THE RAW NUMBERS:
9.4 PPG/4.3 RPG/0.8 APG/0.7 steals/ 0.2 Blocks
First off, just to avoid any confusion, this is NOT the J. McDaniels that fractured his hand at the beginning of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ playoff run last season. THAT McDaniels (Jaden) is a 6’9, 185 lb defense-first power forward who was taken 28th overall in the 2020 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers.
THIS McDaniels (again, JaLEN) is actually THAT McDaniels’ older brother, and, similar to his younger sibling, Jalen is a 6’9, 205lb defense-first power forward who was taken 52nd overall in the 2019 draft, by the Charlotte Hornets.
McDaniels is a very Project 6’9 kinda guy. He’s an athletic wing that can rebound decently, handle the ball a little, defend multiple positions (albeit not at the fringe All-Defense level of his younger bro), and has flashed a plus three-point shot, albeit on VERY low volume. McDaniels was putting up career-best numbers (10.6/4.8/2.0), until a mid-season move to the Sixers ate into his playing time.
THE VIBES CHECK:
Hard to tell at this point, McDaniels chose to sign in Toronto, so its not like he’s here against his free will. One assumes he knows he’s a second-unit guy, at best, with a solid chance he may end up being less than that - a world where OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes and Chris Boucher are all playing well doesn’t leave a lot of wing options. Even if you believe Scottie will be more of a backcourt guy, rather than a 3/4, if Christian Koloko gets healthy and grabs the back-up centre job, than Precious Achiuwa will be grabbing minutes out of McDaniel’s pool as well. And that doesn’t even mention renaissance seasons from Thad Young or Otto Porter.
So yeah, hopefully McDaniels likes Toronto, because he may get a long look at it while sitting on the bench.
FUTURE WATCH - ON-COURT
The big question on McDaniels is - and stop me if you’ve heard this before about a young Raptors’ player - what sort of shooter can he be?
McDaniels was decidedly a non-shooter in his two seasons at San Diego State (29.8%), but has been markedly better in the pros, owning a 34.5% mark from beyond the arc on low volume over just under 200 games.
There are some reasons for optimism. McDaniels has just under 80% from the charity stripe during his NBA career. Free Throw percentage has proven to be a good indicator of a player’s shooting ability so it suggests that McDaniels has a usable stroke.
McDaniels has also had bouts of success from downtown as well. In his rookie season, he shot 37.5% in 16 games. Two years later he made 38% from deep while playing 55 games. Last year, after he moved from Charlotte to Philly, McDaniels scorched the nets to a 40% tune over 24 post-trade games.
Of course, he was having the worst three-point shooting season of his career before the Philly deal, so its hard to fashion a narrative that McDaniels’ shooting is on a definitive upswing.
McDaniels is going to have to shoot to see the court though, given the number of bodies ahead of him. Either, McDaniels will find twine, or, barring trades or injuries he’ll be at risk of seeing the lowest playing time of his career.
FUTURE WATCH - OFF COURT
There isn’t too much off-court to watch for McDaniels - his sub $5-million salary means he isn’t going to be the key part of any trade, and the fact the Raptors’ signed him to a two-year deal, suggests that Toronto is at least interested in seeing what they have. He was a player Toronto worked out before that 2019 draft, so the franchise has likely kept some sort of eye on him over the past four seasons.
The biggest off-court watch for McDaniels likely involves him back-filling in case Toronto does move off of Siakam or Anunoby, or makes some sort of ‘rebalancing trade’ sacrificing some of that length on the wings to add another back-court player.
His biggest use may be as insurance for NEXT season, in case the Raps lose both Siakam and Anunoby to trade or (NOOOOOOOO!) free-agency.
McDaniels was a low-risk, likely low-ceiling bet this off-season. If McDaniels’ late season shooting surge from last year was real, or Toronto can find a way to improve his mechanics, then they’ll have added a guy who could play in the bottom half of most NBA teams rotations - given McDaniels size, willingness to defend, and dash of ball-handling.
If that happens, perhaps it could make Team President Masai Ujiri, and General Manager Bobby Webster more comfortable to pull the trigger on a Siakam, Anunoby, or maybe even a Gary Trent Jr. trade believing that they have found some credible spacing in McDaniels.
If McDaniels shot doesn’t come around, then he’ll likely struggle to make much of an impact, especially if players like Boucher or Achiuwa find their three-point strokes.
Still, a big, versatile, defensively responsible player is never a bad thing to have - even if he does end up being another fork in a drawer full of them.