Philadelphia 76ers rookie wing K.J. McDaniels drove right near the foul line against the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 9. He suddenly stopped and picked up his dribble.
His initial idea was a simple step-through move, perhaps with a floater or a short jumper. However, when Warriors defender Draymond Green left an opening, McDaniels scrapped his idea and relied on his instinct.
“It was just reading the defender,” McDaniels said. “When Draymond lifted his shoulder, I just tried to go under him and go get it.”
McDaniels stepped around Green and tossed the ball high off the backboard. He soared through the open lane, snatched the rebound and finished a one-handed dunk.
“I knew I could do it,” McDaniels said. “I just had to try and do something on my birthday too. It was a birthday gift.”
The gift has kept on giving.
McDaniels’ one-man alley-oop has been looped repeatedly on highlight shows and social media through the last two weeks. It also was replayed on the large screen hovering over his old soaring grounds.
Clemson University featured the highlight during its game Saturday afternoon, moments before recognizing McDaniels at Littlejohn Coliseum.
“This brings back a lot of memories,” McDaniels said, standing on the court after Clemson closed a 21-point win against Virginia Tech.
McDaniels starred at Clemson through the previous three seasons. He led the Tigers in scoring, 3-pointers, blocks and steals last season. He was named the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year as a junior.
McDaniels, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, entered the NBA draft and was selected 32nd overall by the 76ers. He has averaged 25.4 minutes, 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists through 52 games. He is tied for 26th in the NBA with 1.3 blocks per game.
“Just the tempo of it, the energy of the games, it’s been so fun,” said McDaniels, who returned to Clemson amid the NBA All-Star break. “I’m just blessed to be there. I thank God every day for it.”
After the draft, McDaniels rejected a four-year contract offer from the 76ers that did not guarantee the final two years. Instead, he signed a one-year contract that will make him a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
While most rookies opt for a multiyear deal to facilitate the transition into the league, McDaniels essentially converted his first NBA season into another audition. He aims to attract a more lucrative and secure long-term offer from Philadelphia or from another team.
“I feel like at this point it was a good decision,” McDaniels said. “I just needed a good opportunity to go out and show what I could do. I feel like (76ers coach Brett Brown) is giving me that. It’s opening a lot of eyes. I’ve just got to keep grinding and keep working.”
McDaniels said he hopes to participate in NBA All-Star Weekend in the near future, if not in the actual All-Star game at least in the dunk contest.
“Probably later on down the line,” he said with a laugh. “Right now, it’s more about trying to get adjusted to the league.”
Yet, McDaniels proved on his birthday that he does not need the dunk contest to perform an aerial show. Just an opening.