After going undrafted in 2013, the Charlotte Bobcats claimed dibs on Troy Daniels, a sharpshooter fresh out of four years at VCU, but after 17 days with the team, they decided to part ways with him. While it didn't take long for another opportunity to come his way -- the Houston Rockets signed him a week later -- he was soon cut again, this time four days before the 2013-2014 season was set to commence.
While being cut twice before the start of the season placed doubt in his mind that basketball was his calling card, that opportunity allowed him to keep his NBA dream alive thanks to the "affiliate players" rule (up to three players who have been cut during training camp can be signed by a team's D-League affiliate, according to NBA.com). Daniels therefore joined the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and it was there where he found his stride.
Playing for the Vipers allowed Daniels to stay close with the Rockets and be a part of their one-of-a-kind experiment, on that featured a heavy dose of threes and playing at a record-breaking pace. If Daniels excelled, there was a strong chance that a contract would come his way, and that's exactly what happened. In 48 games with the Rockets' affiliate, 6-foot-4 two-guard averaged 21.5 points and 4.6 rebounds. Daniels developed into the D-League's best three-point shooter and was rewarded with a two-year contract from the Rockets.
While Daniels only played in nine games with the Rockets during his rookie campaign, one shot in the playoffs transformed him from a man unknown to a household name in NBA circles. Now, he's set to be a key piece off of the Rockets' bench with his ability to space the floor, and the opportunity will be there for him to take on a bigger role. However, how big of a role that could be is still an unknown, and it hinges on his ability to expand his game.
Daniels didn't just break the D-League's record for threes made in a season; he shattered it. Heading into 2013-2014, the Tulsa 66ers' Andy Rautins held the all-time record with 152 made threes. All it took for Daniels to surpass that number was 27 games, a shade over half of the season.
By the season's end, Daniels knocked down a total of 240 threes with the Vipers and connected on 40.1 percent of his overall attempts, which, considering the volume of shots he took (12.5 three-point attempts per game), is incredible. He averaged 5.0 made threes per game, a pace that, over the course of an 82 game season, would equate to 138 more threes than Stephen Curry's record breaking total in 2012-2013. Daniels connected on eight or more threes on seven separate occasions and tied the D-League record with 10 threes against the Idaho Stampede.
Nearly 80 percent of Daniels' total shot attempts came beyond the three-point line with the Vipers, making him a perfect fit in their Moreyball system -- only 48 of his attempts came from mid-range. His Effective Field Goal Percentage (a number that takes into account a three being worth more than a two) was 57.8; good for 16th best in the D-League for players who appeared in 20 or more games.
Daniels' shooting ability should make a seamless transition into the NBA. In fact, it already has in a vacuum. In his first game playing 30+ minutes with the Rockets, he made six threes en route to 22 points; he also shot 8-for-13 from three in the three playoff games in which he played 15 minutes or more. What makes him special, though, is the multitude of ways in which he can get his shot off, and that is why he should still succeed even with a bigger target on his back.
Daniels is capable of spotting up in the corners (he shot 48.6 percent from both corners last season), running off of screens and pulling up on a dime, but he can also create his own shot off the dribble (21.4 percent of his above the break threes were unassisted). He has range that extends beyond the confines of the arc. When combined with his quick release, it makes it nearly impossible to prevent him from getting a shot off. Daniels isn't afraid of taking the big shot, too. In 34 clutch minutes (constituted as being up or down by five points in the final five minutes of a game), he scored 20 points on 5-for-9 shooting from three.
Daniels only attempted 119 shots in the painted area with the Vipers, making up for only 15.5 percent of his total offense. He shot 60 percent on layups and 75 percent on driving layups, both impressive marks until the tiny sample size that made up those numbers is taken into account (61 total attempts).
Nevertheless, Daniels can create his own shot off the dribble, and he's got a soft touch and a good left-to-right crossover. It's why he was effective when he got to the basket with the Vipers and it leaves room to believe that he can become more than a one-dimensional player. That transformation wont happen overnight, though. Daniels' bread and butter is his ability to space the floor and it will continue to make up the majority of his scoring load with the Rockets.
However, Daniels isn't an explosive athlete, which hinders his potential and makes it easy for shot blockers to do their job. He's not someone who will power through contract and finish at the rim, either, and he tends to shy away from contact en route to the basket. As a result, he settles for tough shots and gets pushed around too easily.
Daniels could become a valuable piece to the Rockets' bench by simply being a 3-and-D player. However, Daniels is focused on working on his ball handling in the hope that he can give the team minutes as a backup point guard, which would undoubtably open up more opportunities and minutes for him. There's not a lot of data to work off of when it comes to Daniels' future as a point guard in the NBA -- he only averaged 1.9 assists per game with the Vipers and 0.11 assists per field goal attempt. But given his size (6-foot-4, 200-pounds) and his shooting ability, it's a position that would suit him better moving forward.
Most of Daniels' assists with the Vipers came in the pick-and-roll. If he can become more than just a shooter out of those situations, it would open his game up tremendously since it would give him, in a very basic sense, two options: pull-up if the defense sags or dish it off to a teammate on a roll if there are switches.
Daniels made some nice plays off the dribble as a Viper and it's easy to see the potential for him to expand his game. In a nutshell, he has good vision, he's smart and he's an unselfish player. (A lot of that has to do with the fact that he isn't great around the basket and he wants to shoot threes. Run him off the three-point line and he's going to look to pass). Nevertheless, there wont be any pressure on him to become a point guard right off the bat and playing alongside a proven playmaker like James Harden will lighten his load and make it an easier transition.
Daniels isn't a lockdown defender at this stage of his career but he isn't a bad one, either.
With the Vipers, Daniels averaged 1.1 steals per game, ranking him within the top 50 in the D-League. He does a good job of anticipating plays, and while he might not pick off every loose pass that is thrown in his vicinity, he gets a hand on it and taps it to his teammates, which leads to stops or disruptions. He's also a smart defender. He knows where to funnel players -- baseline, into help -- and tends to be in good help position. He's not going to block many shots, but he's not going to chase them, either. He keeps his head on a swivel and remains active in half-court sets.
Sometimes, though, Daniels helps out too much and puts pressure on himself or his teammates to contest perimeter shots. He also gets pushed around by stronger players and has a tendency to commit weak fouls, resulting in easy and-one opportunities. But he isn't afraid to get after it on the defensive end -- he works hard and knows where to be -- and while he needs to improve in certain areas, it's something the Rockets can work with.
Worst case scenario, Daniels will come off the bench for the Rockets as a shooter and nothing more. That alone, could make him a valuable addition to the team. He is an elite shooter -- the best that has ever set foot on a D-League court -- and he's a hard worker; both skills that the Rockets put a lot of value in. With the loss of Chandler Parsons this summer, the team is in need of additional help in the scoring column, and that's a role Daniels can fulfil.
However, there is room for growth, even if we don't have a big sample size to base that off of. Daniels won't change his game drastically -- it wouldn't be worth his while and the Rocket don't want him to -- but he's capable of making himself more valuable. He's shown potential to expand his game, be it as a playmaker or perimeter defender, which would help him become a complete player.
Daniels has some developing to do in those areas, but excelling in one particular facet gives him the luxury of time. The Rockets already have two point guards in Patrick Beverley and Isaiah Canaan, and with Nick Johnson possibly spending some time with the Vipers in his rookie season, James Harden remains as the only true shooting guard on the roster. Daniels will get his opportunities right off the bat and the Rockets can afford to be patient with his development.