Season Recap: Jalen McDaniels Progresses into an Intriguing Long-Term Prospect for Hornets

by Sam Perley

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Almost four months of constant repetition in the G League put rookie forward Jalen McDaniels in prime position to be a significant contributor for the Charlotte Hornets over the final few weeks of the 2019-20 NBA season.

McDaniels appeared in just two of the team’s first 51 contests, while spending a majority of his time with the Greensboro Swarm. With a heavy focus on bulking up and shooting threes, the San Diego State product averaged over 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block in 31 games with the Greensboro Swarm, doing so on 44 percent shooting (38 percent from three) on a nightly ration of 32 minutes.

Rotation spots opened up for the Hornets in mid-February following the departures of Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and McDaniels finally grabbed ahold of one on Feb. 8. Four days later, he tallied 10 points and six rebounds in a road win over Minnesota and after the All-Star Break, averaged 5.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists across all 11 outings for Charlotte.

Overall, McDaniels put up 5.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.5 steals in 16 games off the bench this season, shooting respectable clips from the field (47.1 percent), three-point range (37.5 percent; 9-of-24) and the line (82.4 percent; 14-of-17). Throughout the way, his length, athleticism and two-way play-making capabilities flashed more and more frequently.

“Starting in Summer League, I didn’t really play that well,” McDaniels said. “I was adjusting to the game. Going to Charlotte to train, playing five-on-five against NBA players every day and then going to the G League, it just prepared me for the time when I got called up. I knew the defense and plays were going to be like from having reps in the G League. When I stepped on the court, I didn’t really feel surprised.”

“Those game-time reps in the G League are extremely important,” said Hornets Head Coach James Borrego. “We’ll continue to use [the G League] and we’re looking at ways to improve it even right now. I believe it is only going to get better from here. As an organization, the buy-in is there from the players to the staff, to the front office. We’re in full alignment that our G League program is a major part of what we’re trying to do here.”

The two major areas of emphasis for McDaniels this offseason will continue to be adding strength and improving his three-point shooting even more, which jumped from under 30 percent in college to 38 percent overall this year, counting his G League attempts.

“Of course, it’s about getting bigger and making my body the most important thing,” he said. “I feel like me growing and just getting bigger will only maximize my game to another level. [The team] is telling me to stick to three-point shooting. I’ve got to get a lot of reps. It’s about perfecting my game and continuing to do what I’ve been doing and getting better at that.”

“He needs to get stronger in this league,” said Hornets President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “The players in this league are really, at his size, big strong men. The one thing that he’s got to do is to continue to get in the weight room and get stronger. He needs to do that to make his next step, but he lives in the gym, also.”

Playing with fellow rookies Cody and Caleb Martin in Greensboro and Charlotte this season brought a sense of familiarity and comfort for McDaniels as all three played in the Mountain West Conference the last two seasons.

“When I found out we were going to be on the same team, I thought it was pretty crazy,” McDaniels said. “Having those guys there in Greensboro just made every day better and more competitive. As we went through the season, we saw each other get better and we started putting our trust in each other. When we got called it up, it was just like we were in Greensboro. We fed off the energy and then we just kept doing that every game, every day.”

“We saw a lot of growth from Jalen in particular in the G League, and when we brought him up to our program, it translated,” added Borrego. “I think our defense in that final month, we were top ten in the league (in rating) and a lot of that has to do with the Martin twins and Jalen, having that length that size and that versatility.”

Although still a bit raw and a work in progress, McDaniels is under contract through the 2022-23 NBA season and with continued, steady improvements, should be a pillar of the team’s core for the next several years.

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