School: San Diego State
Height/Weight: 6’10, 195 lbs.
Jalen McDaniels is one of the most exciting draft prospects that many people have never heard of. Playing in the Mountain West Conference, he has flown under the national radar and has not gotten the recognition he deserves. After his freshman season at San Diego State, McDaniels decided to test NBA waters by declaring for the draft in 2018. However, he returned for a sophomore season where he is the leading scorer for his team. McDaniels is a combo wing player that is tall and long at 6’10 and has a similar frame to 2017 sixth overall pick, Jonathan Isaac.
What makes McDaniels such an exciting prospect is that he has a great handle for his height and is able to get to any spot that he wants to on the court. His ball handling abilities open up many possibilities for himself and his teammates. He is comfortable bringing the ball up in transition and also possesses above average vision for a player with his size.
Regarding his shot, McDaniels has a nice pull up jump shot off the dribble and has a decent looking stroke. McDaniels is able to take almost any defender off the dribble with a wide variety of moves to get to his spot.
Once he is able to get by his defender he has good finishing abilities around the rim, converting at an efficient rate. He also has the length to shoot over smaller defenders with floaters and hook shots in the lane. When McDaniels gets to the paint paint, he is good at drawing contact and getting to the free throw line, where he is an excellent foul shooter.
On the offensive end, McDaniels has the ability to play in the post and is often able to secure good position on the block with a nice spin move. In the post he plays with fluidity with his back to the basket and is patient, feeling where the defensive pressure is coming from. This level of patience is impressive at this level because he knows when to take the shot he wants or he knows when to kick it out if the double team is closing in on him. He plays with great energy on offense and is always trying to get position for an offensive rebound or even a put back jam.
Above I mentioned that McDaniels has a similar frame to Jonathan Isaac, which can be viewed as a strength. As you may recall, Isaac was a stellar athlete at Florida State where he averaged 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks a game in his only college season. McDaniels poses similar length to Isaac and uses it especially well on defense.
He is able to give smaller opponents a hard time on the perimeter by using his long arms to make it challenging to put the ball on the floor and contest jump shots.
One of McDaniels’ biggest weaknesses is his overall defensive game. He does possess a lot of upside on defense because of his long arms, however his defensive IQ along with his footwork are not there yet. Whenever a shot goes up, McDaniels rarely finds a body to box out and instead ball watches, hoping that he can rely on his physical tools to corral a rebound that comes anywhere close to his long arms. Even when McDaniels does find a man to block out, he has a hard time keeping the man behind him because he does not carry a lot of weight at 195 pounds.
When he is guarding a smaller and quicker player on the perimeter he does a good job keeping his man in front of him, however he has slow feet and again relies heavily on his length to stop his man from blowing by him. McDaniels’ lack of defensive IQ is also a weakness at this point because he is prone to foul trouble. This is crucial because his team relies heavily on him on the offensive end and stalls without him on the floor when he has to sit on the bench with fouls.
McDaniels sometimes flashes his above average vision for his size and loves to create his own shot off the dribble. However, there are a lot of times throughout a game where he tries to force a hard pass in congested areas. To make matters worse, he can be out of control at times while he is handling the ball and is caught dribbling with his head down, missing wide open teammates. Overall, McDaniels shows flashes of his high basketball IQ, however he will need to keep developing it (especially on defense) in order for him to succeed at the next level.
Another weakness in McDaniels’ game is his consistency on jump shots, midrange and behind the three point arc. He has an excellent stroke with good form and is able to get good elevation on his shot. It is hard for defenders to block his jump shots on the perimeter due to his height. However, McDaniels has shown a little inconsistency shooting throughout his collegiate career and will need to prove that he can consistently hit three pointers.
Personally, McDaniels has been the most intriguing draft prospect I have watched this season due to his physical tools and his ball handling abilities for his size. For a college player to succeed at the next level they need to be comfortable getting their own shot when they need to, which McDaniels has proven he can do. He is able to get to wherever he wants on the floor, which is dangerous for a player his size. This versatility also comes into play with how the NBA is trending towards position-less basketball nowadays. McDaniels has the size and skills to play anywhere from a 3 to a 5 in small ball lineups at the next level.
I believe that McDaniels will be a late first round steal for whatever team decides to take a chance on him. He has the ability to be a professional scorer and has tremendous upside, with his draft stock seemingly rising almost every week. In order for him to be a star at the next level he will need to add some muscle weight and also show that he can consistently knock down midrange jumpers and three-pointers. He also needs to improve his footwork on defense so that he can stay in front of his opponents and stay out of foul trouble.
Overall, I am excited for McDaniels’ future and expect him to be drafted in the late first round or early second round of 2019’s NBA Draft.