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Troy Daniels Rewards Rockets, Proves Detractors Wrong With Game-Winner In Game 3

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.

Troy Daniels Pursuing NBA Dream In D-League

The D-League All-Star teams are littered with names that have seen NBA action or are well known to those who follow college basketball, but perhaps the most unfamiliar name on the roster is having the most historic season thus far.

Troy Daniels has taken the D-League by storm, already breaking the record for made three-pointers in a season. He’s buried 167 treys in only 31 games, averaging more than five made shots from deep per contest. As the D-League’s fifth leading scorer, Daniels is averaging 23.2 points per game while shooting 42 percent from the field and 41 percent from three.

“I really wasn’t surprised because of what I’ve been doing in the D-League, but I felt great about it,” Daniels told RealGM of the All-Star selection. “I feel that it was an honor to be an All-Star in the D-League because there’s a lot of great players in the D-League.”

After his senior season at VCU where he averaged 12.3 points per game and drilled a school-record 124 three-pointers, Daniels wasn’t selected in the 2013 NBA Draft. He spent the Summer League with the Charlotte Bobcats and averaged 6.7 points per game while shooting 42 percent from behind the arc, but was released after the conclusion of the event.

The Houston Rockets signed Daniels in training camp shortly before releasing him with the intention of making Daniels a part of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers squad. And the move has been a huge success for both sides.

Daniels is scoring almost twice as many points per game compared to his senior season and has become the most lethal three-point shooter in the league. His 62 percent true shooting percentage is second among guards who have played more than 13 D-League games this year.

“It’s just confidence and knowing that you can go out there and do it,” Daniels said of the scoring increase. “You have to have belief in yourself, and I’m a big believer in that.”

Meanwhile, the Vipers sit atop the D-League standings with a 23-8 record and will go into the All-Star break with a three-game cushion over the Iowa Energy. If Daniels stays in the D-League for the rest of the year his goal is simple: Win a D-League championship.

“It may not be everyone’s dream, but everybody wants to win a championship at some point in time. That’s definitely my goal for this season,” he said.

But with the way Daniels is playing, an NBA call-up might be on the horizon.

Nearly 20 NBA teams have been in contact with the 6-foot-4, 200 pound guard and Daniels could see action at the next level this season if a team is looking to replace an injured shooter. His jumper helps space the floor because of the tight coverage that defenders are forced to play. Daniels may have a tougher time finding open looks in each game, but his presence alone creates lanes for teammates to penetrate.

Daniels added, “I believe I can bring a great shooter, a great teammate, and a great player all-around [to an organization] as far as playing defense and being a threat on the offensive end. I feel that I can help a lot of NBA teams in that aspect as far as shooting too.”

Naturally, Daniels studies some of the great shooters to play in the NBA such as Stephen Curry, Reggie Miller and Ray Allen. Danny Green had a similar path when he spent a total of 17 games in the D-League before going on to break the NBA Finals record for made three-pointers in a series last season. The way Green has performed could eventually help pave the way for Daniels to earn a call-up.

“It motivates me a lot. It lets me know that I also have a chance like [Green] had,” said Daniels. “I feel like if he made it then I can definitely make it too.”

Although teams will be drawn to his jump shot, Daniels is working to become a complete player. He’s primarily working on the defensive end of the floor because of the new defensive schemes used at the professional level in addition to his handle for the ball. If Daniels shows the ability to play either guard spot, it would certainly enhance his NBA stock.

This weekend, he’ll compete in the Boost Mobile NBA D-League All-Star Three-Point Competition in addition to the game itself. After winning the Hampton Hotels Men’s 3-Point Competition in college, Daniels sees this as an opportunity to validate his shooting resume.

“My expectation is to win,” said Daniels. “I feel that I have to defend my title. I won the three-point contest in college so I feel like I have to defend my own title. I feel like I’m the best shooter in the D-League so I have to live up to that hype too.”

As the best shooter in the D-League, Daniels could see his NBA dream become a reality very soon. Until then, he’ll continue to rewrite the record books while raining threes for a championship contending squad.


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