Through the first three games of the Charlotte Hornets Summer League, us fans have witnessed moments of optimism and hope from this developing squad. From Devonte Graham’s clutch shooting against the Golden State Warriors to Miles Bridges throwing the hammer down against the San Antonio Spurs, we have seen the team’s biggest names shine in this scrimmage environment.
A large sum of credit has to be made towards Hornets assistant coach Ronald Nored. Him, along with the rest of the team’s assistants have done an excellent job in their abnormal role. Nored, in particular, has taken control of head coaching duties on the court throughout all of Summer League and looks poised in that role. This is because current head coach James Borrego is traditionally taking a backseat during this tournament, as most NBA teams operate. This gives Nored and the rest of the staff more opportunity to distinguish themselves as strong leaders.
Looking at the team’s output on the court, there has been one underlying storyline that should be getting more notoriety. This topic is the position battle between Hornets forwards Jalen McDaniels and Arnoldas Kulboka.
McDaniels is one of the newest members of the Hornets organization, having been selected 52nd overall in this year’s NBA Draft. Although he has dealt with recent off-the-court issues, of which he seems to be turning a new, positive leaf, his level on the court has remained the same. At 6’10”, 195 pounds, McDaniels provides the Hornets with one of the more versatile skillsets the team has ever been able to tangle with.
McDaniels’ unnatural height for a primary small forward puts him in one of the most niche NBA player categories. With the ability to handle, dribble penetrate and hoist up a reliable mid-range jump shot, he has the tools to be an offensive nightmare for opponents. Although not on the same level as a player with a similar build, like New Orleans Pelican Brandon Ingram, McDaniels at least has the framework to mold into something special.
So far in the Summer league, McDaniels is averaging 2.7 points and two rebounds per game while shooting 39 percent from the floor through thirteen minutes per game. The one bright spot so far came against the Chinese National Team, where McDaniels got off to a great start early. He surfaced a nice alley-oop layup and followed that up with a good shot contest on the other end. This lead McDaniels to the foul line during the Hornets next position after securing the second-chance rebound. Unfortunately, that hot start dwindled quickly as he finished the game with just six points in eighteen minutes of action.
Lapses on the defensive end, that has been apparent since McDaniels college days at San Diego State, are still apparent in his Summer League play. He has a tendency to fail in boxing out his opponent and would often get out-bodied by a bulkier player even if he was in a good defensive stance. Out on the perimeter, McDaniel’s slow footwork has lead to many opponents blowing by him for easy chances at the rim.
This was an area that many scouts looked upon as a big red flag for McDaniels and his game. Right now, he is posing the same results that plague his short-term defensive impact with the Hornets.
Overall, through the first slew of games, Jalen McDaniels has shown some glimpses of potential but didn’t meet the overall expectations coming from the Hornets coaching staff. Although the production is not there yet, his overall scope should not be diminished due to the mediocre performance he has been putting on in Vegas.
On the other hand, the Hornets second-round pick in 2018 comes in with the opposite resume and potential as McDaniels. Arnoldus Kulboka is a 6’10”, 210 lb forward who spent most of the 2018-2019 basketball season in Germany, where he was apart of the Brose Baskets club. During that time, he received limited minutes due to wandering injuries and customary coaching adjustments.
As a result, Kulboka’s playing time was stagnant. But this obstacle didn’t stop him during that season as he hit the gym hard, gaining close to fifteen pounds in muscle. On the eye test alone, he looks like a completely different player heading into the Summer League. Adding this weight makes him more physically appealing than McDaniels right now. Kulbolka looks more ready and has taken the necessary steps to do so.
Not only was Kulbolka’s weight modified during last season, but his jump shot was as well. If you take a glimpse at what his shot was coming into 2018 to what it is now, it looks more well-rounded and overall fluid. There is less of a hitch and he simply looks more confident letting it spray from the floor.
Kulboka’s jump shot ability establishes the biggest contrast between himself and McDaniels.
Through his two Summer League appearances, Kubloka has shot 50.6 percent from the floor while shooting 39 percent from the three-point line. Against the Chinese National Team, Kulboka came away with Player of the Game honors, scoring a game-high eighteen points on top of knocking down three triples. On the contrary, McDaniels has yet to make a single shot from deep in his three games played.
Looking at Kulboka’s overall outlook, he is poised to be a sharpshooting wing who can comfortably play positions two through four. His lightning-quick release and sense of good shot selection place him in a great position to strive in the Hornets up-tempo style of play. Although holding not nearly as much trajectory as McDaniels, Kulboka is a more suitable fit for the Hornets team right now.
While the Hornets have one final roster spot open, it will be interesting to see if they bring Kulboka on as that final member. With McDaniels practically playing the same positionless style as Kulboka, it would make sense for the Hornets to mandate one of these two into playing more assignment games in order to better their craft. By converting either one of these players’ contracts into a two-way style is certainly a justifiable option.
Both forwards still need to work on adjusting their body and speed to the intensity that is the NBA. By playing with the Greensboro Swarm, it opens up a great opportunity for them to gain the experience needed to be ready for the biggest stage in basketball. For example, look at what the G-League experience did for Hornets guard Dwayne Bacon. Coming out of seventeen games starting, he was more adaptive to the association’s pace, thus leading to the fantastic final stretch at the end of last season.
If this were to happen, who would the Hornets ship down to the G-League and who would be staying with the main roster?
Whatever the answer is, the Charlotte Hornets have a very intriguing decision coming up. They possess two players whose profiles match up with a very rare class in the NBA. As the Summer League rolls along, keep an eye on how well Arnoldus Kulboka and Jalen McDaniel perform both forward roles.
Will McDaniels go on a run and prove that he is ready to play in the NBA right now?
Or, will Kulboka continue to show his drastic improvement thanks to his year overseas?
Only time will tell.