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2020-21 Hornets season preview: Jalen McDaniels

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In his sophomore season he has the inside track to carve out a role on the second unit, but is he ready to contribute on a much deeper Hornets roster?

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen McDaniels is coming off a promising rookie season in which he averaged 5.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in 16 games with the Hornets. Between his time with the Hornets and his 31 games with the Greensboro Swarm, the No. 52 pick in 2019 flashed potential to do three important things: rebound, defend, and stretch the floor.

The slender 6-foot-10, 205-pound forward showed he can be effective enough cleaning the glass at the NBA level after averaging 8.0 rebounds on a per-36 minute basis. Last year his Defensive Real Plus/Minus was +0.51, which ranked a healthy 25th among all power forwards (min. 15 games). That’s not bad for a rookie who spent most of his season in the G-League and didn’t get regular minutes with the Hornets until February.

On the offensive end, he hit nearly 38 percent of his threes in both Charlotte and Greensboro and displayed some nice catch-and-shoot ability. His offensive game with the Hornets reflected the mentality of today’s NBA: 36 percent of his field goal attempts were at the rim and another 34 percent were three-pointers.

So what does 2020-21 have in store for Jalen? Well, it’s complicated.

The signing of Gordon Hayward and drafting LaMelo Ball is going to move two starters from last year to the bench and create lineup combinations we didn’t see previously. While that’s a good thing for the Hornets, it means fewer minutes for some of the team’s young, developing players like McDaniels. While he’s listed as a forward-center on the team’s website, he’s no banger down low. He’s mainly a long, athletic wing and will be fighting for scarce minutes among Charlotte’s perimeter players.

In the end, Jalen McDaniels might become a casualty to the Hornets new roster-related math now that Hayward and Ball have been thrown into the equation. There are a total of 240 minutes available every game to allocate to all players. Here’s my best guess of how those minutes will get distributed most nights for the Hornets eight-man roster:

Guard - LaMelo Ball (30 MPG), Devonte’ Graham (32 MPG), Terry Rozier (30 MPG)

Forward - Gordon Hayward (33 MPG), PJ Washington (31 MPG), Miles Bridges (28 MPG)

Center - Cody Zeller (24 MPG), Bismack Biyombo (18 MPG)

Assuming those averages are at least directionally correct, somewhere around 226 of the 240 available minutes have already been claimed by these eight players. That said, I think there is a path for Jalen to earn a spot as a reserve playing limited minutes with the second unit which could shake out to be Rozier, Monk, Bridges, McDaniels, and Biyombo.

The biggest gap on the Hornets rosters as currently constructed is at backup power forward, and Jalen has the inside track to claim that role. While the same number of minutes won’t be available this year as there were last year (he averaged 18.3 minutes in 16 games) the Hornets will need a backup to PJ Washington who can do exactly what McDaniels has shown he can do - rebound, defend, and stretch the floor.

My best guess is McDaniels has a “lumpy” sophomore season. I could see him averaging around 10 minutes per game as a key reserve but those minutes won’t be evenly distributed. Some nights he might just play a few minutes while other nights he might not leave the bench. But other nights he could be featured more prominently as foul trouble, injuries, and matchups open the door to opportunity.

Then again, he could end up back in Greensboro for stretches of the year as he continues to hone his burgeoning skills in the G-League. His game is still raw and needs a lot of work, especially as the Hornets are now starting to pivot toward competing for the playoffs. There will be far fewer chances for young players to learn on the fly this year than there were last year.

If Jalen McDaniels is going to claim regular minutes as a reserve he’s going to need to bulk up. As coach James Borrego joked last year, “He’s got the length, but we need more size — to bulk him up. I think I can post him up right now.” Beefier power forwards or stretch fours with refined post-up games can take advantage of Jalen down low.

Many young players make noticeable improvements between their rookie seasons and Year 2. If Jalen can build on the tools he flashed last year he can claim a regular spot in the rotation, but the competition among reserves for playing time will be fierce. Jalen McDaniels’ 2020-21 season can go a variety of different ways. My hope is he adds some muscle, improves his three-point shooting to 40 percent, and meshes well with the second unit. If that happens, he can be a valuable reserve on a much improved Hornets roster.

Poll

How do you see Jalen McDaniels’ 2020-21 season playing out?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    He’s going to "make the leap" and get big minutes!
    (11 votes)
  • 12%
    Key reserve playing around 20 MPG
    (23 votes)
  • 42%
    Regularly plays around 10 MPG with the second unit
    (81 votes)
  • 30%
    Spends most of the season with the Hornets but only plays sporadic, limited minutes
    (57 votes)
  • 8%
    Spends most of the season in the G-League
    (17 votes)
189 votes total Vote Now