The Philadelphia 76ers have given potential viewers few reasons to tune in so far this season, but the play of rookie forward K.J. McDaniels has been a welcome positive. The 21-year-old Clemson product has combined superior athleticism and effort to become one of the top young highlight-producers in the NBA, chipping in vicious blocks and dunks with regularity. His starts aren't immediately overwhelming — 10.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 25.8 minutes per game with a 13.0 PER — but he looks like someone who will play in this league for a while.
Rob Mahoney profiled the exciting rookie for SI.com, speaking to McDaniels about his approach to his role and how he uses his skills to be such an effective shot-blocker at only 6-6. Among the insights comes the revelation that McDaniels actually injured a fan quite seriously with one of his rejections:
McDaniels, listed at 6-6, is a wing by trade. Yet thus far he ranks 13th in the league in block percentage ... just behind Serge Ibaka, Dwight Howard, and Tim Duncan. If his mark holds over the course of the season, McDaniels would be the most prolific shot blocker at his height in NBA history.
"I used to watch a lot of [Dwyane] Wade and LeBron [James] when they came into the league," McDaniels said. "I used to watch Michael Jordan a lot, too – the way they were versatile in how they defend multiple positions and use their athleticism to block shots. I just figured since I’m athletic and I can jump and have good instincts, I can go up there and get shots as well."
That particular skill has translated brilliantly to the NBA level, where McDaniels succeeds the aforementioned Wade and James as one of the most awesome and surprising help-side shot blockers in the league. The jewel of his rejection résumé might just be the play of the season to date: A complete demolition of a Greivis Vasquez runner, rocketed into the stands at such a violent velocity as to cause actual injury.
"I surprised myself," McDaniels said of the block. "There was a lady who got hit by the ball who got a concussion, I believe." McDaniels, upon hearing what happened, sent flowers.
The play in question took place on November 9 against the Toronto Raptors, and you can watch it here:
You can see McDaniels's concern for the fan in the immediate aftermath of the play. Concussions are serious business, so we hope that the woman's condition has improved with no adverse effects.
We shouldn't treat this incident as a cute example to McDaniels's style of play, but it does help explain what makes him such a thrilling player. Put simply, he plays basketball in a dangerous fashion, throwing down dunks and blocking shots with an intensity that often comes across as violent. He looks like he could injure someone — an opponent, an innocent bystander, or even himself.
That said, there's a difference between playing with a style that suggests injury and actually injuring someone. Here's hoping that this unfortunate series of events doesn't repeat itself any time soon.
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