The Pelicans will meet the Spurs for a second time in the last week and a half and very little has changed since their 129-110 victory in San Antonio just prior to Thanksgiving Day.
New Orleans remains on an upward trajectory since showing signs of fatigue after playing eight of the first 11 games on the road, winning seven of their last nine. The recent hot streak has propelled the Pelicans into sole position of third place in the Western Conference.
Meanwhile, San Antonio is still evading wins like it’s their job. The Spurs have lost nine straight and 14 of their last 15. The chase for Victor Wembanyama is real, especially when glancing at San Antonio’s injury report.
The Spurs will be without Jakob Poeltl and Jeremy Sochan tonight, with Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson listed as doubtful.
In their last game, Coach Popovich tossed out a starting lineup of Tre Jones, Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson, Keita Bates-Diop and Zach Collins. They fell 119-111 to a Thunder team that was missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
So although the Pelicans will be without Brandon Ingram (left great toe contusion) and Herb Jones (left ankle sprain), they still have enough weapons to get past the Spurs. This will be particularly true if CJ McCollum and Naji Marshall, who are both listed as probable, return to action.
One player to keep an eye on, Dyson Daniels is likely to receive significant minutes regardless of whether CJ and Naji take the court. And that’s a very good thing.
Daniels’ ability to help the Pelicans was evident in his first real run of the season. The rookie helped contain Luka Doncic just enough for New Orleans to squeeze out a 113-111 victory over the Mavericks back in October.
Since then, we’ve witnessed his defense dominate additional opponents as well, but not enough credit has been given to other parts of his game.
Along with possessing a great nose for the ball, Daniels has good size to be a huge positive on the glass. In the Nov. 15 matchup against the Grizzlies, he prevented Brandon Clarke, a great offensive rebounder, from keeping the possession alive for Memphis.
In addition to driving Clarke, a backup center, away from the rim on his box-out, Daniels’ ball-handing allows for immediate transition opportunities off opponent misses. Did you notice how quickly he was off to the races right after grabbing the rebound?
Here’s a fun did-you-know fact: Daniels is the best defensive rebounder behind only Jonas Valanciunas among Pelicans averaging at least 10 minutes a game.
Across the league, his 18.2 defensive rebounding percentage sits right above Jayson Tatum, Josh Giddey, Karl-Anthony Towns and Lauri Markkanen.
Another NBA-ready component, Daniels’ passing stands out, even on a team loaded with gifted playmakers. His three assists to one turnover ratio eclipses all teammates outside of Devonte’ Graham.
It’s incredible to watch a 19-year-old understand when to pass up a good shot for a great shot, as he does in setting up Graham for a wide-open 3-point attempt.
Daniels possesses the feathery accuracy of an NFL quarterback. He made the following length-of-the-court pass to Trey Murphy look far too easy.
And in a league that demands teams launch a lot of efficient 3-point attempts, Daniels knows how to look for his perimeter shooters.
Daniels could have attempted to hit Jonas Valanciunas on the roll, but Murphy’s man decided to pinch in towards the paint and help. A pass to the New Orleans center could have resulted in a turnover — Toronto forces them better than most — so the smart play was to hit Trigga for the easy catch-and-shoot triple.
Dyson’s natural ability to facilitate was on full display in the Pelicans’ 126-108 victory over the Raptors two days ago. His nine assists set a new career high, but we should expect for him to crack double digits very soon.
“I think I’m just starting to find my rhythm,” Daniels said. “My teammates are making it easy for me with setting good screens and then rolling hard. Then, I’m able to get into the paint and play my game and facilitate. I had nine assists. I should’ve gotten 10 assists, but I’m happy with how I played.”
Daniels is primed to make multiple All-Defensive Teams in his career, but he offers many other wonderful attributes that directly impact winning. One should believe that the coaching staff has taken notice.
Since becoming a mainstay in the regular rotation last month, Daniels’ minutes have increased steadily, culminating in 31 minutes against Toronto. While he won’t approach that number when everyone’s healthy, we can expect for Willie Green to carve out a nice role for him regardless.
“Like I said after the previous game, you’re watching Dyson unfold right in front of your eyes,” Zion Williamson told Jen Hale after Wednesday’s victory. “A part of it is, he’s always been like that. Another part of it is, his confidence. The more he’s on the court, the more PT he gets, the more he adapts and he’s able to read the game. He’s making adjustments just like that.”
During this stretch where the Pelicans have won seven of their last nine games, Daniels has been one of the biggest contributors to the team’s success. In his 181 minutes, New Orleans has posted a +13.4 net rating, and the accompanying 95.7 defensive rating and 104.87 pace simply jump off the page.
When Dyson’s on the court, the Pelicans’ defense is at their most formidable. The team also plays with tremendous tempo, running at a clip faster than any team in the league. (The Los Angeles Laker average the most possessions in the league, with a 103.21 pace.)
These facts cannot be ignored.
It’s been documented multiple times already: Dyson Daniels exhibits the characteristics of a player well beyond his years. He should, consequently, continue to be used and trusted like a reliable veteran on a winning squad.
When: December 2, 2022, 7:00 p.m. CT
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, League Pass
Where to listen: WRNO 99.5