Southeast Notes: McDaniels, Porzingis, Hampton, Griffin

It has been a rough season so far for the Hornets, who have battled the injury bug and rank 13th in the East with a 6-15 record. However, the emergence of forward Jalen McDaniels as reliable rotation piece has been a bright spot, writes Rod Boone of The Charlotte Observer.

The No. 52 overall pick in the 2019 draft, McDaniels appeared in 118 games in his first three seasons, averaging 17.7 minutes per contest. This season, that number has jumped to 25.8 MPG and he has played in all 21 of Charlotte’s games to date, averaging new career highs in PPG (9.7), RPG (3.6), and APG (2.2), among several other categories.

“It feels great because I really know I’m not supposed to be here,” McDaniels said. “Statistics for the second-round, 52nd pick, 54th pick or whatever it was is like, ‘Not supposed to be here, out (of) the league second year.’ That’s what the statistics say. So it’s just me being an underdog. Even in high school I wasn’t recruited like that until my last year. I just know how this goes, I feel like I’ve always got to take the long route every time I do something.”

Having signed a four-year contract as a rookie in 2019, McDaniels will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in 2023 if he doesn’t sign an extension before then.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • Kristaps Porzingis may be the primary factor in determining how far the Wizards can go this season, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic, who says the big man being healthy and productive at both ends of the court is crucial to the team’s success. Porzingis’ effectiveness as a rim protector this season has helped improve a Washington defense that ranked 25th in defensive rating in 2021/22, Aldridge notes.
  • After having his 2023/24 team option declined last month, Magic wing R.J. Hampton doesn’t have a defined role in Orlando in the short- or the long-term, but he’s not letting that bother him, according to Khobi Price of The Orlando Sentinel. “It really (doesn’t) change anything,” Hampton said when asked about his fluctuating minutes. “The coaches give me confidence every game whether I’m playing or not. My teammates give me confidence every game, so whether I don’t play for two games or 10 minutes (in) one game, I feel like I’ve been prepared by them.”
  • Hawks rookie AJ Griffin tells Spencer Davies of that he has felt at home in Atlanta, which has made the adjustment from college to the NBA smoother. “Just the love from the veterans here, I appreciate it. I just really enjoy being here and being able to play with everyone and being able to play on the court with each other. It’s special so far,” Griffin said, singling out guards Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. “It’s fun to watch, just to be able to play with those guys. It’s still early in the season, and I feel like something special is brewing.” Griffin only played double-digit minutes once in Atlanta’s first nine games, but has done so in all 12 games since then, averaging 21.4 MPG during that stretch.
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