In case you didn’t see, the Rockets managed to escape Portland with a Game 3 victory last night, thanks in part to the heroics of rookie guard Troy Daniels. While this was undoubtedly one of the most surprising things of an already abnormally surprising postseason, what irked me as a staunch follower of the D-League wasn’t the surprise with which Daniels’ shot was greeted, it was the sort of…gleeful ignorance of his existence that followed. Like the idea that a D-Leaguer was capable of hitting a big shot is an incredible, unpredictable idea. Like Jeremy Lin never existed.
At the expense of coming off as preachy, here’s some context for why Troy Daniels hitting a three point shot is one of the least surprising things in basketball. A four year player for Shaka Smart at VCU, Daniels both appeared for the school’s 2011 Final Four team and set their all-time record for threes made in a season. In 2013, he set an Atlantic 10 record for three pointers made when he dropped 11 of 20 from downtown against East Tennessee State. After going undrafted (mainly due to the fact that while he’s a great three point shooter, that’s basically all he does), Daniels played for Charlotte at the 2013 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. He attended training camp with the Bobcats before he was cut in October. Soon after, he signed with the Houston Rockets, and after bouncing back and forth with them, was finally assigned to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he proceeded to become perhaps the best shooter in the entire sport.
If that seems like hyperbole, here’s his shot chart in the D-League:
In case that nifty graphic doesn’t do it for you, know that Daniels was putting up 12.5 threes per game at a .401 clip, while his True Shooting and eFG% held steady at a remarkable .611 and .578, respectively. More than 75% of his shots were from deep. This came on a squad in RGV that has hovered around 40 attempted threes per game, and he is the crown jewel of their system. The Rockets developed him for expressly this purpose, and it shows: Daniels has long been one of Daryl Morey’s favorite subjects on twitter.
Doing this in the D-League is one thing, but doing it the NBA is another, but through his NBA career thus far (a paltry 75 minutes), Daniels has shown no signs of slowing down. Per 36 minutes, his numbers are strikingly similar to his blistering D-League pace. 12 threes attempted per 36 at a .480 clip, with a .677 TS and eFG%. 80% of his NBA shots have been three pointers. He is a three point specialist, the likes of which are rarely seen at this or any other level, and while it’s perfectly understandable to not be familiar with him, the way in which his story has been treated is very problematic for the future of the second best professional basketball league on the planet.
We’re at a point, now, where you can’t throw a stone in an NBA locker room without hitting someone with D-League experience. Every year, the league gets closer and closer to the fabled 30 teams, 30 affiliates model that it so desperately needs, but until then, we’ve seen nothing but a string of success stories out of it.
According to the official site, 149 current NBA players have D-League experience. C.J. Watson, Jeremy Lin, Marcin Gortat, Reggie Jackson, Terrence Jones, Andray Blatche, DeMarre Carroll, Lou Williams, Amir Johnson, Patty Mills, Patrick Beverley, Matt Barnes, Martell Webster, Mike Scott, Danny Green, Patrick Patterson, Josh McRoberts, Jeremy Lamb, Ed Davis, Shaun Livingston, Shelvin Mack, James Johnson, Alan Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jordan Hamilton, Chris Andersen, Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer, Anthony Tolliver, Cartier Martin, Donatas Motiejunas, C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright, Cory Joseph, Joe Crowder, Jorge Gutierrez, Will Barton, Josh Powell, Dennis Schröder, Chris Copeland, Ian Mahinmi, Perry Jones, Greg Smith, Justin Hamilton, Joel Freeland, Steve Novak, Dwight Buycks, John Jenkins, Aron Baynes, Austin Daye, Glen Rice Jr, Shane Larkin, Rasual Butler, Marquis Teague, Gal Mekel, Ryan Hollins, Robert Covington, Isiah Cannan, Chuck Hayes, Victor Claver, Allen Crabbe, Lou Amundson, Andre Roberson, Jamaal Franklin, Garrett Temple, Hilton Armstrong, Solomon Hill, Hasheem Thabeet, Nemanja Nedovic, Mike James, Julyan Stone, Bernard James, Ognjen Kuzmic and D.J. White all have D-League experience, and are all players employed by current playoff teams.
Yet, we still react with shock and surprise when Rajon Rondo or Amar’e Stoudemire are assigned to their D-League affiliates for rehab. We still treat each new D-League success story as though he were random generated by a video game and inserted into the league to create chaos and dissent. We treat them as enigmas when every D-League game is broadcast for free on youtube and every team has an affiliate. Even this alone is not enough to irk me. It’s the way with which we approach these players that is so concerning. As though we’re proud not to know who they are. That somehow, paying attention to the D-League is beneath the notice of the sort of people who routinely suggest that teams like the Thunder stop employing people like Derek Fisher and “sign someone from the D-League,” as though doing such is mere random chance. Like playing slots, and not the result of years worth of hard work by scouts, coaches, executives, referees, announcers and most of all, players themselves.
Basketball fans (and sports fans in general) have a tendency to regard anything they aren’t familiar with as unimportant, and while we like to think we’re above such behavior, the truth is that the sort of people who read this site (and write for) are just as susceptible of this as anyone else. We like to rail against concepts like “clutchness” and the like, yet we routinely pay more attention to the last two minutes of the game and love using phrases like “dagger,” and “ONIONS.” This is perfectly understandable, because this is why we love basketball, but we never seem to acknowledge that for all our analytics, we’re just as susceptible to the narratives as anyone else. Look at how unsurprised (and how united in their happiness) these D-League finalists were with Daniels’ shot. To them, Troy Daniels hitting a three pointer is as unremarkable as Gerald Green dunking. This is not to say what he did shouldn’t be celebrated. It was an amazing and great reminder of what we love about this sport. Instead of celebrating it, we shrug to one another and laugh about how obscure a player he is. We treat Troy Daniels’ entire existence as a basketball player as a fluke, and we treat the huge shot he hit as luck when it is nothing but probability.
At this point in time, the biggest hurdle in the D-League’s road to becoming a true minor league isn’t finances or the long wait for universal single affiliation. It’s the smugness of NBA people who would rather make the same tired points over and over than take advantage of the fact that the sum of all human knowledge is accessible from their smart phones and spend five minutes once in a while to learn something about their team’s D-League affiliate, so the next time a Troy Daniels shows up, we can judge them as basketball players instead of novelty acts. As contributors worthy of celebration instead of random pulls of a slot machine.