Catching up with Dyson Daniels: 2022 NBA draft, Ignite vs Next Stars and more

Daniels explains his decision to blaze his own trail by joining the NBA's G League Ignite, rather than the NBL's Next Stars program.

Josh Giddey recently became the first NBA Global Academy graduate to earn NBA draft selection, and Bendigo native Dyson Daniels is hoping to be next in line.

Credit: FIBA

Daniels, a 6’6 point guard who excels on both ends of the floor, made the move to Canberra in mid-2019 —where the NBA Global Academy is located— following numerous eyecatching performances with Victoria Country’s Under-18 squad and the NBL1’s Bendigo Braves.

Since joining the world-class institute, Daniels’ game has flourished under the watchful eye of coaches such as Adam Caporn and Marty Clarke. Fast forward two years later, and the 18 year old bottom-ager headlined an impressive Australian contingent at the 2021 FIBA Under-19 World Championships. Although the Emus finished in 10th place with three wins and four losses, Daniels was a shining light with averages of 14 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game.

As Australia’s premier 2003-born prospect, Daniels seemed like an unbackable favourite to follow in the footsteps of 2002-born phenom Josh Giddey, by joining the NBL’s Next Stars program. Giddey has been the program’s biggest success story thus far, after rising from projected second-round obscurity to become the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft.

In an interesting turn of events however, Daniels elected to become the first Australian to sign with the NBA G League Ignite program. In doing so, he joined some of the hottest NBA prospects from the American high school class of 2021 - including Jaden Hardy (ranked #2 by ESPN) and Michael Foster (ranked #9 by ESPN). The Bendigo native was also recruited by the likes of St. Mary’s, Arkansas and Colorado, but ultimately his final decision was a tossup between the G League’s Ignite program and the NBL’s Next Stars program.

Daniels generously shared his time for an interview with The Pick and Roll in late July, while he was in hotel quarantine after returning from the Under-19 World Championships. The 18 year old outlined several reasons for choosing the G League, and his response is a huge testament to the NBA Global Academy. Daniels saw many similarities between his two-year stint in Canberra, and what awaits him in the G League, prompting a groundbreaking move.

“I was nearly certain on going [to the] NBL after I turned down college. I thought this was going to be the option, because I hadn’t really talked to the G League much [at that time], and I didn’t really know what it was about.

“It was a tough decision to be honest, between NBL, G League and college was in there for a little bit. I feel like, with a lot of talk [having transpired] with NBL people and G League people, I feel like I’m going to get my best development as a player at the G League. It’s a more schedule-based [program], similar to what I’m on now at the NBA Academy, where I’m with great coaching staff and great players to go up against every day.”

One-time NBA All-Star Shareef Abdur-Rahim happens to be the President of the NBA G League, and personally joined the pitch to bring Daniels to the States. The G League Ignite program enjoyed a successful first year which culminated in the 2021 NBA draft, where Jalen Green was selected second overall by the Houston Rockets, and Jonathan Kuminga went to the Golden State Warriors at seventh.

“I got on some zoom calls with Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and we talked about what the G League is like. And because it’s only the second year of that program, [we talked about] how the first year went and how very successful [it was] for them, and the players that were playing in it.

“It was pretty late for [the] G League [to become an option for me], [before] I decided to go there. NBL was my main focus for the whole time I was getting recruited, and this popped up, and I really liked it. I really liked what they had to offer, and they were very honest with me on how it’s going to go. I thought it was the best for me.”

Daniels’ decision highlights the array of options available to up and coming prospects, which can only be a good thing. When the likes of Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes were coming through the ranks, there were essentially two options available upon graduating from the AIS: NBL or college.

Ben Simmons changed the game when he left the AIS prematurely, and embarked upon a remarkable high school career in the USA, which yielded three national championships and cemented his status as the top player in his draft class. The three-time NBA All-Star wasn’t the first Aussie to play high school basketball in the States, but he was the first to make it look easy.

While Simmons was making a name for himself in America, his childhood friend Danté Exum took the opposite approach from down under. Exum was the first player to make a direct leap from the AIS to the NBA, bypassing both the NBL and collegiate basketball in the process. The Utah Jazz draftee used the international stage to impress NBA scouts, including events such as the Nike Hoop Summit, Under-19 World Championships and Adidas Nations.

Exum and Simmons proved that there are pathways to the NBA outside of the traditional AIS-NBL/college-NBA route, but the NBL threw yet another option into the mix by introducing the Next Stars program in 2018. As part of this novel initiative, NBA prospects are contracted directly to the league rather than professional teams, and receive various perks including an apartment, car, flights and personal development training.

In its short history, the Next Stars program has already produced three first round NBA draft picks: LaMelo Ball (3rd overall pick in 2020), R.J. Hampton (24th overall pick in 2020) and Josh Giddey (6th overall pick in 2021). After seeing the likes of Ball and Hampton head down under, the NBA responded in emphatic fashion by introducing the G League Ignite program.

While the Australian inflow of American draft prospects may have slowed to a trickle after the advent of the G League Ignite scheme, the NBL has found other ways to keep their Next Stars program going. European recruits such as French swingman Ousmane Dieng, German big man Ariel Hukporti, Russian guard Nikita Mikhailovskii and Aussie Makur Maker headline the 2021-22 crop of Next Stars, which already includes local hopeful Mojave King.

It’s a shame we won’t see Daniels play on home soil in the 2021-22 season, but he has shown tremendous courage by testing the G League waters. In addition to the development program offered by the G League, Daniels cited the opportunity to play in front of NBA scouts as another key factor in his decision. Familiarity matters, and by making a move to America this early, the 18 year old has put himself right in front of these scouts’ faces.

“It’s going to be a lot of player-focused individual development. So, I feel like with the NBL, it’s more about team and winning – that sort of thing. And I think in a young guy [like me], still getting that individual development is a key for me, as well as being able to play against high-quality players, and getting high quality looks from NBA scouts who live over in America. I felt like signing with the G League was going to be the best way for me to develop, and get some good eyes [from scouts] as well.”

Daniels had the advantage of being able to lean on Giddey and Mojave King, who graduated from the NBA Global Academy one year before him. The aforementioned duo both joined the NBL Next Stars program ahead of the 2020-21 season, and were in fact the first Aussie prospects to be selected.

*Disclaimer: Mojave King is currently a dual citizen of New Zealand and the USA, but has applied to receive Australian citizenship.

“I’ve talked to them about it. A few times, [Josh] Giddey asked me what my plans were, going ahead, and we talked about how the NBL helped him, and [how] the Next Stars program helped him. I was going back and forth, talking to them about the opportunities that they got given in the NBL, and how it benefitted them.”

The G League Ignite roster isn’t just made up of teenage NBA prospects. Three NBA journeymen in Bobby Brown, Amir Johnson and Jarrett Jack were added to the 2020-21 Ignite roster, offering some experience and mentorship to balance out the youthful exuberance. These veterans were presumably recruited for their off-court presence, as none of them averaged in excess of 25 minutes per game. At the end of the day, the Ignite program was set up specifically for NBA prospects, hopefully giving Daniels some certainty in terms of playing time.

“The program is about the young guys, and they’ve got a few veterans around to help the younger guys get through. But, you know, the younger guys are going to get most of the playing time, because they’re trying to get us exposure and they’re trying to help us get [to] our dream [of playing] in the NBA.

“They said that they’re going to play us with some of the older guys, and they’re going to even up the court time between the young guys, but probably the young guys are going to get more court time than the older guys. So, I guess that’s good considering [I’ll] probably [be] playing 20-25 minutes a game hopefully, and getting the off-court individual skill development that you’re getting is a bonus as well.”

When asked if there was anything he particularly wanted to work on, Daniels cited his shooting and ball-handling. The lanky Victorian projects as a point guard at the professional level, meaning there will be pressure on him to create his own shot off the dribble, and punish defenders who leave him open on the perimeter.

“There’s a lot of things I want to work on. My jump shot [for one] – I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement. I feel like it’s coming along quite nicely though, [and] at the World Cup it was feeling pretty good. I still didn’t shoot the greatest percentage, but I felt like I was able to get some good shots off, and they were good misses.

“My ball-handling as well. Being a guard, [important skills include] being able to handle the ball and break down my defenders one-on-one, and then just being able to create my own shot.”

Daniels’ G League stint will be of particular interest for future prospects coming through the NBA Global Academy. If the 18 year old finds success in his American adventure, expect to see more Aussies following in his footsteps - and that’s not a bad thing. As recently as 10 years ago, AIS basketball graduates were choosing between NBL and college. Now, that debate has evolved into NBL vs college vs G League Ignite vs US High school vs directly entering the NBA, giving prospects more choice than ever before, to find a program that works for them.