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Trending Hornets: Things are looking up for Jalen McDaniels

While his advanced stats are still below league averages, Jalen McDaniels is getting incrementally better each year.

Charlotte Hornets v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Trending Hornets series evaluates the career trajectories of Charlotte’s players based on two advanced stats - Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) - as provided by Basketball Reference.

PER measures per-minute production standardized such as the league average is 15. A PER above 15 means a player contributed above league average. As a frame of reference, among last season’s PER leaders, the Top 20 players were 21.8 and higher while Nos. 21-40 ranged from 18.9 to 21.6.

VORP is a box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement level player. A VORP of 1.2 means the team was 1.2 points better off per 100 possessions with this player on the floor versus a league average player. Among last season’s VORP leaders, the Top 20 were 3.5 and higher and Nos. 21-40 ranged from 2.2 to 3.4.

This week we’ll look at the trajectory of forward Jalen McDaniels.

2021-22 results and league ranks

2021-22 stats: 55 G, 16.3 MINS, 6.2 PTS, 3.1 REB, 48.4% FG, 38.0% 3PT

PER: 12.7; ranked T-132nd overall

VORP: -0.1; ranked T-252nd overall (minimum 800 minutes played)

Career trend overview

Jalen was the 52nd overall pick by the Hornets in the 2019 NBA draft. The slender 6’9”, 205-pound forward was viewed as a development project coming out of San Diego State, as is the case for all players drafted in the back half of the second round.

In his rookie season he appeared in just 16 games and averaged 18.3 minutes. But in limited action McDaniels flashed some real potential. He averaged 5.6 points and a respectable 4.1 rebounds while hitting a promising 37.5% of his 3-point shots during his rookie campaign. His 10.7 PER and -0.1 VORP were both below NBA averages, but that’s to be expected for the No. 52 pick.

In his second NBA season McDaniels carved out a meaningful bench role. He appeared in 47 games and averaged 19.2 minutes, 7.4 points, and 3.6 rebounds, but his 3-point shooting dropped to 33.3% on 2.2 attempts per game. With the increased opportunity came increased productivity with his PER increasing to 11.4, but his VORP dropped to -0.3, so once again below NBA averages.

Last year, Jalen’s third NBA season, he maintained his bench role and averaged 16.3 minutes over 55 games. He posted 6.2 points and an unspectacular 3.1 rebounds per game, but he took a major step forward on his 3-point shooting which jumped to 38.0% on 2.0 attempts per game. McDaniels improved his PER from 11.4 to 12.7 and his VORP rebounded from -0.3 to -0.1.

Now, Jalen’s defense isn’t spectacular and needs to take a step forward under Steve Clifford. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus of -0.4 was about average for a Hornets regular contributor but still below league average. ESPN was less forgiving about his defense with his Defensive Real Plus/Minus of -3.49 ranking 73rd of 82 power forwards.

What this means for the Hornets

The continued improvement of Jalen McDaniels is great news for the Hornets. Any player picked in the fifties is nothing more than a lottery ticket and they rarely carve out meaningful NBA careers. But Jalen McDaniels has already paid dividends for the Hornets and he just keeps getting incrementally better each year.

As a frame of reference for his value through three seasons, Jalen has played in 118 games thus far. When compared to his draft class, none of the three players drafted ahead of him or the eight players drafted after him have exceeded 80 career games. Six of those 11 players have played in less than 25 career games. While McDaniels’ advanced stats aren’t great, at least he’s on the floor and contributing.

The 2022-23 season will be the last year of McDaniels’ rookie contract and he’ll carry a cap hit of just $1.9 million, per Spotrac. He should significantly outplay his contract once again as he looks to take another step forward and hopefully blow past the “league average” advanced stats of a 15 PER and a zero VORP.