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K.J. McDaniels profile: young defensive talent worth signing

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After one year in the NBA, K.J. McDaniels is a free agent target that the Mavs should seriously consider.

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K.J. McDaniels was taken with the 32nd overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. After being dissatisfied with the Sixers' initial offer, McDaniels restructured his deal so that he could become a restricted free agent at the end of his rookie season. Second round picks usually sign four-year deals.

It didn't take long for McDaniels to establish himself in Philadelphia. Coming off the bench, the 6-foot-6 McDaniels averaged 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, and a remarkable 1.3 blocks in just under 26 minutes per game. In his first 20 games, he shot 42.6 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from downtown. During this stretch, he netted his first career double-double against Dallas (of course it was against the Mavs) with 21 points and 13 rebounds. However, as the season progressed, McDaniels saw declines in his shooting percentages. Despite this, he remained a steady rotation player for the Sixers. This is due, in part, to his defense and athleticism. It's these aspects of his game that had many fans salivating.

I reached out to Jake Fischer of Liberty Ballers for a bit more on McDaniels:

K.J. is a phenomenal athlete with a great feel for the game. He's cut from the same cloth of guys like Kelly Oubre, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Rashad Vaughn: Super athletic defensive freaks who, without a ton of pressure and solid developmental coaching, can become a terrific two-way player of the Matt Barnes-ilk. The only reason it didn't work in Philly is K.J. knew he was a first-round talent. He told me that several times, starting in Summer League. He wasn't going to lock himself into the four-year rookie minimum, non-guaranteed salary that the majority of the Sixers roster is currently signed too. We've dubbed it the "Sam Hinkie Special." He should sign something like a four-year, $16-million contract this offseason, I think, which will be an absolute bargain once the new salary cap kicks in.

With McDaniels' one-year contract, it was uncertain whether Philadelphia would attempt to resign him or make a qualifying offer during the summer. Perhaps with this in mind, the team traded McDaniels to the Houston Rockets for Isaiah Canaan and a 2015 second round draft pick. Sam Hinkie, the Sixers' GM, really loves those second round picks.

In Houston, McDaniels spent most of his time on the bench, appearing in just 10 games. McDaniels will become a restricted free agent if the Rockets make him a qualifying offer of just over $1 million by June 30. Houston is expected to make him an offer. If they don't, McDaniels will become an unrestricted free agent.

Fit with the Mavs

With speculation swirling this summer about whether Monta Ellis will exercise his player option or not, there has been no shortage of names listed as possible replacements for Ellis should he opt out of his current contract. Danny Green and Wes Matthews are a couple of names that surface regularly. However, Dallas would be remiss if they didn't seriously consider McDaniels.

The Mavericks haven't been known for player development in a number of years. Instead, they've preferred to chase proven assets. Yet, if Ellis doesn't return, McDaniels is the perfect player to replace him. He won't be able to reproduce Ellis' scoring punch immediately but McDaniels' offensive production will improve as his career progresses. Yet, the most promising part of what he brings to the table is his ability to play defense. There haven't been many Mavericks guards in recent memory that can say that. If Dallas is looking for a rangy 3-and-D project to pair with Chandler Parsons and possibly Al-Farouq Aminu, if he is retained, McDaniels fits the mold.

If Fischer is right, McDaniels' deal will be more than manageable and far cheaper than what other shooting guards in the league will be asking. For comparison, Danny Green's current expiring contract netted him similar money yearly to Fischer's contract estimate for McDaniels. Green will be looking to make more in a new contract. It's reasonable to expect him to seek a contract in the ballpark of $10 million annually. Is he really worth that much of a cap hit to Dallas?

McDaniels is a young prospect that the Mavericks need to seriously consider. He may not be starting material yet but with the proper grooming he could become one of the better two-way players in the league. Last season, Dallas gambled and poached Parsons away from the Rockets. With Houston expected to make McDaniels a qualifying offer, Mark Cuban needs to have his jet fueled and ready. Acquiring McDaniels could be a great move for the future of the organization.