Southwest Division (good) breakout candidate: Dyson Daniels (NOP)
Honorable Mentions: Tari Eason, Jaden Hardy, Jeremy Sochan
This is a loaded division in terms of 2022 draft talent, as players such as Jabari Smith Jr. and Malaki Branham didn’t even make the honorable mentions list despite being players that are better breakout candidates than some of the winners from the other divisions.
Unlike either of the two previous players, Daniels didn’t have a late-season explosion. In fact, in his last ten games of the season, he appeared in nine games and only averaged 12.5 minutes in those appearances. He had averages of 3.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 0.6 steals on 52.8 TS% (41.4/41.7/100 splits).
How could Daniels possibly be my pick in a stacked division, then? Well, his skillset intrigues me. At 6-foot-7, Daniels is already a very strong defender as on-ball defender with an ability to stay in front of his man and navigate screens. He’s active on this end of the floor, as he gets deflections, steals, and simply makes plays. It only makes sense for him to improve in his sophomore season, and he has what it takes to become one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Note his placement on this graph, which is really impressive for a 20-year-old rookie:
Offensively, there are lots of concerns. He isn’t particularly good at getting downhill or shooting (34.3 C&S 3PT%), which truly limits him. Where he is quite strong, though, is as a passer. He’s a very good connector for the Pelicans’ offense, always making that extra passer (though this is partially due to his own offensive limitations). I would like to see the Pelicans try to utilize him as a cutter and screener a bit more with his size and decent finishing ability (66% at the rim).
It feels like the Pelicans can’t bury Daniels on the bench as they did toward the season’s conclusion. He’s too strong as a defender and still has some offensive utility. With Josh Richardson’s departure, Daniels should absorb some of those minutes as a fellow defensive-oriented perimeter player. I don’t expect Daniels’ box score statistics to pop out next season because that’s not the type of player he is, but I do expect an improved version of himself and better stats than 4-point, 3-rebound, and 2-assist averages.