Coming into the 2014 NBA Draft the Philadelphia 76ers had five second round picks to go with two first rounders. Even though most thought they’d use their second round picks in a package deals to move up in the draft, they ended up using all of them (one for a player swap). Two remains overseas (Vasilije Micic, Jordan McRae), while one is recovering from a torn achilles suffered in summer league (Pierre Jackson). Two second rounders have stood out from the pack in the NBA, and one has stood out overseas. In a year that Sixers fans were excited to see what the Sixers would do with their first round picks, it has been all about the second rounders.
Since he was the first second rounder to burst onto the NBA scene we’ll start with KJ McDaniels. Heading into the 2014 NBA Draft KJ McDaniels was someone I was really intrigued by, his athleticism, length, and defensive prowess all fit under what the Sixers were looking for in their draft prospects. When I wrote an article about people I wanted the Sixers to take, KJ McDaniels was one of the players listed. Now everyone is seeing why, he came out scorching for a couple weeks in late November/early December. The best game of his young career was against the Dallas Mavericks on November 29th where he had 21PTS (8/17 FG, 2/3 3FG), 13REBS, 1AST,2BLKS,1STL in 32 MINS of playing time. After his hot streak he fell into his rookie slump, but bounced out of it fairly quickly. KJ is also a part of the best defensive lineup in the league (PPP), this lineup consisting of Michael Carter-Williams, KJ McDaniels, Robert Covington, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Nerlens Noel letting up under 90 points per 100 possessions.
The rest of the NBA became acquainted with KJ McDaniels fairly quickly through highlight reel dunks and blocks. He is number four in rookie leaders in opponent field goal percentage at the rim at 43.9%. McDaniels is averaging 1.3 blocks per game which leads all guards in the NBA and is 22nd among all players, but no one else blocks shots quite like KJ.
Whether he’s concussing old ladies or posterizing 7 footers (Brandon Wright), McDaniels is always an active defensive presence when he’s on the floor. His biggest weaknesses are his ball handling and consistency but if he keeps growing at the rate he has all-star potential that just may be tapped. KJ is averaging 9.2 PPG, 1.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. He is also 4th in the most recent rookie ratings only behind Elfrid Payton (3), Nerlens Noel (2), and Andrew Wiggins (1).
Lately KJ McDaniels hasn’t been putting up as many highlight plays as we’re use to seeing from him. Although it has gone unnoticed by most due to the increase in highlight plays from fellow rookie Jerami Grant. Recently Jerami Grant has been showing spectators night in and night out that he could potentially be something special one day. Drafted with the 39th pick out of Syracuse people shied away from drafting Grant due to his tweener status. He played power forward in college but was considered to short for PF in the NBA standing at 6’8. Some teams believed he could play some 4 due to his length (7’2 wingspan), but the Sixers drafted him because they saw his potential to transform into a small forward.
Grant had a decent summer league doing what made him successful in college, playing good defense and scrapping on the offensive glass. Then he missed the Vegas Summer League and the first month of the season due to an ankle injury. In his return he struggled to score the ball due to a couple factors such as rust and inexperience, but still added a defensive shot blocking presence. Recently he’s found his offensive game, both inside and out. He went from averaging 3.8 PPG in December, to now averaging 7.3 PPG over January and February. He has also improved his 3 point shooting juristically, after starting the season 4-21 3FG (19.05%), he is now 20/40 3FG (50%) since finding his stroke. He also ranks 5th amongst all non-guards in the NBA this year in catch-and-shoot 3P% at 44.4%. While he may have been logging minutes earlier in the season for his defensive skills, he is now expected to go out and be an impact on both ends of the floor.
When Jerami Grant was drafted by the Sixers no one really knew what to expect from him. he was a skinny, lengthy, undersized PF who’s college game wouldn’t translate to the NBA well. It’s pretty obvious that Grant has been hard at work since college, he transformed his game to fit the roll of a SF and it is paying off big dividends for the Sixers now. Grant is also in the top 5 rookies in opponent FG% at the rim ranked at #2 (40.2%), only behind undrafted Sixers rookie JaKarr Sampson (40%) (Nerlens is #5 on this list at 46%, making 4/5 Sixers players). His best game was against the Cavs on Feb 2nd where he put up 18PTS/7REBS (5/7 FG, 3/5 3FG), but his most dominate game was one where he scored just 4 points and recorded 2 rebounds. This was his most dominate game because he just so happened to have 8 blocks!
If Grant continues to develop at this rate it’ll be interesting to see what kind of numbers he is putting up in a couple years being a solid two-way player. Jerami Grant is ranked #10 on the most recent rookie ladder making three of the top 10 rookies Sixers.
If you haven’t been following Jordan McRae’s domination of the Australian National Basketball League, here’s your update on the 58th pick of the draft. He’s averaging 20.3 PPG (45.9% FG, 34.2% 3FG), 4.5 RPG, and 2.6 APG. He is one of two players in the entire league averaging more than 20 ppg, and has topped more than 20 points in 13 of his 22 appearances for Melbourne. The NBL playoffs begin on Feb 22nd, meaning there is a chance that McRae could come play for the Sixers at the end of the season. McRae played for the Sixers summer league team in Vegas and was selected to the 2nd all-summer league team. McRae was selected 58th overall, yet was named one of the top 10 players in a league that consisted of more than 30 players drafted before him. McRae averaged 21 PPG in the Vegas Summer League and could be a nice scoring addition to the offensively crippled Sixers.
McRae is a 6’5 athletic SG from Tennessee with a 7 foot wingspan that helps him keep defenders in front of him. He is an exceptionally skilled offensive player as his PPG numbers show. He is very good at using dribble moves to get to the rim, and is extremely good at drawing fouls. He’s an average three point shooter (34.2), with some development under the Sixers coaching staff he could be a very solid player on the Sixers for many years. In his last appearance McRae had 27 PTS (8/14 FG, 3/5 3FG), 7 REB, 3 AST, 28 MIN.
The way the Sixers are developing their second round picks is truly incredible. These were players that were overlooked in the draft for various reasons and weren’t even considered top 30 talent in the draft class. Yet in the most recent redraft it had KJ McDaniels going 11th to the Chicago Bulls, moving up 21 spots from his original draft position (32). While talks about Jerami Grant have been that he could be a similar player to Khawi Leonard, last years finals MVP. Hopefully the Sixers start packaging some of these second rounders to move up in the draft because at this rate there isn’t going to be enough room on the team for all these incredible young players! As the team meshes and the chemistry grows you can see Sam Hinkie’s plan falling into place. A suffocating defensive team with young, tall, long, athletic, defensive-minded players that will go after teams throats for 48 minutes every night. The future is very bright for Philadelphia basketball.