I’m going to start with a question that should resonate loudly among Charlotte Hornets fans: How could you not be excited to see Jalen McDaniels on the court this year?
The San Diego State product was relatively unknown heading into the 2019-2020 season, but his college career was very successful as the face of the Aztecs for two years. Last season at San Diego State, he averaged 15.9 points, 2.1 assists and 8.3 rebounds per game. He improved his shot dramatically over his freshman campaign, knocking down 10 percent more of his shots from three point range.
McDaniels gave an average performance in the Vegas Summer League with 3.6 points and 1.8 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game. This display was good enough to earn a spot on the team’s roster. By seemingly “outperforming” Hornets forward Arnoldus Kulbolka, the No. 52 overall pick signed a three-year non-guaranteed deal last month.
With the Hornets’ roster being jammed at the forward position, McDaniels should see a fair amount of time in Greensboro as a part of the Hornets G-League organization this season.
The Swarm’s roster has made a complete turnaround in terms of their overall outlook. The tall, intimidating forces of Chinanu Onuaku and Luke Petrasek that have been the face of the team for the past two seasons are now gone. Head coach Joe Wolf has reshaped their roster to fit a much different style of play. New to the Swarm are guards Mike Davis Jr. from Queens University in Charlotte, and North Carolina Tarheels favorite Joel Berry II.
As such, the team has just one power forward in Max Montana, who was a teammate of McDaniels in college. The frontcourt depth is also bleak as the team features one power forward and two centers, which includes Hornets’ two-way signee, Robert Franks.
This leaves McDaniels in a very peculiar situation.
The Hornets’ management is looking to translate their guard-heavy, multiple ball handler lineups into their developmental league team. Not only does this help Swarm players become more comfortable if they get promoted to the NBA, but it also creates an identity throughout the entire organization. Having a fundamental system through all layers of play helps in establishing a clear schematic vision. This approach is a great step in a new direction for the Hornets.
Being the sole offensive contributor at either forward position will greatly help McDaniels from a scouting perspective. It will be interesting to see if he’s ready to take control and come away with key baskets as he has done in college.
One of the biggest questions to his game coming into the draft is still an issue now. He’s listed at 205 pounds on ESPN. Other sites list him at 195 pounds. Whatever the true number is, McDaniels has yet to increase his physical profile. Being a lanky forward may help in strive in transition, but it won’t help him overall.
He needs to continue to develop and gain the proper muscle mass so he’s able to consistently drive inside and score. His style of play is smooth and calculated, so having an NBA-ready build will do wonders for his offensive potential.
If I was part of the Hornets upper management, I would make McDaniels an NBA signee for the majority of this season, barring any significant injury to the parent team. He has three-level scoring potential and the seven-foot wingspan that can guard positions one through four at his fullest peak. With early comparisons being drawn to Orlando Magic’s Jonathan Isaac and New Orleans Pelicans forward Brendan Ingram, it’s clear that the Hornets have a pretty unique player to mold with.
The Hornets have been harping development for a while now, and there’s no better way to demonstrate this than by giving McDaniels the best situation to succeed. Hopefully he can gain 10-15 more pounds of muscle in six months, which will help solidify his game on both ends of the floor.
While the Greensboro Swarm has very few options at either forward position, Jalen McDaniels has a great opportunity to showcase his work to the front office. He already scored 16 points in his G-League debut.
Let’s hope he continues this path of great play.