Until this season, the scouting report on Troy Daniels had hardly changed over the course of his NBA journey with three different teams. He was always seen as too one-dimensional, or as a guy incapable of defending well enough to justify his presence on the court despite his potential offensive explosions.
Like many who have come before him, things began to shift for Daniels as he made his way to Beale Street. Through almost half a season with Memphis, the scouting report on Daniels has changed drastically, not because he altered his game, but because he finally has been provided the opportunity to showcase what he is capable of in the right system.
Daniels is far more versatile than the standstill shooter he was pegged to be at past stops, and his newfound value largely stems from his movement off the ball. Being able to execute savvy movements off the ball is an essential skill for a shooting guard, particularly in today’s motion-heavy NBA, where much of the work to create open shots is done off the ball.
Constant movement by a player off the ball means nothing if it’s not done in a coordinated effort within the flow of the offense, though. Off-ball movement must be both fluid and purposeful. Reading the defense, impeccable timing, and deception all play a vital role in good off-ball movement. Daniels has proven to be exceptional at all three during his brief stint in Memphis, making him a vital piece in a Grizzlies rotation short on two guards.
Head coach David Fizdale deserves some credit for Daniels’ play. He has done an excellent job of putting Daniels in situations to make simple reads that he’s more than capable of making quickly. Set plays for Daniels typically involve multiple down screens, much like this play against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Daniels is the target on a simple floppy play early in the shot clock. He begins under the basket, and his job is to read how his defender is guarding him and to utilize his defender’s positioning against him by running the opposite direction off a down screen on one side or stagger screens on the other. In this instance, Daniels heads around the stagger screens.
This particular play requires exceptional timing and deception as well. As Andrew Harrison brings the ball across half court, it’s time for Daniels to make his move. If he sprints off the screens too soon or too late, the play might not develop because the pass wouldn’t be on time while Daniels is open for a split second in the corner.
Deception comes into play before Daniels makes his move. While standing under the rim, it’s his job to confuse his defender and give zero indication as to which path he will choose. That deception can make or break a floppy set.
After Daniels chooses which side to sprint to, another read must be made. He has the option to curl off of the stagger screens or flare to the corner depending on his defender’s path of pursuit. Rather than follow Daniels around the screens on this play, Daniels’ man gets aggressive and attempts to split the gap in order to meet Daniels on the other side. Daniels reads the situation and immediately flares to the corner to maximize the distance his defender now must run to catch up and contest the shot. As Daniels receives the pass from Harrison, he has just enough time to get off a quality shot.
Floppy is a simple set deployed by many NBA offenses, but it works exceptionally well when there’s a guy like Daniels anchoring the set. A deadeye shooter with great ability to alter his movements based on what the defense gives him, there’s not much more a coach could desire on a set like this one than what Daniels provides.
Daniels’ off-ball genius is not limited to set plays. He is a guy who can create something out of almost nothing, which is something the Grizzlies desperately needed before his arrival. On a play against the Celtics, Daniels shows just how to turn a busted play into something positive.
Early in the shot clock, Harrison dribbles down the court and tries to penetrate into the lane. He’s cut off by a couple defenders and forced to turn back. Just as it looks like he will have to back out and reset the offense, Daniels makes a swift cut on a circle back to the corner where Harrison hits him for a clean three-point attempt.
Players are constantly taught to slide into open space on the perimeter as dribble penetration occurs, and the best shooters do this instinctively. Ray Allen and Klay Thompson are the best of the best at it, but Daniels is good in his own right. On Harrison’s initial penetration, Daniels slides up from the corner to right around the break of the perimeter. He does this to take his man away from the penetration so his defender can’t dig down and strip the ball from Harrison, but this subtle move up the perimeter also sets up the quick cut back to the corner for a three after his man falls asleep.
The ability to reading his defender’s motion, deception, and timing all play a part in this quick-hitting, positive play for the Grizzlies and Daniels.
One last play that puts Daniels smoothness off the ball on full display occurred earlier this season against the Orlando Magic. The Grizzlies are trying to execute a quick-hitting hammer action. While it looks like Daniels has a choice to head toward the middle of the court off of the screen set for him just inside the top of the key, the idea the whole time is for him to set his man up to believe he’s headed to the top of the key before sprinting to the corner just as he receives a back screen from JaMychal Green.
Daniels’ man never sees the screen coming because he’s so concerned about Daniels utilizing the dummy screen. This causes Daniels’ defender to smash into Green as he turns in pursuit of Daniels after he has made his quick move to the corner. The Magic actually do a decent job of defending the action by switching the big guarding Green onto Daniels, but the big is too late to adequately contest the shot attempt following the perfectly-timed bounce pass to the corner.
In Daniels, the Grizzlies have found a reliable asset who’s capable of doing far more than simply standing in the corner and spotting up. Fizdale has been able to utilize him in quick-hitting set plays that take near perfect timing, and he’s also been able to trust Daniels to make plays off the ball by using his intellect and flow into open space to make plays for the ball-handler.
Daniels might have never received the opportunity to thrive had he not come to Memphis, and Memphis’ offense would look more anemic than currently possible if not for Daniels ability to create without the ball in his hands. It’s hard to go as far as to say that both parties need each other, but it’s already clear at this early juncture that this is a mutually-beneficial relationship worth holding onto for both parties.