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Dyson Daniels on breaking out at the 2023 NBA Summer League
If Las Vegas was any indication, Daniels looks ready to build on his injury-shortened rookie year.
Dyson Daniels entered last year’s edition of the NBA Summer League with plenty of hype and intrigue, as the eighth overall pick in the draft. His campaign was cut short by a severe ankle sprain just eight minutes into the first game however, and thus the Aussie never got to experience this relatively low-pressure basketball environment. Daniels thankfully kept a clean bill of health this time around and made the most of his Summer League experience. The 20 year old showed off an impressive all-around game that should have Australian Boomers fans excited ahead of the 2023 World Cup, and New Orleans Pelicans fans excited for a potential breakout season.
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Daniels opened his Summer League campaign in style, recording 18 points, five rebounds and three assists against Minnesota. The game’s very first bucket showcased his two way brilliance, with a steal leading to an and-one layup in transition. Daniels was a defensive menace throughout the whole contest, finishing on four steals in addition to several one on one stops. He also showed maturity by using discretionary fouls to prevent easy buckets, although with five total fouls he very nearly exited the game.
At the other end, Daniels showed a regular willingness to dribble the ball out of his own half court. Standing 6’7.5’’ tall with a 6’10.5’’ wingspan, he can play anywhere from 1 to 3 in a pinch, although it’s clear that he wants to develop as a point guard. Daniels has also packed on some visible muscle, and credited his 2023 offseason workout regimen for the physical development.
“For me it has been about getting in the gym, working on my ball handling, especially under pressure. You know, trying to be more [confident] in that point guard role - so you know, a lot of ball handling and a lot of shooting with Fred [Vinson]. A lot of time in the weight room as well, putting on some size,” Daniels told the media, ahead of his 2023 Summer League debut. “Casey has put the ball in my hands and wants me to run the Summer League team, which is good for me. I’ve been working on that this whole offseason, so I’m looking forward to going out there and showing what work I’ve been putting in.”
“I spent the last 2-3 months in LA, just purely working on my game, working on my body, trying to be the best version of myself [that] I can be, coming into year two. I wasn't happy with how I finished the year. I felt like, you know, I could have made a bigger jump and helped my team better. So, you know, I was hungry coming into summer league and year two,” Daniels recently told media, during a visit to Melbourne’s NBA Store.
“From the start of the season to the end of the season, I've definitely made improvements but I think, you know, I hit the rookie wall towards the end of the season. I kind of got stunted there and I was kind of playing out there just to not to make mistakes, rather than play free. So, you know, I don't want to get in that hole again. And you know, my coaches, they believe me and my teammates, they believe me, they got confidence in me. So for me, it's just about going out there, playing free, playing [with] confidence and you know, playing the game I know how to play.”
Daniels was aggressive with his drives from the very start of the Summer League. He got to the line eight times against Minnesota, maxing six, and converted six of ten two point field goals. Daniels’s signature shot is a short range floater, which has served him well since his junior days, and he often augmented this with a spin move throughout Summer League play. The 20 year old is still very right hand dominant, as most young players are, but didn’t shy away from more challenging looks on the left side of the basket.
In game two against the Golden State Warriors, Daniels recorded a monster stat line - 17 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists in a touch under 30 minutes. The shots weren’t falling on this particular night —Daniels made six of eighteen from the field and two of ten from downtown— but showed remarkable tenacity on the glass. Daniels refused to quit on unsuccessful drives, and this determination contributed to a game total of six offensive rebounds. His trademark defensive intensity was also highlighted by two steals and two blocks in the box score. Daniels has the athleticism to not only block shots in the paint, but to also chase down runaway players in transition; he showed flashes of both throughout the Summer League.
Game three against Phoenix featured a less gaudy stat line —ten points, three rebounds and eight assists— but this was arguably Daniels’ best Summer League game from a playmaking point of view. The lanky guard made all sorts of passes, including lobs in transition, kick outs to open shooters and bullet passes into the paint. He also enjoyed great success on his drives, making four of six field goals inside the arc, and recorded three blocks in another showing of athletic defence. By his third game, it became clear that Daniels was getting the full Summer League experience, by clocking roughly 30 minutes each night.
“I felt last year, the teams tried to pressure me to, you know, make me turn the ball over. So for me, it was just about handling the ball with pressure, [and] being able to [perform] different counters and stuff, you know, [while] going to the basket,” Daniels shared during the Melbourne NBA Store event.
In game four we saw Daniels lead from the front yet again. He logged 16 points, five rebounds and three steals in an impressive all-around performance, as New Orleans triumphed over Charlotte. It was another typical Daniels outing, where he routinely scored floaters, fed his bigs with smooth bounce passes and slashed to the hoop. In fact, Daniels was so aggressive that he ended up on twelve free throw attempts, of which ten were successful. By this point Daniels had already made his mark on the Summer League, but there was no indication that Pelicans coaching staff would look to shut him down.
In his fifth and last game of Summer League action, Daniels finished on a high by flirting with a triple double. He recorded 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in a loss to Philadelphia that was highlighted by hustle and above the rim action. Six of Dainels’ rebounds were corralled on the offensive glass, including an impressive putback dunk. He also elevated for another dunk later in the game, reminding onlookers that his athletic ability is often underrated. Daniels functioned as a floor general yet again, as shown by his game total of eight assists, with just two turnovers leaked.
Overall, Daniels averaged 14.6 points, 7.2 rebounds (2.8 offensive), 6.4 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.2 blocks and 2.8 turnovers across his five Summer League appearances. As a lead guard he also played 29.7 minutes on average, in a sign that Pelicans coaching staff want him to develop that identity. The biggest takeaway was perhaps his increased aggressiveness at the offensive end, as evidenced by 6.2 free throw attempts per game - much higher than his average of 0.7 in rookie year (on 17.7 minutes per game). There’s certainly room for improvement as he made just 68% of these attempts, but expect the 20 year old to refine his shooting form over time.
Inside the arc Daniels is a highly effective finisher, and capable of executing layups from either side, but it’s the floater which really sets him apart from other players. Daniels shot 23/42 (54.8%) on two point field goals, which is impressive considering he often found himself in isolation situations. He reached into his bag of tricks for a crafty spin move much more often, especially when launching a floater after an offensive rebound. We didn’t see much midrange shooting from Daniels, which would have enhanced his offensive versatility, although many consider this to be the least efficient shot in basketball.
Daniels also took advantage of the Summer League environment to jack up threes. The rising star attempted 20 three-pointers across the five games, and although he only made two (basically a 10% clip), it’s encouraging that used the opportunity to experiment. Daniels didn’t shy away from deep threes, or tough off-dribble looks, which are key to his improvement as an isolation scorer. He will have to continue his work his Pelicans assistant Fred Vinson, who has helped three-point marksmen like Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.
Daniels’ Summer League success makes him one of Australia’s in-form Boomers heading into the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Alongside Matisse Thybulle, Josh Green and Dante Exum, Daniels projects as one of the team’s most dangerous perimeter defenders, and brings offensive rebounding ability to the table. He may not see a great deal of on-ball floor general reps given the presence of Josh Giddey, Patty Mills, Exum and Joe Ingles, but Daniels has excelled in a similar situation before. The Bendigo native came through the NBA Global Academy setup with Giddey and Mojave King, before joining Jaden Hardy and MarJon Beauchamp at the G League Ignite, so he’s no stranger to sharing the ball. If recent training footage is anything to go by, his defence gives the Boomers a point of difference on the world stage.