EDITOR’S NOTE: On Feb. 3, Troy Daniels was selected for the D-League All-Star Game on Feb. 15.
Early in training camp, Nevada Smith laid out one of the more unconventional elements of his coaching philosophy: he wanted his team, the NBA D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to shoot more than 40 three-pointers a game.
While it’s a strategy that was sure to rankle a few traditionalists, Troy Daniels felt like he’d hit the lottery.
“Oh yeah. I was like a kid in a candy store,” said Daniels, a 2013 VCU graduate and D-League rookie.
Daniels’ basketball career is nothing if not prolific. Last season, he hit a VCU-record 124 three-pointers, 32 more than the previous mark. In a game against East Tennessee State last year, Daniels bombed 11 triples – many from NBA range. In his four-year career, 85 percent of his field goal attempts came from beyond the 3-point arc.
In other words, he was born to play in this offense.
The results have been historic. In 29 games with the Vipers, an affiliate of the Houston Rockets, Daniels has been one of the D-League’s breakout stars, averaging 23.4 points and a league-high 5.5 three-pointers per game. On Jan. 29, Daniels hit his 153rd three-pointer to break the D-League mark of 152, set by Andy Rautins, and did so in 21 fewer games. He is now 159-of-392 from three in 29 games.
Despite a three-foot difference between the college and NBA 3-point lines, Daniels is shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. Not that he concerns himself with lines and boundaries. Anyone who watched Daniels last season with VCU knows that he’s capable of pulling up the moment he leaves the locker room.
“To be honest, in college, I feel like a lot of my threes were NBA threes anyway,” says Daniels, a Roanoke native. “I don’t really look at the line when I shoot. I just look at the rim…If I think I can hit it, I’m going to shoot it.”
Daniels’ success with Rio Grande Valley has transformed him from an unknown, undrafted free agent into a legitimate NBA prospect. In its most recent ranking, the D-League rates Daniels as its 14th-best prospect. It’s also important to note that, while the Vipers are affiliated with the Rockets, they do not own Daniels’ exclusive rights. Any NBA team could sign him if they chose, although the Rockets, who lead the NBA in 3-point attempts, would seem like an attractive fit. None of that matters much to Daniels, who would be happy with any NBA offer.
“It feels closer than ever,” he says. “It feels like I have one foot in the door. I need to get that other foot in the door.”
He’s certainly feeling better about his NBA prospects than he was a few months ago. Daniels played for the Charlotte Bobcats’ summer league squad in Las Vegas and was later invited to training camp. Daniels says the Rockets had also expressed interest, but he chose Charlotte because of that team’s dearth of 3-point shooters. The Bobcats ranked 27th out of 30 teams in 3-point percentage last season. But on Oct. 10, the Bobcats cut Daniels.
“I didn’t really have an indication,” Daniels said. “I got up early in the morning, and they said Coach asked to see me. I was kind of in shock. My heart dropped. My stomach started hurting. It kind of hurt. At the same time, it motivated me.”
Afterwards, the Rockets reentered the picture. The team wanted to sign Daniels and allocate him to Rio Grande Valley. Although he had weighed more lucrative offers (D-League contracts top out at around $25,000) from European clubs in Italy and Australia, Daniels felt Rio Grande Valley offered the most direct path to the NBA.
“I had an offer on the table, and I had to make some tough decisions,” he said. “But if you’re in it for the money, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.”
As a Viper, Daniels has played like a man auditioning for a dream. He’s hit as many as eight 3-pointers in a game six times and buried 10-of-19 in a loss to Idaho on Jan. 4. On Jan. 20, Daniels scored a season-high 34 points in a win over Austin. In addition to his long-range sharpshooting, Daniels has been able to work on other areas of his game, namely ball-handling. But while a more rounded game will undoubtedly help clear a path to the NBA, the reason his phone will ultimately ring will be because somebody needs a shooter.
“I watch a lot of NBA games. I feel like I can play on the majority of teams in the league, but certain teams need different things at different times,” Daniels said. “You need to know how to do one thing great, and I obviously can shoot the ball. But I’ve improved a lot in other areas.”
In the meantime, Daniels will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his elite shooting skills in Rio Grande Valley’s three-happy offense.
“If coach is going to give me the green light, I’m going to get them up,” he says. “There are a lot of possessions in a 24-second-shot-clock game.”