhaps there was something in practice that was determinative – its reasonable to speculate Brewer went harder in practice given his effort levels during games, even in spite of his lack of production. More likely is the possibility that Brewer, a popular veteran returning from a team that had made the West Finals, was too well entrenched in the lockerroom to be supplanted from his role on the team.
Bickerstaff of course was a holdover from the McHale era so its reasonable to assume he would not have wanted to depart too greatly from the status quo. But a new coach this season will bring a fresh slate with no prior favorites. If Brewer struggles again, it’s likelier that he sits in place of someone else. The best outcome of course would be to have Brewer return to his 2015 form when he served as a dangerous weapon for the team’s second unit.
But regardless of Brewer, McDaniels cannot become a regular in the rotation until he becomes at least plausible as a shooter. The Ringer agrees that the 28% figure McDaniels shot last year on 3’s will have to rise closer to 36% – and the early returns from summer league weren’t good.
It’s a shame. D’Antoni no doubt remembers the success he enjoyed starting Shawn Marion at power forward for his Suns teams. McDaniels isn’t the rebounder that Marion was, so that will never be a heavy-minute option. But at the least, with his weak side shot blocking and versatility, McDaniels could have at least given the Rockets the flexibility to go small in small spurts. I don’t know if McDaniels did, but he should have been shooting thousands of jumpers per day this summer.