In showcasing his ‘basketball mind,’ NBA draft prospect Dyson Daniels is ready for ignition

NEW YORK — There is a profound irony in the fact that many people first encountered Dyson Daniels at this year’s Rising Stars event during All-Star Weekend. Daniels, who spent last season with G League Ignite, the NBA’s development team, has held his own in the glorified pick-up game, but showcases like this don’t usually highlight solid decision-making and defensive positioning, that sort of thing Doing so makes him a likely top-10 pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft. They tend to emphasize highlights.

“Any pick-up game is hard for me to play the way I play,” Daniels said the day before the draft. “Everyone just wants to pace, shoot 3s and stuff like that.”

Daniels, who turned 19 in March, spoke after leaving court at the NBPA facility in Midtown Manhattan, where he and other prospects put smiles on children’s faces at a Jr. NBA clinic. He is not the much older than those kids, and he recalls being in their position and doing drills with fellow countryman Matthew Dellavedova, then “my idol,” now a mentor, at a Peak-sponsored camp. But the Bendigo, Australia native seems unusually ready to make a smooth transition to the next level, ready to make Delly even prouder than he already is, ready to be a walking advert for Ignite and the NBA Global Academy in Canberra to become.

The guy just stands still. General. When Daniels visited lottery teams in the weeks leading up to the draft, executives repeatedly complimented him on this special quality.

“I think I’ve always had it,” Daniels said. “The balance is just something I grew up with. In Australia we are taught to play under control, to play at our own pace.”

Daniels spoke matter-of-factly about his basketball IQ and his ability to play in multiple positions and fit into different lineups. Many NBA hopefuls try to garner attention by racking up numbers. In the G League, where everyone is an NBA hopeful, Daniels excelled by consistently making the right play regardless of what was going on around him.

“It’s the Australian way,” he said.

It takes a certain amount of confidence to choose the fledgling Ignite over the NCAA and the NBL’s much closer “Next Stars” program. It takes a different kind of confidence to weather a shaky start, playing within yourself and sacrificing your individual offense when every game and practice is an audition in front of NBA personnel. Daniels is expected to be picked significantly higher than former teammates Jaden Hardy and MarJon Beauchamp, despite averaging significantly fewer points and shot attempts. His shooting is still in the works, but he showed scouts he can make contact, make floaters, and serve as both an initiator and a liaison on offense.

“I think for me it’s my defense that I bring, too,” he said. “The defensive intensity. I can defend 1 to 4 and sometimes even 5. Yes, and then my offense, it’s come a long way. But I think a lot of teams are looking for a man who can lead a team and distribute the ball .”

When Daniels, whose father played Ricky at NC State and for the Bendigo Braves, arrived in Walnut Creek, Calif. to train with the Ignite, the pro-style vibe was nothing new. At the Global Academy in Canberra, he lived with over 20 other players and trained at the Basketball Australia Center of Excellence on the Australian Institute of Sport’s massive campus. “We have team practice, individual sessions, shooting sessions, weight sessions,” Daniels said. “Six days a week we’re on the floor; four days a week we’re in the weight room.” With Ignite, the biggest change was the playstyle, which was “completely different” from what he was used to.

“It’s much faster here, you fly up and down; Ball protection, read, get back on defense,” he said. “So it’s just a matter of adapting, knowing when to get mine, when to distribute. And knowing my teammates strengths and how I can get them the ball in a position where they want it.”

It helped, Daniels said, that coach Jason Hart put the ball in his hands early and turned him into a 6-foot-7-point guard. He learned to handle the ball better and got used to the speed of the American game. If veteran Pooh Jeter or 18-year-old Scoot Henderson checked in alongside him, he’d be moving off the ball, where he’d “put up cut, offensive rebound, little flares, stuff like that, just with my basketball mind.”

Daniels is smart enough to make an instant impact in the NBA. He’s also too smart to only present himself as a supporting character. Offensively, he believes he can orient himself to Luka Doncic, he said. And for all the talk about playing in control, his favorite player is Russell Westbrook and he loves to fold in transition. Smart players know when to shift gears.

“I can also play fast,” he said. “If I have to.”

When Daniels talks about the upcoming jump, every word sounds appropriately serious, polished, and professional. His game, he said, lends itself to “real basketball,” adding that winning teams in the NBA move the ball and create an environment where everyone is playing together.

“That’s when I thrive,” Daniels said.

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