Last year it was Josh Giddey.
This time around, Australia had another NBA hopeful rocketing up the board ahead of this Friday’s draft.
His name is Dyson Daniels.
On Friday he was selected with the eighth pick in the draft by the New Orleans Pelicans.
Here, foxsports.com.au introduces you to Australia’s next NBA star, giving you an insight into Daniels’ background, strengths, weaknesses.
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WHO IS HE?
Daniels grew up in Bendigo, just over 150 kilometres north of Melbourne and is the son of long-time NBL1 import Ricky Daniels.
His father is a Bendigo Braves legend, to the extent that his number was retired at Bendigo Stadium.
Daniels played his junior basketball for the Braves, leading them to victory at under 16s National Junior Classic in 2018 before representing Australia at the under 15s Oceania Championships later that year.
Even from primary school age Daniels was identified as a top talent, part of Victoria’s state school program before progressing through Victoria Country pathways and earning selection in the bottom-age under 16s state team.
Daniels then followed in his father’s footsteps after being elevated to the club’s senior roster in 2019 to play in the NBL1 at just 15 years old.
“There was a game against the Melbourne Tigers where he changed the tide of the game back then,” Ben McCauley, Daniels’ coach at Bendigo, told foxsports.com.au.
“That was really impressive for a 16-year-old. He certainly wasn’t out of place.”
Daniels made the move to Canberra to attend the NBA’s Global Academy shortly after, putting on a show at the under 20s Australian Junior Championships in March, 2020.
The highlights kept coming for Daniels, who led Victoria to a silver medal at the under 20s National Championships in Mackay two months later.
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Then in 2021, at just 17 years old, Daniels made his senior team debut as he scored 23 points and had six steals to help the Boomers to victory over New Zealand in a FIBA qualifier game.
Daniels was well and truly on the NBA radar that point, with offers to play college basketball or in the NBL.
The 19-year-old picked an alternative pathway, joining the G-League — the NBA’s official minor league organisation — and suiting up for Ignite, a new team only formed in 2020.
WHY DID HE GO TO THE G-LEAGUE?
Daniels went to the G-League to test himself and he was challenged right away.
The Australian shot just 10-of-28 from the field with six assists and 11 turnovers in his first three pre-season games, struggling to keep up with the increased physicality and speed.
However, the G-League Ignite is a first-of-its-kind team, exclusively dedicated to developing young prospects in preparation for the draft.
That development includes the opportunity to play under and alongside veterans of the game, including head coach Jason Hart, program manager Rod Strickland and teammate Pooh Jeter.
Hart was intent on letting Daniels play through his early mistakes, not taking him off the court and instead allowing the Australian to only grow in confidence as the season progressed.
“I’ve loved it. Going over there was a risk for me, but it paid off,” Daniels told ESPN’s ‘The Jump’ in March.
“I really enjoyed my time. Wse had a good group of guys that enjoyed playing together. We had a great coaching staff and I learned a lot and developed on and off the court which was the main reason I went there.”
Daniels finished his time with the Ignite averaging 11.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 2 steals, and 0.8 blocks.
His breakout performance came back in March when he went close to recording Ignite’s first-ever triple double, finishing with 21 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists against the Stockton Kings.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
At 6-foot-8 and with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, Daniels has the ability to guard four positions and his coach at the G-League Ignite, Jason Hart, thinks that will eventually become all five.
“I think that’s [his defence] what’s going to get him on a court immediately when he gets to the NBA,” Hart told foxsports.com.au.
“His ability to guard one through four and as he gets stronger he’ll be able to guard one to five because he’s a big man.”
Daniels averaged 1.9 steals and 0.8 blocks in 29 games with Ignite last year and that ability to be a difference-maker on the defensive end is nothing new for the 19-year-old.
“I genuinely think he could be an elite defender at NBA level,” Melbourne United assistant coach Justin Schueller told foxsports.com.au.
Schueller was Daniels’ coach for the under 16 Australian team that competed at the FIBA 2019 Asia Championships, seeing the young guard’s defensive prowess first-hand at a young age.
“He’s got so many gifts at that end — his range, his ability to sit down and guard people and the physicality he can bring there,” Schueller said.
Peter Lonergan has seen hundreds of promising Australian prospects as the director of high performance and talent identification at Basketball Australia.
Daniels’ “terrific defensive tendencies” though were a “unique” asset that always made him stand out — and he is rated as the best perimeter defender in this year’s draft class.
“He just understands defence and to this day, I think that is his strength,” Lonergan said.
“It was really a point of difference for him. That’s not to say that the other young players didn’t defend but he understood defence earlier than a lot of his peers.”
Daniels also has a selfless approach with good vision for the game and is particular lethal in transition with outlet passes after he takes rebounds.
The one question mark hanging over Daniels is his shooting, having knocked down just 30 per cent of 3-point attempts and 53.3 per cent of his free throws in the G-League.
His shot, which has been described as robotic, did improve throughout the season though and Ignite coach Hart described the concerns over it as “overstated”.
“I think that shooting is something that comes with time,” he said.
“I mean he’s not coming in with the Steph Curry or Damian Lillard but if you continue to work, consistently in the NBA like he will, the shooting will be fine.”
While Daniels’ shot-making may take time to develop, he is the kind of player who can impact winning without it necessarily being reflected in a box score.
HOW DOES HE COMPARE TO GIDDEY?
There are obvious comparisons between Giddey and Daniels without even considering their talents on the floor.
Giddey was not expected to go as high as he did, taken by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the sixth overall pick and Daniels is trending towards a similar outcome.
They are also similarly sized at 6-foot-8 and play with a comparable style, with an elite basketball IQ and selfless approach to the game as pass-first guards.
“The similarities are about how they look at the game as a team-based game rather than an individual-based game and they make other people around them better,” Marty Clarke, the NBA Global Academy’s technical director, told foxsports.com.au.
Clarke knows Daniels and Giddey’s games well, having watched both closely even before they came to the Global Academy.
He said both are also “really good rebounders”, although adding that it is probably a skill of Giddey’s that is underrated in comparison to Daniels.
“You notice Dyson rebounding because at times he will grab spectacular rebounds and Giddey is more about knowing where the ball is going to fall and being in the right spot,” Clarke said.
“But if you look at their rebounding numbers, they’ll be fairly similar.”
Defence is one of Daniels’ greatest strengths and Clarke admitted he is “probably a little bit ahead” of Giddey in that respect.
“He’s a little bit better athlete and a little bit longer but they both defensively see the game the same,” Clarke said.
“They know what’s going to happen before it’s going to happen and they’re both great leaders, teammates and not afraid to tell people this is what we’ve got to do.
“I wouldn’t say either of them are really loud, aggressive leaders but when they speak people listen.”
POTENTIAL DRAFT DESTINATIONS
Daniels is projected to be a top-10 pick at this year’s draft, although the top five appears to be locked in.
With that in mind, look for the Australian to go somewhere between No. 6 and No. 10, leaving Indiana, Portland, New Orleans, San Antonio and Washington as likely landing spots.
Daniels has also worked out with Detroit (No. 5) and New York (No. 11) while he had a workout planned with Sacramento but was forced to cancel it due to injury.
Complicating matters though is reporting from NBA insider Marc Stein that the Pacers, Pelicans, Blazers and Wizards could trade their picks for a win-now package.
One NBA scout described Daniels as the type of player “that can fit into a lot of different NBA systems” while speaking to Yahoo Sports.
“He has great size, can come in as a secondary ball-handler and also possibly be an option on the wing with his versatility on and off the ball. He’s a player that’s just going to continue to improve and have a long NBA career.”
For the time being, let us lock in those seven teams Daniels has worked out with between No. 5 and No. 11 as his potential draft suitors.
Starting with the Pistons, Daniels would be a strong fit alongside last year’s No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham and could create matchup problems with his size and defensive versatility.
The doubts over his 3-point shooting could be enough for Detroit to pass on him though, especially given it is reportedly more interested in Jaden Ivey and Keegan Murray.
As for the Pacers, Daniels has drawn comparisons to Indiana point guard Tyrese Haliburton and would have to play more off-the-ball alongside the 22-year-old.
Daniels has been working on his shot during the off-season though so that bodes well for the Australian should he be drafted to Indiana.
The Athletic’s Bob Kravitz also reported that he was told Daniels “had one of the greatest workouts a lot of people in the Indiana organisation have ever seen”.
The Blazers would be another interesting landing spot for Daniels and his elite defensive capabilities means he could make an immediate impact on the floor.
That could help in selling Daniels to Damian Lillard, who wants Portland to put him in a position to contend for the title.
It did look like the Blazers were looking to trade their No. 7 pick though but their trade for Jerami Grant on Thursday suggest otherwise.
That is, except for a report from Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that the Blazers are “in pursuit” of Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby with the No. 7 pick.
At the moment, if the Blazers passed on him, the Pelicans look likely to draft Daniels, who would be a valuable asset to build around its core of Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Herb Jones.
In particular, Daniels and Jones would be able to switch on anyone, which would only increase New Orleans’ versatility on both ends.
Daniels’ defensive versatility also makes him an attractive pick for the Spurs, who could benefit from the Australian’s ability to impact winning on both ends.
The 19-year-old told reporters he thought he would be a good fit alongside Wizards superstar Bradley Beal should Washington select him with its 10th overall pick.
The Wizards though are reportedly looking for a “proven point guard” according to Stein and could trade their pick to do so.
Daniels is unlikely to still be on the board when the Knicks go on the clock but if he is it makes plenty of sense for both sides.
It is no secret New York wants a point guard and Daniels, who would benefit from developing alongside RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, sees himself in that role long-term.
VERDICT: At this stage, the Blazers and Pelicans (No. 7 and No. 8 pick) look the most likely landing spots but the Raptors loom as a good fit if they trade up.
WHAT ARE THE EXPERTS SAYING?
While Daniels was always considered a first-round prospect, it is only in the past few months that his stock has really risen — to the extent he generated “top-five buzz” according to Jonathan Givony.
Givony, along with Mike Schmitz, is one of ESPN’s leading draft experts and have Daniels now as the sixth-best available prospect ahead of Friday’s draft.
The 19-year-old had “the most eye-opening workout” at the draft combine, where hopeful prospects NBA came together in Chicago to showcase their talent to teams.
Daniels showed considerable improvement in his shot-making at the event, only further adding to his billing as one of the highest ceiling prospects on offer.
“Daniels’ growth throughout the season has been spectacular to see,” Givony wrote on ESPN.
“It’s difficult to put a cap on how high his upside might ultimately be, which is why every team picking in the top five will need to give him a long look to ensure it isn’t passing on a potential All-Star.”
As noted by Daniels’ former coaches, Givony also believes that the Australian’s defence “will get him on the court early”, describing it as the 19-year-old’s “calling card”.
“He brings a rare combination of discipline, awareness and intensity on and off the ball that you rarely see from 19-year-olds, consistently fighting over screens, denying off the ball and mirroring smaller players with quick hip turns and excellent feet,” Givony added.
Schmitz is also confident Daniels will have an immediate impact in the NBA and not just on the defensive end.
“He is incredibly impressive on both ends of the floor,” Schmitz told ESPN’s ‘NBA Today’ in March.
“I think he is one of the most complete prospects. He’s 6’8 in shoes with a 6’11 wingspan, defends multiple positions, can play 1-through-4 and then the IQ, the vision.
“He plays that unselfish style and can see over the top in the half-court offensively. He is a big guard.
“I’m really impressed with his versatility and ability to impact the game on both ends of the floor.”
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