Something special is building in ‘The Big Easy’ and Dyson Daniels could quickly find himself right in the middle of it.
From the moment he was drafted with the eighth overall pick, it has been made clear that the New Orleans Pelicans always wanted the Australian guard from the start.
“Dyson was our guy, from the outset,” Pelicans General Manager Trajan Langdon said at the time.
“I thought he would be a really good fit with the players we have here. He’s going to grow into a great player in this league.”
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Daniels is not expected to reach the same heights fellow Australian Josh Giddey did in his rookie season given he won’t need to have as prominent a role in the Pelicans’ offence.
But Giddey had a warning for anyone who was not familiar with the Bendigo product ahead of his rookie season.
“For guys that don’t know about him in the league, they’re going to know about him soon,” Giddey told foxsports.com.au.
“Dyson is going to be an NBA player for a really long time. He does a lot of things on the basketball court. He’s an elite defender, he runs the point guard position, he’s a great passer, facilitator, guys are going to love playing with him.
“I’ve been working with him this past offseason and seeing big improvements from G League year to where he’s at now. He can really shoot that thing.”
Daniels showed glimpses of his potential in New Orleans’ preseason game against Chicago, setting up a wide-open 3-pointer with a drive and kick for Willy Hernangomez.
There are certainly similarities to the way Daniels and Giddey approach the game, namely the selfless attitude that both share on the offensive end.
“He does a lot of things that impact winning on a team and if you can play both ends of the floor in the NBA, there’s always going to be a job for you,” Giddey said.
“Dyson’s elite on the defensive end. He’s unselfish and he impacts winning at a high level.”
And according to The Athletic’s Will Guillory, Daniels could play a key role in addressing one “big issue” as they look to improve on last season’s playoffs push.
“I think they like them a lot for sure,” Guillory told foxsports.com.au.
“He was the one they targeted going into the draft, they were really excited to get him and I think he really sits into what they need to kind of balance out the backcourt.
“Last year, I think that was a big issue for the Pels, was just trying to find the right type of guards to put around BI [Brandon Ingram] and I think they wanted Zion [Williamson] to do a lot of the ball-handling and then once they settled on CJ [McCollum] and Jose [Alvarado] as their main kind of ball-handlers at the guard position, they needed somebody with a little bit more size, a little bit more defence.
“I think Dyson checks a lot of those boxes to complement what they have at the guard position. He’s got the potential to be exactly what this team needs and I think they’re going to try to bring him along slowly.”
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Locked On Pelicans’ Jake Madison said similar, expecting Daniels to come off the bench and get limited minutes early in the season but still forecasting a crucial role for the Australian.
“There’s not one true point guard on this roster, there’s no one like Chris Paul kind of pulling the strings against the defence, keeping guys organised,” Madison said.
“You have a lot of kind of half ball-handler, secondary ball-handlers. Two years ago, we had point Zion where he was kind of initiating the offence, being the focal point.
“The past couple of years, you’ve also seen Brandon Ingram step it up in terms of his passing, his assists, his creating for others and CJ McCollum can do a little bit of that.
“So I think they viewed Dyson Daniels, first and foremost, as a guy that kind of fits into that group that can create for others, that’s an unselfish player, that’s a very good connector to these other guys to try and create some easy shots and get some assists for them.
“Without that true point guard, he kind of fits right into what New Orleans is looking to do.”
Then, of course, you go to the defensive end where Daniels also excels, with an ability to switch onto multiple positions which makes him a valuable two-way player right away.
“They love to switch and just guard whoever is right in front of you and Dyson Daniels has really good size at that,” Madison added.
“He’s right at 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8, he’s got a very good wing span and good enough lateral movement to really be able to keep up with anybody, I think.”
Meanwhile, Zion Williamson has sparked a media frenzy but this time around it is only good news for New Orleans after speculation over his playing season dominated last offseason.
“The most important thing is he’s hungry,” Hernangomez told reporters this week
“He wants to destroy everybody. He wants to play hard. He wants to show people he’s one of the best players in the world. You can see that in practice.”
Whether it was constant injury setbacks or rumours of being disgruntled with the franchise, there has always been a reason to doubt the former No. 1 overall pick’s future in New Orleans.
“All of the speculation about what’s going on with him, people throwing out the memes about how he looks, how much he [was] weighing, I think that kind of got to him after a while last year,” Guillory said.
Now though, Williamson is ready to be the face of a new era for the Pelicans and should directly benefit from the addition of Daniels on both ends of the floor.
“When you have a dude as dominant as Zion is offensively, just putting as many good defensive players around him is gonna help,” Guillory added.
“They take some of that stress off him, it allows him to be who he is, which is a 30-point scorer and I think that’s going to help.
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“I think the second thing — just the way Dyson is able to hit the boards and get the transition game going as a guard, I think that’s going to help Zion a lot. That’s where Zion’s really most deadly, when he’s out there on the wing able to play two-on-one or able to get guys one-on-one in transition.
“You just can’t stop him. He’s too big, he’s too strong and he’s got so much athleticism. They’re going to love playing together in transition.”
It was only a few months ago that Williamson was left entirely out of promotional material regarding ticket renewals but now he is not only back — but at last, he is healthy.
He has also now signed a $193 million, five-year contract extension, shifting the “negative” narratives that have followed the franchise around since the exit of a disgruntled Anthony Davis.
Add in a young, exciting core and the Daniels’ potential to be “the biggest steal” of the draft and, finally, there is reason to believe in New Orleans.
“It’s crazy,” Guillory said.
“The feeling around this team is very rare, the excitement, the anticipation for this team. They had the crazy run in the playoffs, playing against the number one team in Phoenix.
“You saw these young guys kind of coming into their own, whether it be BI or Jose or Herb Jones, Trey Murphy, there’s that anticipation with all of those guys and what they can be and then also you throw in the Zion factor where if this guy is healthy, he can be special and you add that to what they already have.
“I think the feeling is, for the first time, this franchise is really headed in the right direction, with the right characters, with the right head coach and it feels like everything’s kind of lining up.”