In the middle of training camp in October, Troy Daniels listened to the Charlotte Bobcats’ front office inform him of his release. He was a prolific shooter at Virginia Commonwealth, a positive soul and a hard worker, and here was the Bobcats’ reasoning for cutting the undrafted Daniels: Too short, a point guard-shooting guard tweener.
For a night, Daniels justified his standing, draining three 3-pointers and the game-winning three-pointer in the Houston Rockets’ 121-116 win over the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3 on Friday night. This was Houston’s season – a 3-0 series deficit staring them all the way into an offseason filled with regret and questions surrounding coaches and players.
Everyone understood the shooting prowess in Daniels, but no one plucked him out of the NBA Development League like the Rockets in February. They signed him to a non-guaranteed contract through 2015-16, an investment to reward his play with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, whom Daniels remained with in agreement with Houston after it also released him before this season.
Two months later, Daryl Morey’s acquisition paid dividends in the most ultimate way. Daniels isn’t a pure point guard and steady defender yet, but that’s why Houston has Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley.
By releasing Ronnie Brewer to create roster space for Daniels, perhaps the Rockets feared some franchise was bound to beat them to the deadeye shooter. He was their own, too, helping implement a transformative playing style in the D-League, with an emphasis on launching three-pointers because, well, they’re worth more than two.
In the end, the Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic closely monitored Daniels and had interest in him before his deal with the Rockets, leagues sources told RealGM. And yet, these Rockets were the recipients of Daniels’ 3-of-6 shooting from three-point range, honoring his four collegiate seasons and commitment to the Summer League and D-League route to the NBA.
“It’s a dream come true,” Daniels said at the interview podium after Friday's game.
The Rockets have utilized Rio Grande Valley for serious roster development and invest in the minor-league franchise to grow players for the main organization. They sell players on the Vipers’ system, the environment they’ve created with coaches.
Daniels averaged 21.5 points and made five three-pointers while attempting 12.5 with Rio Grande Valley, and this is exactly why Kevin McHale turned to the 22-year-old rookie in Game 3: his shooting is special. The Rockets had been reeling through Games 1 and 2, receiving poor performances from James Harden and the bench, but Harden went for 37 points and Lin and Daniels combined for 22 critical points on Friday.
The Trail Blazers kept coming back, and Damian Lillard was brilliant and took advantage of mismatches. They forced overtime despite trailing by double digits early in the fourth quarter, but LaMarcus Aldridge missed all three shot attempts after regulation. For the Rockets, the Blazers’ frontcourt allows them to use Dwight Howard and Omer Asik together, big men able to provide length on Aldridge.
Suddenly in overtime, Lin probed the lane out of desperation and a scramble situation, when he found a streaking Daniels wide open and aired the ball out to the 6-foot-4 guard. Without hesitation, with Aldridge closing out, Daniels rose, fired his smooth jumper and rattled in the go-ahead shot with 11 seconds left.
One by one, they all mobbed him, Harden and Chandler Parsons, Josh Powell and Beverley. The Rockets were on the brink of an upset to a younger, more inexperienced team, on the brink of a 3-0 hole, and Daniels revived the season and restored their promise in this series.
“A couple weeks ago, [Daniels] was in the D-League,” Harden told reporters. “He saved our season.”
It’s simply one jumper, people will say, but clutch shots in the postseason have enhanced careers and padded résumés in the past, and they’ll continue to.
An inch too short, Daniels had heard in training camp. For him, Friday was all part of his goals. This was his job. Other teams paid close attention as Daniels’ three-point totals flourished in the D-League, but no one made the signing. Season on the line in Game 3, and the Houston Rockets found their hero: Troy Daniels.