Maybe more than any other top-flight basketball recruit in the 2019 class, Jaden McDaniels’ career trajectory is tough to figure.
While McDaniels can, at times, be less productive than his peers at the top of the class rankings, his blend of athleticism, size (6-foot-10 with a 7-foot wingspan) and skill (he prefers to play on the perimeter and often ran the point for his Nike league team) makes him a unique prospect in high school basketball.
Rivals.com updated its class of 2019 rankings this week, and McDaniels came in at No. 6 overall. Exactly where to place the Seattle native in this group has become a bit of a conundrum for recruiting analysts, who must weigh the talent they’ve already seen against the upside so many of these still-young players clearly have.
There might not be a prospect in the 2019 group with a higher ceiling than McDaniels, and Rivals.com national analyst Eric Bossi has singled out the UK recruiting target as a player that he fears is currently ranked too low at sixth in the class.
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Bossi noted that McDaniels didn’t have his best outings at a couple of recent national showcases — the Tarkanian Classic in December and the ESPN-televised Hoophall Classic last week — but the outsized potential is clearly there.
“It’s tough because those guys up in that top five or six have kind of separated themselves from the pack, and they’re all so close,” Bossi told the Herald-Leader. “So it becomes a factor of: do you go purely on upside, or do you go on performance right now, or a combination of all of that?
“What I like is that, long-term, I think he’s going to be playing a game that is going to space the floor out a bit more, where he’s going to have a lot more room to operate one on one. And I think he’s one of those guys that judging him today is going to be way different than judging him four or five years from now. And so that’s why I feel like he may have the most room to grow from where he is, when you’re talking about those top five or six guys.”
And that’s not to say McDaniels isn’t already producing at a high level.
He was one of the top players on the ultra-competitive Nike EYBL circuit this past summer, averaging 19.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and earning first-team all-league honors over the likes of higher-ranked recruits Vernon Carey and James Wiseman.
Though McDaniels struggled at the start of last week with an uneven performance in a nationally televised loss at the Hoophall Classic on Monday, his week ended with a selection to the McDonald’s All-American Game on Thursday and a career-high 51-point performance Friday.
After a scan of the new Rivals top 10 list, Bossi acknowledged that McDaniels and Wiseman (ranked No. 3 overall) are probably the toughest to handicap as college freshmen.
“With those two guys, it’s much more where they can be. Instead of where they are now, even though where they are now is really good,” he said.
While Wiseman will have near-impossible expectations to meet at Memphis next season, McDaniels is still undecided on his college choice. The finalists are Kentucky, San Diego State, Texas, UCLA and Washington, the hometown school, and his production for whichever program he picks might largely depend on who else that team has to play alongside him.
“Without that being known — and I like to be conservative — I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that he could be a 12-14 point, 6-7 rebound a night kind of guy, which, in my mind, is ridiculously good out of a freshman,” Bossi said. “I certainly think he’s going to be a good college player. There’s no doubt about that. But I think his true value — especially if he’s as good as we think he is — is going to be experienced in the NBA versus college.”
Last week, ESPN placed McDaniels at No. 1 overall in its early NBA mock draft for 2020.
He’s one of four uncommitted high school seniors with UK scholarship offers. Perimeter forwards Keion Brooks and Matthew Hurt, and shooting guard Anthony Edwards are the other players in that category, but Bossi said this week that he doesn’t feel like UK is the leader for any of those three prospects.
Bossi did recently write that he had a feeling the Cats might ultimately land McDaniels, who wrapped up his official visits in the fall but declined to sign with a school in November and likely won’t make a college announcement until April, at the earliest.
“I do think that it’s probably Washington and Kentucky out in front. And it’s just my own feeling, but I’ve thought that maybe Kentucky might lead a little bit out there,” Bossi told the Herald-Leader. “There’s no secret piece of info that I’ve gotten from someone in his inner circle or picked up on something that he’s said that’s made me think that. I just kind of feel like, he’s all about ball. And I kind of feel like the setup at Kentucky may suit him.”