Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This evaluation focuses on San Diego State forward Jalen McDaniels.
The opinion on San Diego State’s Jalen McDaniels is split. Some see him as worthy of a first-rounder, while others see him in the low second round or completely undrafted. He possesses tremendous upside as a power forward who can impact the game on both ends of the floor, but he’ll need to make some significant improvements in key areas that could completely transform his offensive and defensive value, giving rise to some concerns about his long-term development. There are also significant personal questions, lending more difficulty to teams evaluating his worth.
The place to start is with his alleged off-court transgressions. He’s currently being sued by a pair of women who have accused him of filming sex acts in 2016, while McDaniels was in high school in Washington. It is unlikely that criminal charges will be filed against him, as the county in which the alleged act took place has already declined to pursue a prosecution, but it’s still an alarming story that teams will have to monitor and weigh in their evaluations of McDaniels as a person as well as a basketball player.
As a representative of their organization on the worldwide stage that is the NBA, any team considering bringing him in should do their due diligence in order to find out what happened and what it says about McDaniels as a human being. No matter what he brings to the court as a basketball player, clubs are going to have to assess his off-court behavior and independently decide whether his alleged actions are something they want associated with their organization.
On the court, McDaniels has all the makings of a modern power forward on both ends of the floor. He has good-looking form on his shot, though the numbers haven’t quite been there for him as a college player. He made just 29.8% of his three-pointers at SDSU and wasn’t exactly a knockdown free throw shooter. He can shoot on the move, but there are issues here as well – he loves to curl his off-screen movements to take midrange jumpers, giving rise to some concern that those shots will be able to translate all the way out to the NBA three-point line someday.
His handle is really strong for his position; he can drive a closeout and get to the rim and will occasionally break out a crossover or behind-the-back dribble to elude opponents. From a long-term ceiling perspective, he’s got just enough of a handle to perhaps run some 4-5 pick-and-roll someday. His passing and vision are in similar situations – he’s shown just enough playmaking in his two years at SDSU to think that he could be a plus playmaker eventually.
The offensive concerns come with some shot selection issues and a really thin frame, as well as the growth across multiple areas necessary in order to become a difference maker at the NBA level. He really loves the midrange, curling his off-ball screens to get to those spots rather than pushing it out to the three-point line and preferring a face up jumper in the post to bullying his way to the basket, even in advantage matchups. He weighed in at just 192 pounds at the combine, which is staggeringly skinny for a 6’10 forward. Adding some weight will be the top basketball priority for any team bringing him into their organization.
McDaniels’ weight is a much larger problem defensively, where he gets knocked backward with regularity and will have massive trouble with power forwards who might outweigh him by 50 pounds. If he gets switched onto a center, it’s over; he may become a permanent part of the basket stanchion if a player like Joel Embiid gets a hold of him in the post.
His perimeter defense should be good once he catches up to the speed of the NBA game. He’s not exceptionally long with a 7’0 wingspan, but he moves his feet really well on the perimeter and should be switchable in a 1-4 switching scheme. He’s got good instincts as a perimeter defender and will rotate when needed, though his lack of length and weight make him an ineffective rim protector. At the outset, he won’t be able to make vertical plays at the rim defensively, as taking a hit to the chest and staying strong is not exactly possible at 192 pounds.
Given his length and weight disadvantages, it would be easy to assume that McDaniels is a negative on the glass, but he rebounds the ball relatively well for a player with his build. He’ll go out of his area to grab boards and is a grab-and-go threat with his handle and playmaking in the open floor.
McDaniels is a long-term project who needs to improve in multiple areas but has the outline of a very useful forward. He’s got a little bit of everything — he can handle the ball, possesses some playmaking prowess, has good form on his jumper, and can slide with guards on the perimeter — but he’ll need to improve in all of those areas in order to be a true impact player, in addition to putting on some weight and making the other general improvements that come with NBA experience. He’d greatly benefit from the contractual security that comes with a first-round pick; a team that’s willing to invest a minimum of two years, but likely at least three, into his development will be patient with him as his body catches up to the NBA level.
His draft stock comes down to risk tolerance – are the teams in his range, which is quite large at this point, willing to make the upside play with McDaniels, knowing that there’s a significant chance it fails? The more risk-averse teams will point to all the various areas of his game that will have to improve for him to reach a reasonable ceiling, while the more adventurous general managers will be tantalized by that same ceiling and may be willing to take the gamble that they can properly develop him in his first few years in the league.