2 Years In, Dyson Daniels Is Defined By His Defense

Dyson Daniels’ game-changing defense carried over into year two. The 21-year-old Aussie maintained his elite defensive impact despite an uptick in minutes and responsibilities, following up his stellar rookie campaign on that end. Because of his defensive excellence, monitoring growth on the offensive end will be critical.

Daniels emerged as one of the NBA’s elite on-ball defenders this past season, stonewalling whichever matchup the Pels assigned him. And New Orleans entrusted him to defend some of the NBA’s best initiators. His excellent lateral quickness, strength, length and feel for defending angles bothered everyone from De’Aaron Fox to Anthony Edwards. The matchup data speaks for itself.

Off the ball, Daniels disrupts offenses with his quick hands and timing. He posted an absurd 3.0% steal rate, placing sixth in the league among regular rotation players. Daniels expertly plucks loose handles, digs at the nail to close driving windows and rotates to jump passes on the weak side. There isn’t much to discuss defensively. Daniels will enter the league’s elite in due time.

How can Dyson Daniels contribute on the offensive end of the floor? Despite incremental progression, Daniels still struggles on that side of the floor, especially against great teams who will punish his weaknesses. Defenses don’t treat Daniels as a threat; shooting 31.1% from three on 2.2 attempts per game isn’t good enough to draw attention. His timidity slowed New Orleans’ offensive slow, destroying advantages created by his teammates.

At a paltry 5.8 points per game on 52.8% true shooting (-5 relative TS), Daniels struggles to pressure defenses as a scorer. Aside from his shooting limitations, Daniels lacks the ball-handling skill to create advantages against a static defense. Daniels improved as a floater range scorer, hitting a strong 50.7% of his 69 runners this year.

An improvement as a scorer would open up Daniels’ passing game, as defenses would have to respect him and leave their assignments to guard Daniels. He’s already a brisk ball-mover, connecting teammates with his extra passing and high processing speed. His passing will shine brighter If Daniels ever becomes a true driving threat.

Daniels’ offensive improvement points shouldn’t overshadow how good he already is. Dyson has solidified his place in New Orleans’ rotation and their future teambuilding plans. His defense is invaluable and the Pelicans — specifically Fred Vinson — have a strong track record of improving jump shooting. Daniels developing into an above average shooter would stamp him as a critical rotation piece in New Orleans for years to come.

Analysis by Ben Pfeifer

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