Meet Troy Daniels: The NBA Postseason’s Most Surprising Star

We live under the watchful eye of 24/7, nonstop social media. A world where I tweet “My Dunkin’ Donuts addiction is spiraling out of control” and at a moment’s notice three different coffee accounts are now following me, circling my account like coffee-crazed vultures. The media and the endless amounts of basketball talking heads that inhabit the Twitter landscape will undoubtedly focus on the Clippers story for the next week or so, and rightly so. But lost in the midst of this weekend’s top news–the incredible racist that is Donald Sterling was a story that wasn’t actually surprising if you know his history–was the real news of the weekend about a player coming out of seemingly nowhere and actually impacting an NBA Playoff game. The story of Troy Daniels.

Unlike college basketball’s Big Dance, a tournament where one of the common storylines is “getting to know the stars” of these Cinderella teams, we tend to know almost everything when it comes to NBA players. LeBron James’s wife just opened a juice spot; look at LeBron drink his smoothie! James Harden wore a cowboy hat to a game! Carmelo Anthony just caught a shark! Kendrick Perkins doesn’t get invited to team hangouts and we ALL find out on Instagram. I know exactly what Metta World Peace is eating for dinner because he tweets it each and every day. When it comes to the NBA, players live in an Orwellian world under the almost constant spotlight of fans. So how is Daniels flying under the radar?

Not much is known of the man they call @MrSuPeRsTar_30, the former guard of the D-League team called the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, which could easily pass for a team name coined by a 8-year-old me playing the Backyard Basketball game. The Vipers, who are affiliated with the Houston Rockets, first made headlines because of their quirky offensive gameplan: fast-paced and only threes and layups. They are/were the “7 Seconds or Less” Suns team on a level of basketball steroids that would make Barry Bonds cringe. Mr. Superstar finished his 48-game stint with the Vipers by averaging 21.5 PPG, hoisting up a D-League-high 599 three-point field goals to the tune of 40.1 percent three-point shooting. Daniels was simply the leader of Daryl Morey’s Frankenstein team, or so we thought.

There are stories surrounding Daniels’ past: one legend says he was abandoned at birth, found floating down a river in El’ Paso in a woven basket. Others tell tales of a boy who shot paper-balls from across the classroom; one-by-one they continued to fall. At the age of 12, Daniels would skip out of class to shoot a 10-pound medicine ball from the NBA three-point line, refusing to leave until he made 100 in a row.

Okay, so those may or may not be fabricated stories of my imagination, but that’s exactly the point. Somehow, for the first time in forever, WE KNOW NOTHING ABOUT A MEANINGFUL NBA PLAYER. Here’s what we do know: the 22-year old Daniels spent four years at VCU under Shaka Smart, averaging 12.3 PPG his senior year and setting the A-10 record for most threes in a game. He went undrafted and spent last summer playing for the Charlotte Bobcats summer team. He somehow snuck under Michael Jordan’s incredible eye for talent (*cough* sarcasm *cough*) and Rio Grande acquired him in November. After posting the previously mentioned statistics, he was selected as a D-League All Star. Morey smartly snatched him up in February, signing him to the Rockets, sending him back down to the Vipers and then calling him back up for the playoffs.

There would be no story if Daniels simply road the pine, watching James Harden play lackluster defense every time Dwight Howard turned the ball over. But he’s playing. And he’s beginning to play a lot. After collecting two DNPs to start the series, Daniel has played 20 and 21 minutes the last two games, scoring nine (on 3-of-6 shooting from three) and 17 (4-of-5 from three) points, respectively. Oh, and he made that game-winning three-pointer in Game 3. On a team with James Harden, Daniels ended up with the ball in his hands when the Rockets needed a three to get back into the game late in Game 4. Daniels, who was fouled on the attempt, proceeded to nail three straight free throws, his first free throws of the playoffs. Is there anything more clutch than that?

Maybe there was something to Daryl Morey saying either Daniels or Steve Novak was the best three-point shooter he’s ever had on the Vipers or Rockets. Novak led the NBA in three-point field goal percentage in 2011-2012, so I consider Daniels’ inclusion with him high praise. With the Rockets in desperation mode down 3-1, and with Jeremy Lin looking like a train-wreck on the offensive end of the floor (1-of-6 for four points, with three turnovers, including the crucial sideline steal that led to Mo Williams‘ three), will Kevin McHale turn to Daniels even sooner?

Before we talk about what’s next–WHERE WILL HE GO!!!? WHO WILL SIGN HIM!!!? (I believe he has a partial salary guarantee for next year from Houston. Daryl Morey knows what he’s doing.)–and all the other day-stalking us fans do, let’s take a moment to appreciated this unexpected ride. Let’s not blow it out of proportion a la Linsanity. Take a lesson from Daniels. Sit back and enjoy the moment.

What do you think?

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