Troy Daniels quietly playing his best ball, improving with Suns

Mar 27, 2019, 7:38 AM
DENVER, COLORADO - JANUARY 25: Troy Daniels #30 of the Phoenix Suns plays the Denver Nuggets at the...
DENVER, COLORADO - JANUARY 25: Troy Daniels #30 of the Phoenix Suns plays the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on January 25, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Players like Phoenix Suns shooting guard Troy Daniels are prone to being labeled.

“He’s a shooter and not much else.”

That’s what Daniels was identified as prior to arriving in Phoenix while on the Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets and Memphis Grizzlies over four seasons.

There’s a good reason for that. Among active players with at least 1,000 three-point attempts, Daniels is 12th in shooting percentage at 40 percent on more than 1,200 shots.

So among the 164 active players who have met or surpassed that threshold, that makes him one of the elite shooters in the league.

But Daniels was never much in other areas. His playmaking and defense left a lot to be desired, making him a fringe roster player.

For those paying attention, which isn’t a whole lot of eyes given Phoenix’s situation, Daniels is having a career year.

While sporadically receiving playing time from head coach Igor Kokoskov in a clunky backcourt rotation, Daniels has shown improvement in those areas and is proving that, as a free agent reserve guard, he should be in consideration for playoff teams this upcoming offseason.

The biggest noticeable improvement is Daniels providing more offense outside of being a catch-and-shoot guy.

On 63 two-point attempts this year, Daniels is shooting a tremendous 57.1 percent. That’s quite the jump from the 33.6 percent he shot two seasons ago for Memphis when he took a career-high 140 twos.

He doesn’t have anything that resembles average shake or burst, but Daniels will surprise you with some of his moves and craft off the bounce. A step-back pushing hard off his right foot is his signature.

The 27-year-old looks much more comfortable than he did last year at handling the ball in ball-screen situations.

This is a really smart way of using Richaun Holmes’ roll to create space.

The overall theme here is Daniels taking some dribbles to score and just handling the ball more, in general.

He’s taking over eight percent more pull-up jumpers this year, dribbling two times — or more nearly twice as many times as past years — and has gone from his touches lasting less than two seconds 83.7 percent of the time to 71.4.

Unsurprisingly, this leads to Daniels seeing more as a passer.

Now, his assist numbers aren’t rising or anything, but doing this in a pinch once or twice a night when a team requires it of him is important.

Defensively is where there’s been the biggest noticeable jump.

There’s a bit of funny business in the numbers because of his tendency to be out there when the Suns go on a big run down 20-plus, but Daniels’ 106.3 defensive rating is the lowest on the team. That’s a big step up from the 112.0 number he had a year prior.

The eye test shows a guy who has really worked hard on getting better at moving laterally.

Watch him in the bottom left corner jostle with J.J. Redick, wisely go under the lazy screen, beat Redick to the spot and then take the ball.

Good defensive possessions are very often underrated for how difficult they are. Sometimes they require two or three consecutive actions rapidly.

Daniels here has to keep an eye on the ball-handler, then maneuver around two separate screens before cutting off the passing lane.

That is hard work.

To be clear, these are merely the sprinkles on top.

The best sniper in the building most nights still excels at his main trade.

He’s always a reliable option to find in the corner if the defense leaves him an opening. Even if the pass is late or a bit off, he can adjust and get the shot off a little sooner.

If you fail to understand the difficulty of running around at full speed, stopping and shooting a basketball in a hoop 25-plus feet away, go find a court and try. It’s really freaking hard.

Daniels is a pro at it, faking one way on this look and turning the corner.

Check out how Daniels side-steps from wrapping around the wing on this sprint to shifting his weight back toward the corner. The defender buys it, dies on the screen and Daniels re-positions himself away from where the defender runs.

Daniels’ three-point shooting is slightly down this year to 37.7 percent overall and 38.4 percent on catch-and-shoot looks, but the Suns not having a point guard and a limited amount of looks to give him can be attributed to that.

His shooting is his primary value, on top of being a smart guy to have on the court.

He loves a good back-cut, another branch of the skill tree where he doesn’t have to be the quickest or most agile guy.

Nice pass, Dragan!

Daniels, like many players who have come and gone in Phoenix over the past few years, is at his best on a good team. That’s where he’s not asked to do too much, and when comfortable, is going to show these extra accents of his game. His defense and playmaking aren’t legitimate weapons at this point, but he’s gotten better, and being at least passable in those departments goes a long way on good teams when you’re a terrific shooter.

It’s unfortunate that Kokoskov and the Suns have not been finding him consistent minutes until injuries hit the team hard, but Daniels will hang around because the best organizations in the league are always observing.

He reeks of a free agent that a smart team tosses a short-term deal at, and he’s likely to pay them back with valuable minutes in spot situations.

Empire of the Suns

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket past Luguentz Dort #5 of the Oklahoma City...
Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns collapse in 4th quarter of road loss to Thunder

The Suns were in control for most of Sunday's game against the Thunder but bad turnovers eventually caught up to them.
2 days ago
Josh Okogie #2 of the Phoenix Suns blocks a shot by Paolo Banchero #5 of the Orlando Magic during t...
Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns hold on vs. Magic to snap 3-game losing streak

Sometimes getting that win to end a skid is like pulling teeth, and it was like that for the Phoenix Suns on Thursday.
5 days ago
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MARCH 14: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball against Jae Crowd...
Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns’ comeback loses steam late in loss to Bucks

The Phoenix Suns' margin for error just isn't much without Kevin Durant and they aren't playing well enough right now to win through it.
6 days ago
Jae Crowder #99 of the Milwaukee Bucks takes the court for player introductions prior to a game aga...
Kellan Olson

Jae Crowder receives some cheers, boos from Suns fans in Phoenix return

It was a mixed reception for Jae Crowder when he returned to Footprint Center for the first time since the Phoenix Suns traded him.
7 days ago
Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (2) and Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (35) walk down the co...
Kevin Zimmerman

Suns still have unsettled Western Conference tiebreakers

Ten of the Phoenix Suns' 14 remaining games are against teams jumbled in the Western Conference playoff race.
7 days ago
Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors shoots a three-point basket over Josh Okogie #2 of t...
Kellan Olson

Splash Brothers tidal wave overwhelms Suns early in loss to Warriors

An outstanding first-quarter haymaker from the Warriors' Splash Brothers put the Suns in an early hole on Monday.
8 days ago
Troy Daniels quietly playing his best ball, improving with Suns