KJ McDaniels (Image c/o Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
When the Philadelphia 76ers grabbed K.J. McDaniels with the 32nd pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, everyone agreed that it was a steal. He had impressed everyone with his play while at Clemson, earning a reputation as a staunch defender and averaging 11 points per game over the three years he was in school. In any other draft McDaniels would have been a first-round pick guaranteed, but 2014 wasn’t like “any other draft” and so the Sixers were able to grab the 21 year-old with one of their many second-round picks.
McDaniels then made headlines when he made the unusual move of signing a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Sixers that would make him a restricted free agent at the end of the season. He essentially made the choice to bet on himself and his skills so he could get a bigger payday down the road instead of signing the standard 4-year rookie contract. At the time many thought it was a move that would either pay of handsomely or could lead to disaster depending how his rookie season went.
So far, I think it’s safe to say that McDaniels made the right move.
Through 16 games so far this season, McDaniels is averaging 10.2 points, 1.3 blocks and 3.2 rebounds per game, solid numbers for a rookie. On Saturday night against the Dallas Mavericks, he had the best game of his short career, scoring 21 points to lead all Sixers and grabbing 13 rebounds. But more importantly, when McDaniels enters a game you can sense a change in the tempo and how other teams deal with him. Plus, the fans have already fallen in love with McDaniels’ nose to the grindstone work ethic and highlight reel worthy acts of athleticism.
So why isn’t Brett Brown starting McDaniels in every game?
Despite obviously being one of the best young players on the Sixers roster, McDaniels has only started in one game this season. Brown will tell you it’s because of the logjam at the guard position and only having so many minutes to go around. But when you have a player like McDaniels, who is obviously a raw talent that could be a huge part of the Sixers’ plans going forward, why wouldn’t you play him?
I mean, if garbage like Luc Mbah a Moute can start and average almost 27 minutes a night, then there should be room for McDaniels, a player with actual skills, to get more playing time.
Now the conspiracy theorist in me might think it’s because of one of two things. Either a) Brown is being told to keep McDaniels’ minutes low so that the Sixers won’t have to break the bank to match any offer he receives this offseason. Or b) Brown is being told to keep McDaniels on the bench so that the team doesn’t risk winning a game and can increase their chances in the draft lottery.
Is either of those scenarios likely? Probably not. But as we all know, Hinkie is the one who calls the shots for this franchise. Hinkie is the one with all the power and Brown could be feeling the pressure to just do what he is told to ensure he remains with the team past his current four-year contract when the Sixers start to win and heads back to the postseason.
Brown has said time and time again that he wants to win despite the tanking plan that Hinkie has put into place. But it seems kind of odd that he won’t start one of his best players on a consistent basis, wouldn’t you say?
There is no reasonable reason why K.J. McDaniels shouldn’t be starting instead of coming off the bench. He is a talented player with a bright future ahead of him and the sooner the Sixers realize this, the better it will be for everybody.