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 skillset 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 NCAA Division I players.
“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 Seattle Sonics in 2007-08 season. “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?’”
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 got to play as one. You 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 on 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 a little bit.”
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 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.”
Despite an inconsistent season, McDaniels’ draft stock hasn’t been affected and even improved, according to various mock drafts.
He’s projected as the No. 6 overall pick by NBAdraft.net, 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 an 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.