The Toronto Raptors drafting 29th means they are at the mercy of the teams ahead of them — which, of course, is most of the league. The picks in the late-lottery and the latter half of the first round don’t necessarily follow “best available prospect” drafting strategies. Some teams may be looking for players to make an immediate impact, or draft-and-stash candidates, draft-for-need picks, or long term projects. In other words, teams drafting in this late-first round range (and beyond) are often in different phases of their development timeline, which leads to vastly different thinking.
Based on several mock drafts, I had the following names on my not-so-big-board for the Raptors at the no. 29th pick: Tyler Terry, Desmond Bane, Isaiah Joe, Tyler Bey, Isaiah Stewart, and Malachi Flynn. In this, I considered a few factors when I came up with my shortlist, such as defensive IQ, physical tools vs. skill-set, collegiate performance, and re-imagining their upside regardless of their age.
When the fictitious version of the Oklahoma City Thunder went up and selected Leandro Bolmaro for the 25th pick in our SB Nation 2020 Mock NBA Draft, my shortlist was down to Terry, Isaiah Joe, Isaiah Stewart, and Malachi Flynn. Tyler Bey went earlier than expected. The next three picks went Terry, Flynn, and Grant Riller. At this point, I was ready to select Isaiah Joe, who was at the top of my list assuming Terry, Flynn, and Bane were no longer available.
But then I reviewed the selections and noticed there was one name still available who I thought would be long gone by the time the Raptors were due to pick: Jaden McDaniels.
McDaniels was a mid-lottery prospect to start his freshman campaign, regularly ranked higher than Obi Toppin, Killian Hayes, and Isaac Okoro to name a few. His freshman season took a nose-dive almost halfway through, but McDaniels was still a fringe lottery prospect, expected to go between the 14-20 range when the NCAA season ended.
Due to the Raptors’ long regular season run of success, they have rarely been in a position to draft a prospect with plenty of upside, let alone a lottery pick. Jakob Poeltl has been the team’s only lottery pick of late (and it was acquired via trade). Meanwhile, OG Anunoby represents the only big-time upside prospect Toronto has picked in the first round for some time. In OG’s case, he was projected to be a lottery pick, but teams passed on him due to his ACL injury.
If McDaniels is available for the Raptors at the 29th slot in this coming draft, he’ll be the best player available. It’s been reported that he’s worked out for the Miami Heat (at no. 20) and the Utah Jazz (with pick no. 23), so it may be a long shot that he’ll still be around. From my vantage point, McDaniels’ potential is comparable — if not higher — than many of the others prospects outside of the top five.
That is, of course, assuming McDaniels lands on a team that can help him realize that potential — a team like the Raptors. Let’s review McDaniels’ draft profile.
Profile: Jaden McDaniels, SF - Freshman (Washington), 6’10”, 20 years old
As a late first-round pick, a team would draft Jaden McDaniels because of his potential upside. He is a project, but one that is low-risk/high-reward. This kid is a McDonald’s All-American and a consensus top ten recruit in his class.
McDaniels has a versatile (albeit inconsistent) game, but it shows a lot of promise assuming he gets stronger and gets more game experience under his belt. He is a multi-positional wing that can shoot from the perimeter, create his own shot anywhere on the floor, and play off-the-ball as well. McDaniels’ face-up game needs improvement, but as he gets stronger and tightens his handle, he would be a handful — especially with his effective pull-up game.
Defensively, McDaniels has the size, length, athleticism, and — most importantly — overall IQ that could translate in the right environment. His Washington Huskies played a lot of zone defense, which works well for the Raptors. McDaniels’ quickness, length, and long strides allow him to close out fast and contest players around the perimeter, while also being able to offer rim protection as a help defender.
Overall, McDaniels sees the floor well on both ends of the court, and he’s quite capable of creating plays for his teammates. If nothing else, he tracks as a lethal 3-and-D player in the future, which is a decent value for a 29th pick.
Areas of Concern
McDaniels has the talent and potential to get drafted in the lottery. A nightmare freshman year brought his value down, and coming back for his sophomore year to rehab his draft value doesn’t seem to be an option. McDaniels and his coach have said all the right things, but I doubt his coach was heartbroken to hear that he was not coming back.
On the floor, McDaniels was one of the worst in Pac-12 at turning the ball over (100 TOs, or 2.2 per game) and a whistle magnet, leading the league in personal fouls (103). A significant factor for these miserable stats is the lack of polish to his game overall. McDaniels’ handle is not tight, and the offensive tools in his bag are not at the level where he can draw from them consistently to score. In short, he was not ready to be “the Man,” but he was thrust into that role when Washington lost their point guard due to academic eligibility issues.
McDaniels struggled to perform at a high level and carry the team. He ended up doing neither, as his performance and confidence fizzled out. The burden was too much for him and in turn the coaching staff lost their faith in him. McDaniels getting benched was ridiculous, as he was one of their best players, but that’s how it happened. The latter part of the Huskies’ season saw him coming off the bench, working for his own touches, with his coach rarely calling his number.
During Washington’s 11-game losing streak, McDaniels fell deeper into a hole. He lost confidence in the shots he could typically make, and he started pressing, which led to even poorer shot selection. Fouls took him out of many games too, which didn’t help. In all, that losing streak was the peak of bad body language from McDaniels. See No. 4 below:
A huge technical on Washington freshman Jaden McDaniels with 2:24 left and Huskies down 4.— Mike Randle (@RandleRant) November 9, 2019
Referees clearly trying to get flopping out of the game. pic.twitter.com/VKSIn6qeul
In McDaniels’ freshman career, it’s best to assess him based on three phases: the first twelve games of their season, where he was a secondary scorer/play-maker. The second part was his slump, where he struggled to lead the team and led to his benching. And the third part, when he was pushed into the team’s sixth man role.
If you read the scouting report on McDaniels, you may think he doesn’t fit the Raptors’ culture. But before we jump to conclusions, it’s fair to ask: were his struggles a product of his ability or his environment? Did McDaniels’ coaches do enough to help him and his team be in a better position to succeed? Most of all — and more specifically — can Toronto’s development team rehab his confidence, work on his game, and put him on the right path?
Now, the Raptors’ organization boasts one of the best talent development programs in the NBA. They are good at squeezing the juice out of lesser talents, and they also have the right kind of vets to mentor a player like McDaniels. His rookie year with the Raptors would probably only guarantee him garbage time minutes — and perhaps time in the G League with the Raptors 905. Can he make a Michael Porter-esque jump from there? If McDaniels has been using this extended time off to work on his game and bulk up, it feels possible. Maybe he can make the same sorts of appearances that Oshae Brissett and later Paul Watson got during last season — and then go from there.
McDaniel’s year two could get interesting, assuming he makes the right development strides. Coach Nick Nurse’s imagination can run wild with potential lineup combination that involve McDaniels, Pascal Siakam, and Anunoby. To me that’s a unique core worth building around.