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Mr. Do-It-All McDaniels could join elite group of rookies

Rookie Ladder: Week 7

POSTED: Dec 10, 2014 11:17 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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Drafted at No. 30, Sixers rookie K.J. McDaniels has proven to be quite a Draft steal.

His name was Woody Sauldsberry. Woodrow Sauldsberry, Jr. to be exact, and he joined the NBA long enough ago to have played for three teams no longer in existence. The Philadelphia Warriors, St. Louis Hawks and Chicago Zephyrs are all gone, a half-century later remnants on the family tree of current operations in Golden State, Atlanta and Washington.

Sauldsberry is the record holder, the latest Draft pick to ever win Rookie of the Year, his 1957-58 accomplishment of going from the No. 60 choice by the Warriors, in the eighth round, to being named the top newcomer. Next-lowest was Mark Jackson, No. 18 before taking the award for 1987-88, and only five have won after being drafted in double digits: Michael Carter-Williams in 2013-14 (11th), Jackson, Jamaal Wilkes in 1974-75 (11th), Sauldsberry and Don Meineke as the inaugural winner in 1952-53 (12th).

Which brings us to K.J. McDaniels.

The entire list has become print-and-save relevant as the season reaches the quarter pole with McDaniels up to No. 2 on the Rookie Ladder about 6 ½ months after lasting until the 32nd pick. Playing for the 76ers provided the opportunity, but this isn't putting up big numbers on a bad team because McDaniels isn't putting up big numbers. He's putting up a lot of numbers.

Quickly picking off most every player chosen before him in what has been a collective slow start for the newcomers, McDaniels is building a unique Rookie of the Year campaign by delivering positives in more ways than any other rookie, even leading candidate Jabari Parker. McDaniels shot the ball well, with 3-point range, the first 10 games and when that pace slowed the last few weeks, he continued to rebound and block shots at an uncommon rate for a shooting guard.

Four games ago, he missed six of eight shots against the Spurs, but had nine boards, three steals and two blocks. Three games ago, he missed nine of 14 attempts, but delivered nine rebounds and four blocks as part of Philadelphia winning for the first time. Two games ago, six misses in nine tries, but five rebounds and a steal, the closest thing to a slow night. Last time out, seven misses in 10 attempts, but six rebounds, four blocks and two steals in the win at Detroit.

Heading into Tuesday night's schedule, McDaniels was 17th in the league in blocks -- at 6-foot-6. Among rookies, he was third in scoring, sixth in rebounding, first in blocks, fifth in minutes, ninth in shooting, ninth in 3-point shooting and sixth in steals. He is in contention for ROY. He is in contention for a historical leap.

One quick lookahead on a possible 2015-16 rookie: Alex Abrines is getting positive reviews for his play in Spain as a possible lead up to joining the Thunder after being picked 32nd in 2013. If the swingman was in the 2015 draft? "The first 15 picks," a scout said. "I do not have any doubt about that."

Among those in their first season now:

1. Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks (Last week: 1)

Kia Awards: Jabari Parker

Milwaukee's Jabari Parker is the winner for the Kia Western Conference Rookie Player of the Month.

More solid play, now with signs of asserting himself more on offense. Making teams pay by getting open inside, Parker has scored at least 15 points in four of the last six games, pushing his rookie-leading average to 12.5 per outing. He is No. 1 in the class in that category among players with at least 10 appearances, tied for No. 2 in rebounding, No. 3 in shooting and No. 3 in minutes on a team off to a good start.

2. K.J. McDaniels, Philadelphia 76ers (3)

Sixers Sizzle

Robert Covington forces the turnover and Michael Carter-Williams throws the lob up to KJ McDaniels for the high-flying alley-oop finish.

Shooting guard McDaniels vs. small forward Wiggins: McDaniels is shooting better even with a recent slump, is averaging more rebounds and more blocks while playing 3.7 fewer minutes, has better defensive numbers than Wiggins, and the same amount of assists and fewer turnovers. Wiggins is averaging 1.8 more points, but in points per minute, they're even.

3. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves (2)

Kia Awards: Andrew Wiggins

Minnesota's Andrew Wiggins is the winner for the Kia Western Conference Rookie Player of the Month.

Wiggins and Zach LaVine continue to get time together in an important opportunity to mesh and judge the rookie first-rounders/fellow teenagers, but Wiggins has stalled on offense. He's shooting 35.1 percent the last 10 games, dropping the season-long mark to 38.8. He's also at 67.1 percent from the line. Getting more field goals than any rookie has allowed Wiggins to hold at second in scoring.

4. Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets (4)

The big minutes returned when he started making shots again. Some coincidence. Even with the 1-of-6 no-show Monday against the Cavaliers, Bogdanovic is still 19 of 43 from the field the last five games, not bad for this class and an encouraging bounce-back after disappearing from the offense. That gets him back to 42.5 percent overall.

5. Tarik Black, Houston Rockets (6)

Black Throws Down

Francisco Garcia feeds Tarik Black as he hammers it home.

He had to have topped out last week, right? Black does one thing well, but that's still only doing one thing, right? And then: 11 rebounds in 23 minutes on Wednesday against Memphis' inside game; a poor showing with four boards Friday against Minnesota; and the quick recovery of 10 rebounds in 17 minutes Saturday against Phoenix. He's done this all as a starter for a team challenging for the best record in the league.

6. Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls (8)

Mirotic has shown good range the last 10 games, one of the many encouraging signs for the Bulls as the stretch-four continues to develop as a key option. Toss in what has become a nice run on the boards and the occasional blocked shot and Chicago has to be very pleased with his direction.

7. Nerlens Noel, Philadelphia 76ers (5)

Flash Grenade

Michael Carter-Williams lobs it up to Nerlens Noel who catches and finishes the alley-oop in traffic.

Noel is in his best stretch of the season on the boards, with at least eight rebounds in three of the last four games. It was needed, too -- he finished with five in three of the four before this spike. As much as this is Philly's chance to get some forward momentum at last, Noel can also make a run now that he is consistently reaching the high-30s in minutes.

8. Shabazz Napier, Miami Heat (7)

Napier is still the leader in fourth-quarter minutes among rookies, a valuable claim on a team on early playoff pace. He is also No. 1 among guards in shooting, and sixth overall, and fifth in 3-point percentage. The minutes are worth watching, though. Napier has gone from 23.4 in November and 25, 32 and 25 the first three games of December to 18 and three the last two. It's either a minor glitch or the start of a trend he wants to avoid.

9. Kostas Papanikolaou, Houston Rockets (9)

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Papanikolaou keeps the spot for another week because he has missed only one game, and because he just had a couple of good shooting nights. But falling off the Ladder is close to inevitable if the knee injury costs him close to two weeks, as expected. It's terrible timing with Houston already running low on bodies, especially in the front court, and for a player who seemed to be finding an offensive rhythm after a brutal November from the field.

10. Elfrid Payton, Orlando Magic (not ranked)

While 38.1 percent from the field is a concern, Payton is consistently playing in the high-20s or low-30s in minutes and has maintained a large role in fourth quarters despite being replaced as the starting point guard. The more he plays, the closer he gets to the potential as a standout defender. Plus, his assist-to-turnover ratio has recovered to 2.17-1.

Dropped out: Dante Exum (10).

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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