The only question heading into last season for former Aztec basketball player Jalen McDaniels was whether or not he was going to be drafted.
This was one thing to look forward to this summer, as mentioned in my earlier preview. McDaniels had a great freshman year and some even compared him to former Aztec, Kawhi Leonard. McDaniels was only one of four freshmen in the country to average at least 10.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and shoot at least 58% from the field. That is how great he was as a freshman and why people were comparing him the two-time NBA Finals MVP.
After his freshman season was over, he tested the NBA waters, which meant participating in camps and playing in front of scouts to see what parts of his game needed to get better for year(s) to come. Obviously his weight was a factor for the position he played (195 pounds) at the power forward spot and sometimes at center. Even SDSU men’s basketball coach Brian Dutcher would refer to him as “the skinniest player in college basketball.” For reference, Anthony Davis has the same height as McDaniels (six-foot-10), but weighs 254 pounds, almost 50 pounds heavier. If Davis were to post up on McDaniels, terms like “Barbeque chicken” or “Bully ball” would be heard (credit to Shaquille O’Neal for those terms). Besides his weight, scouts also wanted to see McDaniels’ perimeter shooting improve.
And McDaniels did improve through his points.
During his freshman year, McDaniels averaged 10.5 points. In his sophomore year, he would increase that to 15.9 points per game. His outside shooting game is one of many factors related to the five-point increase. McDaniels started to not only post up and drive to the basket, but he would take shots from three-point range or make a one-dribble pull-up shot, just inside the 3-point arc.
Having a perimeter shot is huge in the NBA, especially for big men. Big centers or tall power forwards use their mid-range jumper to their advantage like San Antonio Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge. People wouldn’t expect a big man like Aldridge to shoot a mid-range shot; thus, when he does take the shot, it goes in.
Two months before draft, mock drafts had McDaniels as a late first-rounder or early second rounder.
On draft night, McDaniels was the 52nd overall pick during the second round by the Charlotte Hornets, owned by one of the greatest basketball players to ever play, Michael Jordan. This settles the question of whether or not McDaniels was going to be drafted.
In McDaniels’ two years as an Aztec, he played every game of his career. He averaged 13.2 points, that includes a 30-point game against UNLV this past season, averaged 7.9 rebounds, shot 76% at the free-throw line, shot 50% from the field in two years and had 101 assists.
In addition, McDaniels recorded 20 career double-doubles, which is the sixth highest in school history and second behind two-year players (Leonard leads with 40).