Kane Pitman, ESPN Basketball Reporter8 Minute Read
An eye-catching early season performance from Dyson Daniels had been suddenly overshadowed by a difficult moment.
In just his third appearance as an NBA player, Daniels had shown his individual defence to be beyond his rookie status, while also finding ways to impact the New Orleans Pelicans offence as a scorer, facilitator and rebounder at the guard position.
Yet, when he’s asked about the night at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, he skips over the positives to break down the final seconds of regulation, when the Australian was sent to the line with 1.6 seconds on the clock and the Pelicans holding on to a 111-108 lead over the Lakers.
“That was a pretty bad moment for me,” Daniels begins in an interview with ESPN. “We lost the game when we should have won it. I had two free-throws with a couple seconds left to put the game away. I missed both, they called timeout and then hit a big three to send it to overtime.
“You live and learn in those moments, that was a big learning moment for me. The good thing about our team is the chemistry, it’s different. They were picking my head up in the locker room, coaches were talking to me.”
New Orleans would lose on a final score of 120-117 in overtime, with Daniels tallying eight points, five rebounds and two assists in sixteen minutes.
“I think it was one of my better games, I hit a few threes, I was able to get a few stops, so that moment deflated me, it hurt me and stung me for a while but you have to drop it and move on. It took me a little bit to drop it, but my teammates and coaches got me going. You don’t want to finish games like that but those things happen, so it was a big learning moment.”
Aside from the counting box score stats, Daniels guarded LeBron James in isolation on multiple occasions, just days after guarding Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic in his first meaningful NBA minutes.
“First game against LeBron, I felt I held my own, I had a pretty good game,” Daniels recalled.
With James aggressively seeking out one-on-one opportunities to attack, Daniels broke down his defensive mentality in a league where every night produces another opportunity to slow down some of the world’s best scorers.
“Well for me, I say no one can score on me, that’s the mentality I have to have,” he responds. “I got to go out there every day with that mentality. You can’t be scared of anyone in the NBA.
“As a rookie, people are going to attack you. LeBron looks at me as a target. A lot of people do that, they think they can outsmart you but it’s about being disciplined and knowing what people like to do.”
Even the best strategy can be overcome in the modern-day game of offensive explosions, with Daniels vividly recalling a night where he failed to come up with the defensive answers.
“There was a game against Phoenix. Devin Booker torched me,” he said.
“We played them the week before and I did a good job, a week later he drops 58. I played good defence, he was shooting over me and when people are hot, they’re hot. That was a welcome to the NBA moment for me. No matter how good the defence is, sometimes you can’t stop people.”
Battling a series of ankle injuries throughout the back end of the season, Daniels still managed 59 appearances during his rookie campaign, earning the trust of head coach Willie Green on a New Orleans squad that battled health issues as a group.
In a season that flashed extreme potential, the Pelicans failed to reach the playoffs, dropping a home contest to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 9 vs. 10 Play-In Tournament game. Now back in Australia with some time to assess his first trip through the NBA grind, Daniels feels better prepared for season number two.
“It was disappointing that we lost, obviously we wanted to go further, we felt like we should have gone further. Once the season ended, I was able to take a few days off and recap, it was kind of a relief,” he explained.
“I felt like I was a bit inconsistent, I think there were some things I could have done better but it was good to know what I need for season two and what I need to be better at. It’s good now to reflect on that and come back for year two.”
While Daniels didn’t play the game against the Thunder, fellow Australian Josh Giddey pieced together a monster performance, tallying 31 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists to be the best player on the floor.
“I want to be out there playing. I understand I wasn’t playing well before and being a rookie, it can be hard to put you out there in those big moments if you’re in a bit of a slump,” Daniels admitted.
“I understand, but it was disappointing, especially knowing that Josh torched us. I was talking trash to him the night before, he was at my place, (I was) telling him they were going home early. We ended up going home early, so I heard it from him.
“We still have our friendship; I am proud of him for how he played. He killed us. He was a dog on both on ends of the floor so you have to give him props and that’s something I can be hungry for going into next season.”
Daniels plans to head back to the United States in June, with Las Vegas Summer League his next box to tick.
“Having a big Summer League is definitely my goal, going out there and running that team and showing that I’ve made improvements in my game.”