The Charlotte Hornets took the biggest steal of the 2019 NBA Draft

Charlotte Hornets Jalen McDaniels. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Charlotte Hornets Jalen McDaniels. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /
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Charlotte Hornets Jalen McDaniels.
Charlotte Hornets Jalen McDaniels. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

Jalen McDaniel’s Defense

McDaniels has garnered comparisons to Jonathan Isaac and Robert Covington from Hornets fans(i.e. me) before, but it’s not just the size and mohawk where those parallels end. Despite being a rookie who spent half of his first season in the G League, McDaniels showed he could be a key piece of the Charlotte Hornets defense that James Borrego envisions.

Any conversation about McDaniels’ defense should start with his physical tools. McDaniels stands nearly 6’10” with a 7′ wingspan. McDaniels’ length helps him in various aspects of defense especially closing out shooters and causing deflections.

However, Jalen also possesses fantastic lateral quickness and flexible hips,  which aid his extreme switchability; notice in the below clips how McDaniels has no issues staying in front of guards, even after running them off the 3 point line.

McDaniels is tougher than walrus gristle too. He averaged a healthy defensive rebound percentage of 19.4% in the NBA and 20.4% in his longer G League stint, which would place around 38th in the NBA.

Given the Hornets have numerous strong wings who can slide up a position(Miles can play PF, PJ can play C), having other players who can rebound strongly is imperative for the viability of smaller frontcourts, and Jalen would certainly help alleviate any rebounding concerns of a hypothetical small Hornets frontcourt. He boxes out supremely well and he has the length, strength, and athleticism to the sky for contested rebounds.

Jalen’s physical tools amplify an uncommon level of basketball IQ. From the weak side, Jalen is an extraordinarily prompt help defender. However, one of his shortcomings is a lack of vertical athleticism, and that weakness can be seen in some of the below clips.

What is truly exciting is McDaniels’ ability to help from the “nail.” Quoting the linked SB Nation article, the nail is defined as:

"One of the key defensive spots on the floor, where teams can literally help stop middle penetration and figuratively shout out their defensive philosophy. The nail is located at the very middle of the free throw line: 15 feet from the middle of the basket, eight feet from the edge of each side of the NBA key."

Being able to impact the defense from this location is a rare skill that only the best defenders in the league have, such as the aforementioned Isaac, Covington, and other defensive studs like Paul George and Marcus Smart. However, despite being a rookie, Jalen managed to make a bunch of disruptive plays from this area, whether that’s slowing down a slasher, making a spectacular block, or forcing an opponent to make a bad pass.

There are still some shortcomings. On the TV Jalen looks quite thin, and there have been plays where opponents can get McDaniels off balance with a subtle shoulder bump. Bigger forwards also seem to give him issues. Improving his physical strength is a must so Jalen can clock minutes more at PF and C, where his offensive shortcomings wouldn’t be as detrimental to the team’s offense.

But overall, Jalen’s rare combination of lateral quickness, wingspan, and basketball IQ bodes well for his future in the NBA.

Next. If the Charlotte Hornets could land DeMarcus Cousins, should they?. dark