The Sixers made a move ahead of Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline. Philadelphia sent wing Matisse Thybulle to the Portland Trail Blazers in a four-team deal that netted the Sixers wing Jalen McDaniels from the Charlotte Hornets.
The deal also scored Philadelphia a 2024 second-round pick from the New York Knicks and a 2029 second-round choice from the Blazers. The Sixers’ rights to the most favorable 2023 second-round pick between Atlanta, Brooklyn, and Charlotte were handed over to the Hornets. Portland also sent a 2027 second-round pick (most favorable of New Orleans and Portland) to Charlotte. Josh Hart and the draft rights to Bojan Dublijevic and Daniel Diez are going to New York.
New York traded Cam Reddish, Ryan Arcidiacono, a 2023 top-14 protected first-round pick, and the draft rights to Ante Tomic to Portland. Svi Mykhailiuk goes to Charlotte. That 2023 first-round pick will convert to four second-round picks if not conveyed in 2023.
The trade also clears roughly $2.45 million in salary off the Sixers’ books. In other words, Philadelphia is now approximately $1.275 million below the luxury tax line. McDaniels is an unrestricted free agent this summer after playing on a base salary of $1,930,681 this season.
The deal is a marginal upgrade to the Sixers’ wing depth on the basis that he should be good enough on offense to be playable in the postseason. However, it’s unknown whether he can make meaningful contributions to a playoff run.
Any discussion of McDaniels’ game must start with an acknowledgement of what he has been to this point in his career. That is, a low-usage role player. I buy that there is some upside to tap into. But, you’re looking at a 3-and-D wing with strong intangible tools and some level of skills at this point. In other words, if you’re expecting a star, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. There’s been nothing to this point suggesting that’s in the cards. But, there’s a reason the price was a role player on Philadelphia’s bench and some second-round picks.
Having established that, let’s look at what the Sixers are getting.
The first thing that sticks out about McDaniels is his prototypical modern NBA wing body. NBA.com lists his height at 6-9. He measured a wingspan of over seven feet and a standing reach of nearly nine feet at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine. In other words, an upgrade in size on the perimeter.
One of his attributes most attractive specifically to the Sixers will be his prowess as a rebounder. He’s an above-average rebounder on his team’s missed field goals and ranks higher than 84 percent of NBA wings in rebounding the opponent’s missed goals, according to Cleaning The Glass.
There are legitimate concerns about his shooting. But, 53.8 percent on twos is quite good for wings this season. Most of that comes courtesy of shots closer in the paint. That’s where he’s a clear upgrade over Thybulle.
When empowered to get creative with the ball, McDaniels drives with force and attacks closeouts with speed and control. Presented with obstacles, he can fight through contact and traffic to find a way to the basket.
Beyond being able to put the ball on the deck and attack off a swing action, McDaniels has shown some ability to handle in space. He’s never proven to be a prolific or consistently impactful offensive player. But, McDaniels can simply exist on the wings and in the corner, serving as a self-creating slasher if the ball ends up in his hands.
Plays like this one — getting downhill off the dribble and snaking a ball screen to get to the outside of the paint before attacking the basket — are something that Thybulle simply never proved capable of doing when his number was called, even at his best. If nothing else, McDaniels is just another long, rangy driver capable of dribbling his way into something. And that’s more than could be said for Thybulle at virtually any point in his Sixers tenure.
Shooting will be addressed more below, but I do think there’s a chance he can become a better shooter playing next to an elite passer at point guard, a superstar center that commands a ton of defensive attention, and just better players than the guys he played next to in Charlotte. At minimum, he’s shown flashes of being able to read a ball-handler and a defense and relocate to open spots for catch-and-shoots:
On the defensive side of the ball, McDaniels’ positives are more meaningful the deeper you go in the playoffs. His size allows him to defend one through four. That should incentivize Philadelphia to go to switching schemes on the perimeter with more frequency.
McDaniels uses his wingspan to pressure passing lanes, creating turnovers in the open court. He’s also adept at the sneak-from-behind steal that Thybulle was acclaimed for. He likes to prey on unaware dribblers as they make their ways up the court:
Also similar to Thybulle, McDaniels does a great job of putting his athleticism to work on defense. He has excellent closing speed on shooters and has proven capable of X-ing out on long rotations. He can close gaps as the ball moves and cover up his or others’ mistakes.
Charlotte is so bad that no one role player is going to change their fortunes over a large sample size. That said, the Hornets were 3.3 points per 100 possessions better with McDaniels on the court than they were with him off it, according to Cleaning The Glass. That differential was the best for any player to log at least 1,000 minutes for Charlotte this season. Offense or defense, it didn’t matter. The Hornets were better on both ends with him in the game, full stop.
In many ways, it’s good that a 25-year-old featured at the most premium position in basketball has come along so slowly. That there’s little evidence of him being a high-impact player means he won’t command the ball very often, if at all. I’d be surprised if there were an abundance of mistakes stemming from trying to do too much with the ball. He’s someone who has cut his teeth playing off the ball. The Sixers don’t need another cook in the kitchen.
The parallels to Thybulle aren’t all great. McDaniels will make some jarring decisions. He closes out with heavy feet on limited perimeter players. McDaniels notably tackled PJ Tucker biting a shot fake on a corner three in a game in Philadelphia during the height of Tucker’s scoring struggles earlier this season. Among other problems in the silly foul department, he’ll also be a bit too aggressive on ball-handlers out of range of the basket, picking up strikes on pointless body checks. McDaniels gets lost a bit on basic pick-and-rolls, too. He will lose sight of the bigger threat in the action or sag off the ball-handler on a switch and allow an open jumper.
I thoroughly believe he has the tools to be a really good defensive player. But, the Hornets also often had him guard limited players. So, it’s difficult to say what exactly is real and what is not.
I don’t know if it’s nature stemming from low usage or a lack of confidence in his abilities, but McDaniels just doesn’t call his own number very often on offense. He often does little more than serve as a cog in the assembly line even when the ball is in his hands. He makes the next pass more often than he attacks. So, he shows flashes of being good. But, it’s difficult to tell what is real and what is small sample size theater.
I will say that instincts tell me to lean more towards McDaniels being good. And that may come to fruition as he plays with a good team. But, that his Charlotte teammates barely ever looked his way even when he was open speaks volumes, as well. That cannot be overlooked. The Hornets more or less just stuffed McDaniels in the corners on offense, leaving him to eat the leftovers that come his way.
McDaniels has connected on at least 39 percent of his threes in two of his four NBA seasons. But, he’s attempted just 413 threes over 163 games played in his career. So, very small sample size of success. His 56 games with Charlotte this season have seen the most attempts of his career by quite a bit. And with that sample size, he’s shooting an uninspiring 31 percent from deep. His accuracy on long twos would inspire confidence that he can still develop into a three-point threat. But, the sample size of long twos attempted is so minuscule that it’s entirely inconclusive of anything.
I would be willing to make a case that his poor three-point shooting is an issue of not playing next to a legitimate point guard for most of this season. But, McDaniels has shot better when he’s not playing next to Ball this season, granted he played 500 more minutes without the star point guard this campaign than he did with him. It doesn’t help my skepticism at all that he’s shooting below 33 percent on catch-and-shoots this season, according to Synergy.
A fresh start with a good team might make all of the difference in the world. McDaniels is still young and has room to grow, though I’m concerned he hasn’t made enough tangible progress by his age-25 season. But, given the price, the Sixers are a little better at the end of deadline day.
And that’s a win.