ATLANTA — New Orleans Pelicans guard Dyson Daniels has already finished over 10 percent of his first NBA season. And while only appeared in a handful of the team’s first nine games, he’s undoubtedly made an instant impact. 

“Dyson has been great. Everything that we’ve asked him to do, he’s handled it well,” coach Willie Green told The Sporting News before his team tipped off against the Hawks on Saturday. “When he gets an opportunity to play, he takes full advantage of it.”

That lack of consistent playing time is more a function of how many quality players the Pelicans have rather than any poor play on Daniels’ part. 

“I speak to all of the assistant coaches about what I have to do, it’s just going to take time to show that I can play on this team in this rotation. We’re 12 guys deep. It’s going to be tough to crack [the rotation], but I just got to keep playing and earning trust, playing hard. I’m sure my time will come.”

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When Daniels has played, he’s guarded some of the toughest assignments on the opposing team. He called the experience of going against his favorite childhood player, Russell Westbrook, “pretty special.” That was just one of a murderer’s row of assignments — Westbrook, LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and Dejounte Murray. Daniels had moments of shutting down all three in isolation situations. 

Daniels was particularly good on Doncic, picking his pocket twice. That was what he called his most difficult assignment thus far. 

“Toughest cover I think was Luka out of those guys. Just how smart he is. He gets to his spots, uses screens, picks apart defenses with the first move. LeBron’s strength, I tried to take a charge on him but that didn’t work. Obviously these guys are all great players and different players, tough in their own way.” 

Daniels has already compiled some impressive defensive statistics in his limited minutes on the floor. As of Nov. 7, he is tied for 15th in the league in deflections per 36 minutes and tied for 13th in steals per 36 minutes.

Offensively, Daniels has also been solid in a limited role. He was more of an on-ball creator last year with the G-League ignite. Playing alongside Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum has been a bit of an adjustment for him.

“This team has a lot of guys who are really good with the ball, so playing without the ball is a bit of a different role for me. But I’m adapting every day, getting better, and taking it all in.”

Shooting was always Daniels’ big question mark, but he’s hit three of his first five 3-pointers thus far and been working dilligently with shooting coach Fred Vinson every day. 

Daniels been able to adjust quickly thanks to the veterans on the Pelicans team (he credits Garrett Temple and McCollum as two of his biggest mentors), along with help from his Australian compatriots around the league. Josh Giddey, Jock Landale, and Matthew Dellavedova have been checking in on him to see how he’s doing. He also keeps close tabs on all of the Australian players around the league after their games. 

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“I’ve always been a box score checker, so I check every game to see who’s doing well,” Daniels said. “Jock Landale, Patty Mills, Josh Giddey, all these guys have been doing really well so I’m excited to see how they play the rest of the season. I look forward to playing against them.”

Daniels calls Giddey his closest friend in the league. He already has their Nov. 28 matchup circled.

“Giddey, I’m very tight with. I grew up with him playing against him since number 12s. I’m not going to take it easy on him. I’m excited for that matchup.” 

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Daniels may get some more opportunities once that matchup rolls around, according to coach Green. 

“He’ll continue to earn minutes as the season progresses, but there’s no concerns on our part. I think he’s going to be a huge part of our program.” 

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