Hornets’ Martin and McDaniels already taking advantage of their time with the Swarm

WILMINGTON, DE – The Greensboro Swarm kicked off their 2019-20 season last weekend with a two-game road stretch in Pennsylvania. The Swarm faced off off against the Erie BayHawks (New Orleans Pelicans’ affiliate) Saturday and the Delaware Blue Coats (Philadelphia 76ers’ affiliate) last night, splitting the two games. The Hornets sent Jalen McDaniels and Caleb Martin on G-League assignment to play for the Swarm, and they immediately impressed. Notably, both Martin and McDaniels dropped 30 points respectively on the Blue Coats. Their performances were vivid demonstrations of the talent differential between them and the rest of the bodies on the floor.

Both games for Greensboro were shootouts and a prime representation of the brand of basketball the Swarm are intending to play. They are aiming at fast paced, positionless basketball, pushing the ball in transition, high energy defense, and playing all 94-feet of the court. To emphasize the pace the Swarm are playing at currently, the team eclipsed 120 points in each of their first two games.

While the Swarm are obviously pursuing wins on a nightly basis, they are more so focused on the development of their players – the essence of the G-League’s existence. Specifically, the Swarm are tuned in to the growth of Jalen McDaniels and Caleb Martin. Last night was a glimpse of the beginning of their already rapid development. Both dropping 30 with ease, Martin and McDaniels will continue to take advantage of their opportunity to amplify their games with the Swarm.

Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels arrived in a perfect environment for growth

The talent pipeline begins in the G-League. Franchises send their young players to develop as they progress towards being capable of playing in an every night NBA rotation. The G-League is often overlooked by the casual NBA fan, but once you delve into it, you immediately realize its significance to an NBA team. Draft picks are cleaning up certain areas of their game to help it translate to the next level. Simultaneously, they are working every day to fixing their weaknesses.

The G-League, specifically what’s happening in Greensboro, is crucially important for the Hornets. Charlotte is fully committed to player development as they have begun their new chapter. Player development is the lifeblood of this organization. Hornets’ rookies Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels are in a perfect environment to work on their craft and develop into the NBA players they are destined to become. They do not have the pressure to win now or develop to become a player that needs to make an immediate impact. They are playing for a team that has the time and patience to allow for their growth. This is a picture-perfect scenario for both of these rookies.

Hornets’ General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Mitch Kupchak said prior to the season that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Caleb Martin and McDaniels “are in the G-League and playing a lot of minutes down there.” He added that it is likely that they spend the majority of the season in Greensboro.

Additionally, Hornets head coach James Borrego explained how their time in Greensboro is vital for their growth as players. “If guys aren’t playing here, we need them to go play 30 minutes. That 30 minute range is really where you develop and grow as a player.”

Borrego is not in the school of thought where you learn from sitting on the bench. Getting out and getting live reps in real game-time action is where you embark on a path to progression and real growth in this league. The Hornets saw this pay dividends with Devonte’ Graham and Dwayne Bacon. Both played over 17 games with the Swarm last year where they praised their time with the Swarm, attributing it to their progress. They are applying the same approach to McDaniels and Martin.

Jalen McDaniels’ progression is already sowing its seeds

Jalen McDaniels arrived late to the scene for the Hornets this fall. He arrived 10 days into the team’s preseason training camp where he played their final two preseason games. Charlotte drafted McDaniels with the 52nd overall pick in this year’s draft and went on to sign him to a multi-year contract on October 20th.

McDaniels came into the NBA as a tweener forward. Listed at 6-foot-10, McDaniels can play both forward spots. Which one exactly? That does not matter due to the NBA trending toward positionless basketball. McDaniels has the size and skillset to fit like a glove in today’s league. He has some growth to attend to, but that is all a part of the journey and process. Borrego and Kupchak are aware of that and are willing to let Jalen grow in Greensboro.

Jalen was not a flashy “lights out” shooter at San Diego State during his two seasons. He made just 30.1 percent of his 93 catch-and-shoot threes in college. That was one part of his game that he was needing to improve. Provided that he shot 75.8 percent from the free throw line in college on 240 attempts, McDaniels is projected to be a solid three-point shooter in the NBA. Last night McDaniels showed immediate improvement in that regard.

As previously mentioned, Jalen McDaniels scored 30 points last night, including 5/6 from beyond the arc. He unloaded high-quality shot attempts from three without any hesitation. All five of his threes were in rhythm and not forced at all. 20 of Jalen’s 30 points came in the first half. He took what the defense gave him and took advantage of the open space.

McDaniels’ athleticism and frame make him a threat to disrupt opponents’ defenses in a variety of ways. One skill that he flashed in college was his playmaking ability. For the Aztecs, he would flash accurate cross-court passes from the post or drive-and-kicks to shooters and cutters. McDaniels exhibited that last night as well. He showed off his versatility several times last night. Below, you can see him driving off a screen and making a pinpoint wraparound pass to Thomas Welsh at the top of the key for three.

 

The San Diego State product has immense potential. His size, athleticism, and skill set have him positioned to be someone that can be groomed into a deadly combo forward in this league. His dribble is low to the ground, like a guard, combined with an influx of fluid crossovers and hesitations.

McDaniels gives the appearance of a guard at times on the floor but needs to bulk up his 205 pound frame to compete with NBA bigs. His aggressive style allow him to get rebounds over stockier bigs despite his slimmer frame. As he bulks up with the Swarm, we will see him be able to demand more of a presence on the interior on both ends.

Jalen’s size did not impact him last night as he drove and threw down a vicious poster on the head of Delaware’s 7-foot-3 center Christ Koumadje.

Caleb Martin sticking out like a sore thumb

Watching a G-League game, it is not to difficult to point out which guys are at a completely different level than the surrounding talent. In Caleb Martin’s first career G-League game last night, you could see a vast difference in his game. He stuck out like a sore thumb.

Caleb made a quick splash for the Hornets during preseason, scoring 13 points in their first game. He averaged 9.6 points per game for the preseason, eclipsing double-figures in three of the five games. Martin’s performance resulted in him signing a multi-year deal with Charlotte. He made the Hornets’ 15-man roster with the idea that he would spend a good chunk of his rookie year with the Swarm.

As James Borrego said, “If you’re not playing a significant amount or playing in the regular rotation, when we can get you to get significant minutes in Greensboro, we are going to try to do that.” The Hornets did just that, assigning Martin to the Swarm Monday morning.

With Nic Batum coming back from injury, expect to see Caleb in Greensboro for the foreseeable future. He knew this would be his path this season, and he needed little time to take advantage of the opportunity. In his first game, he scored 30 points on 10-19 shooting. He averaged 19.2 points per game as a senior at Nevada, so lofty scoring performances are far from foreign for Martin.

Caleb’s skill and speed were far above everyone else on the floor. That could not be made more clear than in his stat-line. He impacted the game at every single level. On the night he totaled 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. He was a mad man, flying everywhere across all 94-feet of the court.

In the clip above, you can see Martin dash right across your screen. He moves at a speed to where he makes the surrounding men on the court look like they are going in slow motion. Last night he drove to the rim with ease, using a multitude of dribble moves to fly past defenders. It was like clockwork. The combination of his size and strength with his boost and speed make most defenders on the floor a mismatch.

Caleb fits into the Hornets’ and Swarm’s ideology. Their high paced, competitive, fast, energy-driven basketball is right in his wheelhouse. Martin displayed several examples like that all throughout the night.

The energy and competitiveness Martin brings on a nightly basis is one of the first things that stood out to Coach Borrego. Caleb was often times checking into preseason games early in the first quarter to provide the team with an energy boost. Last night he did so in a variety of ways, including a drive full speed into Blue Coats’ center Christ Koumadje. Martin went head-on at the 7-foot-3 giant where he bulled him out out bounds as he finished through the contact for a layup. Caleb Martin fears no one.