Age: 19 (Turns 20 in September 2020)
The first thing to notice when you watch Jaden McDaniels is his impressive length. He is 6’9” with a 7-foot wingspan with a thin, athletic build. At his height, he is a very smooth and fluid athlete with long strides. While he naturally has a slight build, he is still young and has continually worked on improving his strength and frame. At 19 years old, McDaniels has impressive shooting mechanics. The combination of his length and his high release point allows him to get his shot off rather easily over defenders. He also maintains good balance on his jump shots, whether it be off the catch or the dribble. At Washington, Jaden had many ball-handling responsibilities due to the lack of talent around him. This added responsibility helped him to improve his passing and ball-handling skills. He typically does a good job of using his length around the rim to get his shot off over the defense. He also uses his length effectively to rebound and get put backs. McDaniels tends to have good body control when finishing around the rim. One aspect that will allow McDaniels to have an easier time transitioning over to the NBA game, is his ability to play on the fast break. His length, athleticism, and long strides are all things that give McDaniels an advantage on the fast break. All these traits allow McDaniels to finish effectively in transition. The game becomes easier for him on the break. Jaden fills the proper lanes and generally has good decision-making ability in these situations. On the defensive end of the floor, he has a lot to offer. At 6’9, he should be able to switch 2-4 with ease. McDaniels is light on his feet so can move well on the perimeter and he should be able to make opposing shooters uncomfortable with his long wingspan. Another thing he can do is be a weak-side rim protector. He has impressive shot-blocking instincts and timing. Jaden McDaniels has the traits of a 2-way player as his versatility can be so helpful to a team. As a teammate, there isn’t much to say that’s negative. He’s a quiet guy, but shows positive body language and has an easy time getting along with teammates.
While his jump shot is a projected strength, he has some work to do. His rotation on his jump shot is surprisingly poor. Jaden also can get in his head. Even though he can shoot over almost any opponent, he will sometimes regret taking the shot in mid-air and it will mess up his shot. In addition to this, it’s hard to deny that there might be a possibility he is wired in a way where he needs consistent touches to stay engaged. This will determine his floor, because if he is capable of playing in a lesser ball-dominant role, that will open up many opportunities. Another area McDaniels should improve on is taking tough runners/floaters. With all the analytics at the NBA level, this habit should be erased fairly early in his career. A weakness McDaniels possesses is his ball handling. While he looks comfortable dribbling, It’s too high and incredibly loose. This makes it very easy for him to get stripped. Jaden also tends to dribble without a purpose/plan. He has gotten better, but he still needs to work on it. As a passer, his decision making is questionable at times as he forces a lot of passes that aren’t there. The combination of these things makes him a high-turnover player. McDaniels has a lot of trouble attacking a set defense. He doesn’t have a quick burst nor the ball-handling skills to get north-south. This weakness limits his upside, because he has to settle for many tough shots. On the defensive end of the floor, we never got to see him play man to man defense as Washington was always in a 2-3 zone. He showed poor awareness defensively too as when no one was in his zone, he wasn’t thinking how to help out his teammates, he would just wait. It’s also puzzling to think if he can be satisfied in a lower usage role where he is a 3 and D type of player. It’s hard to get a read on how motivated he is and what he is willing to do because in the zone, he was able to play “lockdown” defense without trying. He didn’t have to sit down in a stance all game like these other projected two-way wings did. Also, will McDaniels have to add muscle? I see it being helpful on defense to have the ability to guard bigger, powerful forwards as well as ease some durability concerns. Mike Hopkins started having Jaden come off the bench. While there was no clear statement as to why, it was speculated to be because he wasn’t playing team-ball. This was one of the occasions where it was a bad look for his brand and these are the best clues as to what type of person he is until teams get to talk to him.
While McDaniels is talented, I do have concerns on how low his floor is despite that. It’s largely dependant upon how willing he is to be a role player especially early in his career. Many people like the Kevin Durant comparison, but most scouts compare him to Jonathon Isaac and I agree with the ladder. McDaniels doesn’t have the talent to become a top 2 player on a playoff team. He doesn’t have the ability to get downhill and create easy shots for himself. The best thing he can do for his career is buy in on the defensive end. This is where he can use his length and athletic frame to guard multiple positions and stay on the floor. Mechanically speaking, he should be able to have a good jump shot, but the mental aspect scares me. I have major concerns on how that will affect his 3 pointer and getting it to a +40% level. If he can find a situation where he feels secure and his role is safe, then that will benefit him, but he also needs to embrace that defensive side of him, because he will never average more than 16 PPG. He needs to have some self awareness and understand how good he can be defensively. Jonathon Isaac is similarly built to Jaden, both skinny, athletic, and long. Jonathon Isaac was having a career year before his injury and stepped up defensively averaging 2.4 BPG. That’s the type of potential Jaden has and it shouldn’t be mistaken for an all-time great scorer. Either way though, there is still areas where Jaden is projected to help a team. He should help be an average floor spacer in time. His main flaw is rotation on his shot and any shooting coach will help him fix that. There won’t be a ton of areas he helps his team in the half-court but will do wonders for his team playing in transition. For his benefit, slower pace teams like San Antonio and Indiana need to stay away in order for him to be at his best. Interviews with him can go a long way for his draft stock after the year he had to get a read on his approach to the game. Overall, he is a fairly risky pick in the lottery, but that’s where he deserves to be taken.
Article Written by Bradley Patten
Stats found on Basketball-Reference (https://www.basketball-reference.com)
Measurements found on NBA.com (https://www.nba.com/draft/2019/prospects/jalen-mcdaniels#/)
Photo Credits to Abbie Parr/Getty Images (https://ripcityproject.com/2020/03/14/portland-trail-blazers-jaden-mcdaniels/)