A solid preseason from Jalen McDaniels has made for quite the competition at the back end of the Charlotte Hornets’ roster. McDaniels, along with James Bouknight and Cody Martin, have made head coach James Borrego’s job of building a rotation for the opening stretch of the season much more difficult.
"I'm going to play anybody that's ready to go on any given night. If you earn minutes, whether you're a vet or a young guy, you're going to be on the court."— Bally Sports: Hornets (@HornetsOnBally) December 5, 2020
— @hornets coach James Borrego pic.twitter.com/qAjIBYIsCT
As we can see in this press conference clip from back in December 2020, Borrego’s long-time philosophy has been for players to earn minutes via their on-court play rather than salary or status. With a more veteran-laden roster and loads of young talent in 2021-22, that task becomes harder to manage. Beyond the guaranteed minutes for the starting five and Ish Smith, Kelly Oubre Jr. and PJ Washington, there isn’t much more to go around, and multiple lower-level rotation players have made a case that they, too should be given a real chance to contribute on a nightly basis.
McDaniels has shot poorly, but he’s shown plenty of potential as a floor-spacer in his first two seasons that four preseason games doesn’t raise any alarms. Against the Thunder, he posted 12 points, seven boards, two assists and two steals on 5-11 from the floor, and he’s looked more comfortable handling the ball under pressure and delivering accurate passes when he can’t create for himself, an ability that has improved in itself with a better handle.
Defensively, his slight frame still affects his ability to defend on the low block, but with an influx of young talent at the forward and center positions, McDaniels won’t be expected to fill the rim-protector role. Instead, he can utilize his length, mobility and instincts defending perimeter players likely to be much smaller than 6-foot-10 and roam like a free safety whenever the Hornets deploy a zone. He looked comfortable shooting the ball, especially when given time to load up his jumper, and the growth in the ancillary aspects of his game are more encouraging than a low percentage across four games is discouraging.
The Hornets’ rotation over the first handful of games will be interesting to follow. Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and Oubre Jr. will all have missed about two weeks of action if they’re cleared for the opener, and players like Bouknight, Martin and McDaniels have all made a case that they should be on the court. Borrego likes to start off with a deeper rotation and shorten it as the season goes on and the games get more intense, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him continue to doctor the rotations in the month of October.
From developing his game and emerging from the G League as a rookie to spending most of last season as an effective player for Charlotte, it’s hard to say McDaniels has done anything to warrant a removal from the rotation, even if the team got a bit deeper.