When the analysts picked NC State to finish 12th in the ACC last season, they weren’t counting on grad-transfer Al Freeman averaging 16 points and 4 rebounds per game. They weren’t counting on his ability o take and make that many big shots. They weren’t counting on him being the best senior leader the Wolfpack has had in years.
Freeman gave so much to last season’s NC State team and without him, there is no 3rd place finish, there is no win over UNC or upset of #2 Arizona. Most importantly, without Freeman, there is no NCAA Tournament.
But Al Freeman is graduated and gone. Now Kevin Keatts must figure out how to replace his production.
Obviously, you’ll hear the sound bites start rolling out as the season approaches. “No single player is going to replace Al Freeman. We will do it as a collective group.” And while that’s a perfectly acceptable answer, it’s not necessarily true.
The Pack has a direct need for a player with the skill set that Freeman possessed. A guy who can handle the ball, create off the dribble, knock down jumpers, get to the rim and finish. Basically, they need a physical, 3-level scorer, who can play fast, defend 3 positions and take/make big shots if they want to compete next season.
Luckily, Keatts was thinking ahead when he reached out to Daniels after he got his release from Utah a year ago. While he won’t be able to bring the experience that Freeman brought, he checks just about every other box.
Daniels and Freeman are built very similarly. They are both broad-shouldered, bigger guards. Freeman was 6’3 and weighed in at 200lbs. Daniels was last listed at 6’5, 205lbs. Both of their offensive games begin with the jump shot. Their ability to shoot it off the dribble force defenders to play tight, opening up the ability to drive it to the basket, makes them tough to stop.
They are both physical on their way to the hoop. Freeman made a living off of initiating contact, absorbing it, and being able to finish through it. Daniels is a little more slippery, but still embraces contact and knows how to use his body.
As for the numbers. They too are very close, but Daniels actually has the edge.
In his freshman season at Utah, he averaged 10 points in 27 minutes per game (2.72 minute per point). He shot a very impressive 57% from the field and knocked down 40% of his 3’s. He dished out 2.7 assists, pulled down 4.6 rebounds and added in 1 steal per game. (See how he did it in this video below)
In Al Freeman’s senior season, he averaged 16 points in 34 minutes per game (2.14 minutes per point), He shot 39% from the floor and 38.5% from 3pt range. He dished out 2.6 assists, pulled down 4.2 rebounds and averaged 1.2 steals per game.
As you can see, Devon Daniels freshman season is actually better in nearly every aspect than the senior campaign you just witnessed from Al Freeman.
Add in the fact that Daniels is more athletic than Freeman was…
42.5 vert today 🐸
— Devon Daniels (@doubleD_2106) March 27, 2018
… and you start to see why people are so excited about this kid.
It would be wrong to think that just because the numbers and the measurables tip the scale towards Daniels, that he will be better than Freeman. Al Freeman had two things that won’t show up in the box score or in the game program that were off the charts. Experience and heart. The guy went to 4 NCAA tournaments in a row and no matter what the score was, he always was going 100%. Even when things weren’t going his way, he fought through. And all of this was for a team and coach he’d only been with one season.
We don’t have enough footage or data to judge Daniels in the heart category, but if work ethic can help predict that metric, then judging by the video at the top of the article and all reports we’ve received, he won’t be far behind Big Al.
So as we look to next year, and ask the question “Will NC State be able to replace Al Freeman?” we know we won’t get a guaranteed answer, but we do know that if anyone can do it, it will be Devon Daniels.