Why KJ McDaniels is the Best Reason to Watch the Sixers This Season

Sam Hinkie’s plan is not for the faint of heart. The Wells Fargo Center is half empty at best. The league’s owners and GMs have openly griped about his strategies. The names on the backs of Sixers’ jerseys have never been more important.

Philadelphia hoop junkies and Hinkie believers are both digging for reasons to sit through each game. Obviously the development of Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel stands out as good reason. Carter-Williams injury sidelined him for the start of the seasonand Noel has shown flashes, but ultimately his skills will slowly develop. His athleticism is off the charts and he can already block shots on an elite level (just ask James Harden), however, he’s a while away offensively and has been inconsistent rebounding the ball early in the season. Don’t get me wrong: I’m excited to see what these two bring to the table, I just think the takeaways won’t be evident night by night. Not to mention, the occasional “single-single” from Noel or 8 or 9 turnover game from Carter-Williams will feel like setbacks.

The rest of the roster is a grab bag of journeymen, low risk-high reward guys, and legitimate nobodies. Hollis Thompson will prove to be a rotation player. Tony Wroten will always be a poor man’s JR Smith (in more ways than one) and Jason Richardson’s waist is now wider than his margin of victory in the 2003 Dunk Contest. Luc Richard “Mmm Bop” a Moute isn’t a part of the team’s future, other than continuing to mentor Joel Embiid. Outside of that, things are bleak. I don’t think Henry Sims, Brandon Davies, or any of the other non-rookies will ever be meaningful NBA players. We haven’t seen Jerami Grant yet.

But we have seen KJ McDaniels.

And what we’ve seen has been very intriguing.  He brings a unique skill set to the NBA game. At face value, he seems like a classic 3’s and D guy. In general that would be his role, yet he brings something original. In Monday night’s game, he was playing James Harden with very little help down the stretch. That’s what you’d expect from your 6’6 defensive specialist. What you don’t expect are jaw dropping blocks or balls swatted into next week.

In his college days and already in the first several games, McDaniels has shown the ability to be an absolute game changer defensively. A dominant defensive center can change a game. We saw Tyson Chandler carry 4 bad Maverick defenders during their 2011 title run and bigs like Marc Gasol and Joakim Noah are anchors for their teams on the defensive end. Around the league though, only a small number of guards and small forwards have that ability. LeBron has no position. He is everything. John Wall looks roams the open floor like a ball hawking strong safety. A healthy Russell Westbrook is an athletic monster. It would ridiculous to already compare McDaniels to players like this, but he’s already shown that with his athleticism and instincts, the sky is the limit defensively.

And yet, if another NBA GM agrees with me, they can make their move in about 9 months. McDaniels bet on himself and signed a 1-year deal. Clearly, he agreed with many of the scouts who graded him as a first round talent. If he shines this season, he’ll be a restricted free agent. The Sixers would have the chance to match any offer, but as new TV money flows in and the salary cap rises, if someone else falls in love with McDaniels, they could back up the bank or backload a deal like Daryl Morey did with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

Essentially, KJ McDaniels appears to be a bright spot in the Sixers future, if he is a Sixer at all after this year. I’m looking forward to seeing him acclimate to the NBA and just as excited to see how Hinkie handles his contract next summer.

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and lone contributor of PalestraBack.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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