Thunder and Lightning: Keels and McDaniel

Trevor Keels and Dug McDaniel continue to improve as they head into their last year together in the same backcourt.

Point Guard Eyes, Tyler McKittrick - August,30 2020
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Photo credits: MaxPreps

To date, much has been said about the Paul VI duo of 2021 SG Trevor Keels and 2022 PG Dug McDaniel.  Without sounding too cliché, they are indeed one of the more dynamic backcourts in the country headed into the new season, whenever that will be.  They are a terrific combination of power and speed; patience and quickness; shot making and playmaking; intelligence and savvy.  Point Guard Eyes evaluated both Keels and McDaniel last year, and for each review I came away feeling like the reports wrote themselves.  If it’s possible, this update was an even simpler write-up.

Both players possess all the necessary superlatives to excel in their respective positions.  They’ve been playing at a very high level at very young ages, and display maturity far beyond their years.  As previously noted, Keels, nearly a year young for his class, has been dynamic for his program since he was 15; and McDaniel was thrust into the spotlight after filling in for an injury-ridden backcourt last season as a freshman.  All things happen for a reason, because while Duke’s Jeremy Roach and UNC’s Anthony Harris missed the season due to injuries, McDaniel’s stellar play earned him instant national acclaim. 

With Roach back for the 2019-20 season, McDaniel often split the primary ballhandling duties as part of a slightly reduced offensive role.  However, he had no issues leaving his fingerprints on games.  He is the type of player that can impact the game in ways that do not show up in the box score.  Therefore, it can be easy to underestimate the value of his contributions.  For instance, his most notable area of progression, year-over-year, was his defensive prowess.  In the previous year, I noted that his on-ball defense needed to improve, but that he had the potential to be a disruptor.  I could not have imagined the leap he would take from one year to the next.  His immense ball pressure now makes it difficult for opposing guards to initiate their offense, and sometimes even getting the ball up the court becomes an arduous task.  He plays with superior quickness, imposing his will on opponents and dictating their movements with the ball.  Most importantly, he visibly burns with the desire to defend and takes pride in wreaking havoc.

Keels and McDaniel are capable of performing at multiple speeds.  For example, lacking size, their team had no choice but to play all-out on both ends to speed up the game and gain the competitive advantage by controlling the pace.  Each guard played his role in the overall defensive schema, with McDaniel being the disruptor and Keels holding down a versatile role that required him to guard multiple positions. Offensively, they were in constant attack-mode, exerting a tremendous amount of pressure on defenses in transition and in the half-court. 

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Photo credit: Basketballfinders

Keels has developed into a big-time shot maker who is never afraid of big moments.

With that being said, both possess the awareness to slow the pace when necessary.  Either player can function with the ball in his hands and create for himself and/or his teammates.  While McDaniel is an expert playmaker who gets into the paint almost at will to collapse the defense and find the open man,  Keels is also very capable of creating the necessary space to convert quality looks from all 3 levels.  He uses his exceptional feel for the defense to patiently find seams in the defense.  He is outstanding at going right off of ball screens, turning the corner, and getting downhill. His hostage dribble technique is refined, which allows him to snake around ball screens and navigate defenders to get where he wants to go.  He is a solid finisher at the basket where he takes on the rim protector, absorbs the contact, and lays the ball nicely off the glass with a soft touch.  Also, he showed an increased comfort at getting to the rim while going left, an area that I was keeping my eye on after seeing a deficiency his sophomore year.  While there is still room for improvement, he is moving in the right direction, for sure.

The smaller McDaniel will need to continue developing his shot repertoire around the basket, perfecting floaters and runners with and without the use of the board to render him a greater scoring threat.  He has already improved at finishing with his off hand, as well as getting the ball out of his hand and up onto the board quicker.  For example, McDaniel has developed a very effective euro step going full speed that allows him to blow by often backpedaling defenders.  The move begins with a hard, simultaneous step and dribble going right.  He then picks up the ball, bringing it back over the top in one movement, overrunning the defender and letting his momentum carry him to the rim.  The move is right-to-left and usually ends up with him putting the ball off the board with a touch that accounts for his momentum.

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Photo Credit: RJB Sports

McDaniel is a dynamic playmaker who has grown into a disruptor on the defensive side of the ball.

McDaniel prefers to play fast, but also has a wonderful feel for the game and seems to innately understand the concepts of time, score, and spacing.  So he senses when his team needs to slow down and work the ball for a quality look, functioning in many ways like a true extension of the coach on the court.  His outside shot showed signs of greater consistency throughout the year, and he will surely see more scoring opportunities this coming season.  He functions a lot without ball screens, given his individual ability to beat his man without such action.  His change of direction is lightning quick, and he doesn’t mess around with elaborate dribble moves.  With defenses promising to have a greater focus on him this year, I will have my eye on the progression of his ability to be an efficient primary pick and roll ballhandler in preparation for the next level. 

So what does this ability to play at different speeds mean for the bigger picture?  Quite simply, it means the colleges courting both guards are vying for players who can work well within a half-court-oriented offensive setting or in a free-flowing offense that relies upon greater individual creativity.  Right now, Keels possesses the most versatility, as he will be able to succeed within sets or motion offenses requiring him to move without the ball, as well as in a more iso-oriented offense that depends on frequent screen and rolls.  His outside shot, including a deep-range 3-ball, is trending upward, which is a big element to the versatility piece.  He is a big time shot maker.  He can patiently allow the game come to him as a catch and shooter, taking advantage of defensive lapses and holes; or he can initiate his own offense by switching to attack mode off the dribble.  But let me tell you… his patience is pretty incredible.   

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Keels and McDaniel have collectively played in dozens of huge, momentous games over the last couple of seasons.  That doesn’t even include their time with Nike EYBL power Team Takeover.  Neither are afraid of any moment, and they will certainly proceed to gain valuable experience in the 2020-21 season.  They are both sound decision-makers, with McDaniel forced to make even quicker decisions due to his extreme acceleration with the ball.  Sometimes it just looks like he has been shot out of a gun.  It could be scary for opposing teams when the game starts slowing down for him.  As good as he was with the ball as a freshman, his pat has improved, exhibiting better ball control as a whole.  It will be interesting to monitor his shot selection over the coming year.  As noted above, he will surely assume a greater scoring role.  Therefore, in addition to shooting a better percentage around the rim, incorporating what is an already effective step back and pull-up game will be important to securing more quality looks.

Overall, Keels was able to build on a outstanding sophomore campaign.  As noted, he can allow the game to come to him, accepting what the defense gives him or he can go take what he wants.  What’s remarkable is his ability to seemingly engage in both approaches at the same time.  His ability to get to the hole and convert really sets up his outside game, which can be deadly when he gets on a roll.  He definitely showed an extension of consistent range this past season compared to the previous year, and he was already a good shooter.  It is nearly impossible to speed him up.  He has sharpened his skills further, and always does a masterful job using his body to create the necessary space for his shots. 

In a year with plenty of exceptional backcourts, I consider myself fortunate to be able to frequent Paul VI’s contests.  The Keels/McDaniel combo is unique because they excel on both sides of the ball, in addition to their ability to think the game.  What may be most encouraging is how they have improved their overall games, addressing areas where that were not as strong as others year prior.  As they approach their last year of playing together, it promises to be one of success for both.  I, for one, will be there to enjoy it.