The ACC’s Unknown Superstars: TJ Warren & KJ McDanielsPosted by Chris Kehoe on February 28th, 2014
T.J. Warren and K.J. McDaniels are two of the best wings in college basketball and you’d never know it. Most of their lack of attention has to do with their respective teams’ success — N.C. State (17-11, 7-8 ACC) and Clemson (17-10, 8-7 ACC) — and the fact that the Wolfpack and the Tigers are on the outside of the bubble looking in. Both players have assumed huge responsibilities and increased roles this season, a necessary component for N.C. State after losing a huge contingent of talent and for a Clemson squad lacking star power.
T.J. Warren has risen to the occasion, solidifying himself as a legitimate all-ACC candidate in leading the league in scoring at 23.8 PPG, five points per game higher than Duke’s Jabari Parker. While it was unreasonable to expect Warren to continue his otherworldly efficiency of last season when he shot 62.2 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from behind the line, he still is shooting very well from the field (52.3 percent from the field, 29.5 percent from three). He clearly is a massive piece to the Wolfpack offense and quite possibly the only thing keeping them afloat. While he is known for his scoring credentials, he is no slouch in the rebounding department either, collecting 7.0 caroms per contest for the Pack. Warren’s superb play has helped the Wolfpack outdo preseason expectations and explains why N.C. State has a great shot at a top-half conference finish.
The advanced statistics back up Warren’s reputation, as KenPom’s rates Warren as the 21st best offensive threat in the nation with an offensive rating of 112.8, ahead of other NCAA stars such as Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson, Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and Duke’s Parker. Furthermore, Warren is taking a very high 36.3 percent of his team’s overall shots, good for sixth in the nation, making his field goal percentage even more impressive when every defense is focused on stopping the 6’8” swingman. Warren’s size and impressive offensive arsenal may not have gotten the attention of most of the college basketball world, but NBA scouts have taken notice. If he decided to forgo his final two seasons in Raleigh, it appears that he would land somewhere late in the first round, a claim echoed by both CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish and DraftExpress.
While Warren seems to have a bright and profitable NBA future on the horizon, K.J. McDaniels’ future seems a bit more uncertain. While his talent is unquestionable and advancing at a rapid rate, NBA scouts either don’t know enough about Clemson’s athletic leader or want to see more before they include him in many first round projections. While DraftExpress actually has McDaniels’ slotted as the 21st overall pick in its 2014 mock draft, other pundits are not as optimistic — he clocks in at #51 on Chad Ford’s “Big Board” and #98 on Gary Parrish’s list. McDaniels is sixth in the ACC in scoring at 16.8 PPG and has led Clemson to a surprising sixth place in the conference standings. His 24-point, 10-rebound, three-block performance led the Tigers to a signature home win over Duke on January 11 but Brad Brownell’s squad has struggled to gather many other quality wins against the projected NCAA Tournament field.
McDaniels is a versatile juggernaut, leading his team in points, rebounds (6.9 RPG), steals (1.3 SPG), and blocks (2.8 BPG). He is also a big key to Clemson’s defensive supremacy, as the Tigers are ranked among the top 15 teams in the nation defensively. But defensive dominance does not help much unless someone can actually put the ball in the hole, and that someone often amounts to McDaniels, who is only slightly behind Warren in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive ratings, coming in at 27th in the nation. He is also in the top 50 nationally in block percentage and the top 100 nationally in percent of possessions and shots. What the statistics show and the eye test backs up about both of these intense performers is that they will be representatives on the ACC award lists. For those who know ACC basketball, they know both of these players are tremendous assets who have elevated their teams’ profiles to the middle of the ACC conference standings; for everyone else, it’s time to get to know them.