The Fort Wayne Mad Ants may have won the NBA D-League championship on Saturday night, but there's no doubt RGV Viper turned Houston Rocket is still out there living the dream.
10 months ago, Daniels failed to hear his name called on a platform where NBA careers are conceived. On draft night, 60 eager souls got a shot instead of him, many of whom spent their rookie seasons riding the pines of the bench, learning the ropes in hopes of their patience someday paying off. For the ones in the same position as Daniels, some fled the scene, relocating half way across the world in pursuit of a bigger payday, while others stayed closer to home in hopes of keeping their NBA dream alive.
For Daniels, that same choice led him to the D-League, where he joined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers for a science experiment that not only changed the face of minor league basketball, but the trajectory of his career. In a three-point (and trigger) happy system, he thrived, and his slithery stroke made him a household name in the D-League world while he shattered every shooting record laid before him. He quickly turned into Daryl Morey's Guinea pig, proving that an offense relying almost entirely on outside shooting could succeed. In fact, it set him up for an opportunity to join the Rockets near the season's end.
For the duration of the 2013-2014 campaign, Troy Daniels' name was on the tip of every D-League blogger, player, manager, and fan's tongue. He was one of the top prospects, an analytics marvel, and one who earned the highest of praise from the man now paying his bills. He was among the league leaders in scoring, and was the untamed beast of the Vipers' trend-setting offense. And yet, when he checked into the Rockets' do-or-die game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, he entered as a man unknown in the NBA.
It didn't take long for Daniels to prove to the world why he was getting minutes in an all-important game for the Rockets. In 20 minutes, he scored nine points on 3-for-6 shooting from three-point range, which included a dagger in the closing seconds of overtime that kept the Houston Rockets' championship aspirations alive. (After the game, James Harden credited Daniels for saving their season). For someone who had never been on that stage before, Daniels oozed with the type of confidence you'd never expect to see from a rookie who appeared in just five regular season games, totalling 75 minutes and scoring 42 points. And the D-League was what prepared him for that very moment--a place that still remains as a blip on the map amongst many NBA circles.
To be honest, the D-League has prepared me for this moment," Daniels, who one reporter called "Troy Bailey" in the postgame news conference, said afterward. "You can say whatever you want about the D-League, but I wouldn't have hit that shot if I wasn't in the D-League a couple weeks ago. ... It's a dream come true. Plain and simple."
via USA Today | Troy Daniels, D-League call-up, saves Rockets' season
Had it not been for Daniels, it's likely the Rockets wouldn't be in this situation. Sure, someone else could've knocked down that shot-- Chandler Parsons has been one of the Rockets' most consistent shooters since he joined the team and Morey made a conservative effort to go after floor spacers in the off-season to compliment Harden's slashing ability and Dwight Howard's adoration for posting-up-- but Daniels was the perfect man for the job, and when the ball kissed the nylon of the net to give the Rockets a 119-117 lead, few who have been following him all season long were left shocked.
And therein lies the value in the D-League: the discovery of gems, difference makers, game changers, and players fighting for a chance to live out their dreams. It was another record breaking season in the D-League, one which saw a total of 49 call-ups and an innumerable number of assignments, and Daniels was one of the many success stories. Yet no matter how many players make the move from the minors to the majors, there is still a stigma surrounding the league that can't seem to be shaken loose.
Even though plenty of D-League players have gone on to have impactful NBA careers over the years, anyone's success seems to come as a surprise, as though specialists aren't meant to crawl through the trenches to find greener pastures. And for that reason, Daniels' emergence on the NBA's brightest stage is yet another example of why one-to-one affiliations will be integral in developing and finding talent moving forward.
And thanks to the sharpshooter, the Rockets will face off against the Blazers on Sunday night in game four, with a bit more swagger in their step along the way.