WALTHAM, Mass. — K.J. McDaniels had a rough idea of what to expect heading into his first pre-draft workout. He expected some skills work, a few conditioning drills and a chance to go head-to-head with fellow prospects in the 2014 NBA draft.
He never figured he would end up shooting the breeze with one of the very people who could hold his basketball future in his hands.
Yet there was McDaniels, the electric swingman out of Clemson, sitting on the sideline after his workout with the Boston Celtics on Tuesday and conversing with team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. In a little more than three weeks, Ainge and the Celtics could be in position to draft McDaniels with the 17th pick in the draft.
Knowing that, however, McDaniels sounded more awestruck than intimidated.
“It was a big honor just to sit here and talk to him,” McDaniels said. “I know he was a great player who played in the NBA. We just talked about what I could do well, what I think I bring to a team. He told me also what I need to work on, but he said defending is the key, more important than creating off the dribble, because they’re the Celtics. They won championships playing defense. Just talking to him was a good experience.”
Taking McDaniels at No. 17 would be a reach, but some team in the late first round or early second round could nab itself a surprisingly productive NBA player in the 21-year-old from Alabama. McDaniels was one of the most relentless players in college basketball last season, terrorizing opposing defenders with his speed and leaping ability.
But it was his work at the defensive end that makes him a first-round NBA prospect. At 6-foot-6, with a 6-11 wingspan and strong 200-pound frame, McDaniels has the makings of a defensive stopper. The Celtics might have had this in mind when they invited him to work out with a collection of perimeter-oriented forwards who were almost all two inches or more taller.
If the challenge was intentional, McDaniels embraced it. He feels he can guard anyone from point guards to forwards, as he did at Clemson.
“I think I stand out defensively, just being able to guard those different positions,” McDaniels said. “I’m probably the smallest guy here, so being able to go out there and compete with those guys and defend them, I feel like it was a good challenge for me.”
Concerns about McDaniels at the defensive end are hard to find. The offensive side is a different story. He was respectable but hardly deadly as a shooter, and he had a tendency to drift into the background for stretches. He made himself into an 80 percent free throw shooter, which is vital for a player who attacks the rim so aggressively. Yet questions remain about whether he handles the ball well enough to even get to the rim in the NBA.
McDaniels knows all the knocks against him, which is why he is hitting the pre-draft workout tour hard. Tuesday’s workout began a gauntlet of 15 workouts in 23 days, a span in which he aims to put all the worries to rest. If he happens to gain some face time with a team executive or two over the course of those workouts, all the better.
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