The basketball men are baffled by Jaden McDaniels.
They’re in awe of the Washington Huskies freshman forward’s physical gifts, including a 6-foot-9 frame and a 7-foot-7 wingspan.
And they’re captivated by his diverse skill set and the various ways he impacts a game with his scoring (12.2 points per game), rebounding (5.9), shot blocking (1.5) and play making (2.1 assists per game).
But the basketball men can’t understand how someone so talented and projected as a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft can be so self-destructive, polarizing and benched in two of the past three games.
They’re puzzled by his shot selection, his difficult-to-decipher body language, his Pac-12 leading 72 turnovers, his league-leading 72 personal fouls and those head-scratching five technical fouls that also lead the conference.
“The turnovers don’t necessarily bother me, but five technicals with half of the conference season left is inexcusable,” said Hall of Famer Bill Walton, an ESPN and Pac-12 Networks analyst. “One, OK. Two, maybe. But at some point you have to realize that winning is the ultimate goal and everything else is secondary. Always put winning first. Put the team first.
“Five technicals tells me, there’s too much me and you’re not putting the team first. … He’s a young man who is extremely talented. He does so many things that gives his team a good chance to win and has to realize those times when he (draws technical fouls) takes away from all of that.”
McDaniels is tied with four others for the second-most technical fouls among Division I players. Murray State’s DaQuan Smith leads the nation with 11.
“You know the funny thing is, and I don’t mean funny to make a joke, but only really good players can lead a league in (turnovers and fouls),” said college basketball analyst P.J. Carlesimo, who spent 21 years as a head coach in college and the NBA, including a stint with the Sonics in 2007-08. “You go take a look at the all-time leaders on those lists and it’s nothing but Hall of Famers.
“I say that to say, how good must Jaden be to where he’s giving you so much that it outweighs those things you don’t like? And the answer is, he’s really, really good. Now as a coach, you have to ask yourself what can I live with and how can we curb some of those erratic behaviors?”
For two seasons (1995-97) with the Portland Trail Blazers, Carlesimo coached hot-tempered Rasheed Wallace, who set the NBA single-season record of 41 technical fouls in 2000-01.
“Jaden is nothing like ‘Sheed who got into it with the refs a lot,” Carlesimo said. “From what I can gather, Jaden seems like a nice kid. … But I know this, once you get a reputation around the league, then things can kind of mushroom and get away from you.
“And fair or not, Jaden has a reputation of someone who makes questionable decisions. The techs alone are bad, but the shot selection sometimes is just as bad. And sometimes it looks like he’s checked out. You hate to say that and it’s probably not the case, but that’s how it looks. And he’s a better player than that.”
Mike Hopkins has steadfastly defended McDaniels while trying to hold his star freshman accountable for mistakes and finding solutions to resurrect a slumping UW team that’s lost five straight games.
McDaniels tallied just six points on 0-for-4 shooting off the bench in Washington’s last outing – an 87-83 loss to Arizona State.
“He’s had two great days (of practice),” Hopkins said. “Moving forward for us to win, we’ve got to play as one. You’ve got to. It’s the easiest thing as a coach to say and it’s the hardest thing to execute. Offensively, we’re moving the ball a little bit better and it needs to keep flowing. You can’t already think now I’m going to shoot. No, the defense dictates when and what. That’s the problem with pressing.”
Hopkins partially attributed an ankle injury suffered Jan. 11 for McDaniels’ recent struggles.
“The ankle thing is not an excuse, but he lost a little bit of confidence,” Hopkins said. “You don’t have your mobility. You’re not playing well and it kind of magnifies it a little bit.
“I think it’s getting back to what’s going to work for him now and don’t let (the technical fouls) affect me from like the USC game and having six blocks in the first half or at Stanford having 16 rebounds.”
It remains to be seen if Hopkins re-inserts McDaniels into the lineup when Washington (12-11, 2-8 Pac-12) begins a stretch of three straight road games starting at 3 p.m. Sunday at Washington State (13-10, 4-6).
“He’s a great kid,” Hopkins said. “He’s gotten a bad rep with everybody and they’ve put him in a box. The kid is an incredible player and has an incredible amount of pressure on him.”
The pressure and scrutiny will continue to increase if Washington, the defending Pac-12 champion, is unable to turn things around and make a late push for a postseason berth.
“Jaden has baffled me from Day 1 and the fact that he’s making poor decisions this late in the season is really disappointing,” Carlesimo said. “There’s still plenty of games left and maybe Jaden will prove me wrong, but I don’t see it changing. It’s not going to surprise me if he’s the same in March as he is right now.”
Despite an inconsistent season, McDaniels’ draft stock has remained unaffected and even improved, according to various mock drafts.
He’s projected as the No. 6 overall pick by NBAdraft.net while CBSsports.com has him at No. 9 and Yahoo Sports tabs him at No. 10.
“Unless he really drops off, chances are he’s going to be taken near the top because he’s so unique and there’s a belief that his ceiling is higher than what’s shown,” said a NBA scout. “Because of his immaturity, some teams might be like I’m not sure we want this guy. But the talent is there.”
No one disputes McDaniels’ talents. However, it remains to be seen if the Huskies and their enigmatic young star can rediscover success in what’s likely just a few more weeks together.
“When the team has success, there’s something for everyone,” Walton said. “Jaden has a remarkable opportunity in front of him to lead this young team. We’ve seen him do it already. Put those other things aside and just play.”