Onyeka Okongwu was the apple of my eye for the Pelicans a few drafts ago, and last year that prospect was Franz Wagner. This time round though, it’s difficult for me to decide between two exciting players.
Dyson Daniels and Jeremy Sochan are extremely versatile and each would fit seamlessly with the existing core. And good news, at least one of them should be available when New Orleans finds themselves on the clock with the eighth overall pick.
Daniels has been the favorite of The Bird Writes for some time and delving into game footage quickly reveals why. He has the athleticism, strength and size to guard just about anybody on the court. Players who stand 6’8 shouldn’t be able to move their feet so easily against smaller guards on the perimeter.
Does jumping in front of Mike Torres and making him turn remind anyone of Jrue Holiday’s defense? Daniels does this religiously. Note also how well the recently turned 19-year-old subverts a screen — his awareness and instincts are top-notch — and uses his arms. He consistently uses those long levers of his to help guard additional space, not reach and lead to lazy personal fouls.
Daniels’ defensive IQ is grade A and he uses it well to blanket positions 1-4 on the court, sometimes smaller centers too. Precious Achiuwa is an explosive forward for the Toronto Raptors, but Daniels stifled him nicely during the last Rising Stars game.
In addition to his stellar defensive abilities, Daniels is excellent on the glass, averaging 6.3 rebounds for the G League Ignite last season, and a good playmaker. He’s not Chris Paul but is very solid as attested by a 4.5 assist to 2.7 turnover ratio.
Don’t be dismayed by those numbers, however, as he had to share ball-handling duties with Jaden Hardy and Scoot Henderson. (Remember Scoot’s name for next season. The 17-year-old will be in the next NBA draft and has the look of a star.)
When watching film, Daniels looks like a natural point guard in bringing the ball up the court and getting his team into the offense. He always hits the open player and shows a nice touch on long or more difficult passes. He doesn’t pound the rock endlessly. He makes quick decisions with the basketball, lending to a good fit in Willie Green’s .5 second offensive system.
The biggest knock on Daniels is his shooting, as evidenced by a woeful free throw percentage (52.5%) and 3-point percentage (27.3%); however, he did knock down 45.2 percent from deep over his final nine games. Moreover, his shooting form isn’t bad, just a little mechanical. Until he’s able to get into the lab with Fred Vinson to see results though, he has enough athleticism, savvy and size to finish against NBA competition at the rim and shows plenty of confidence in his floater game.
The biggest takeaway I had when watching several games, Daniels improved immeasurably from the start of the G League season to the end.
In four of his first five games, Daniels posted more turnovers than assists. Over his final seven contests, he averaged two assists for every miscue (45 assists vs 23 turnovers).
More importantly, it was apparent that he played with greater aggression. Early in the season, for example, he was content with walking the ball up and tossing it to the wide open man. He didn’t attack defenses enough. Towards the end though, he was initiating a lot more action. Making more snappy one-handed passes around the perimeter or simply going right at the opponent.
Take the opening possession in the Ignite’s second to last game of the season. Daniels attacked off a pick-and-roll and then scored seconds after grabbing his own miss.
For a team with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson as obvious focal offensive stars, with Jonas Valanciunas and Trey Murphy in support, there’s going to be a necessity for more connectors who do just about everything else on the court than score in volume. Herb Jones and Jose Alvarado are fantastic, but the Pelicans need more players of this ilk. Daniels fits this mold, with the talent and size to grow into something more down the road.
If everything goes right, he could eventually become what the Pelicans were probably hoping that Lonzo Ball would develop into: a big guard who can score at every level, involve teammates, especially in transition, and defend just about anyone on the court.
Another versatile player who would fill in a lot of these holes next to the Pelicans stars is Jeremy Sochan. As where Daniels would beef up the team’s backcourt significantly, the Baylor product would definitely shore up the front court.
Standing at a long 6’9 (Kevin Barrios swears he’s 6’10) with a 7-foot wingspan, Sochan has the speed, length and IQ to legitimately guard every position on the floor. And his motor is super special. Have a gander at Baylor’s first defensive possession once Sochan checks into the contest.
Just incredible. Sochan guarded three different Kansas players — pouring in multiple efforts — on a single possession. He denied entry passes into David McCormack, gave help on a pick-and-roll to stop Dajuan Harris Jr. and then rotated baseline to cut off Jalen Wilson’s drive.
In watching Baylor this season, it should have jumped out at you that Sochan never quits moving. Even when off the ball, he’s shuffling his feet or doing something. The guy can’t sit still for a single second and that’s a wonderful trait for defenders. He’s always on alert five, ready to spring into action. And then there’s the fact that he’s smart as a whip.
Note in the following video clip how he fronts the bigger McCormack again, but when the shot goes up, he moves him underneath the rim into bad rebounding position. Then on offense, he plays the two-man game perfectly.
Sochan understands positioning so incredibly well. On both ends of the court. Yes, he’s a defense-first guy, but there’s enough offensive IQ in his body already that he’s an average jumper away from being a heck of a two-way contributor.
As The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov recently wrote, Sochan is perfectly built for the modern NBA. He’s being compared to names ranging from Draymond Green to Boris Diaw. Imagine putting a guy with that type of skillset alongside CJ, BI and Z — it couldn’t be any more ideal!
That’s the missing link to this Pelicans roster in my opinion. While the team’s outside shooting needs to undoubtedly improve, adding another connector on offense, who knows how to put the ball on the floor and in the rim, while being an elite defender all over the court, has to be the goal for David Griffin’s front office.
Good opponents have multiple scoring threats on the floor in crunch time. Herb Jones can’t guard them all at once. In addition, facilitating a bucket in a key moment can be a difficult proposition. Drafting either Dyson Daniels or Jeremy Sochan should eventually assist New Orleans in all of those areas.
Here’s to the Pels utilizing the eighth pick of the 2022 NBA Draft on one of these players.