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Every Play Counts: Antonio Daniels

NBA Statistical Analyst Kevin Pelton

by Kevin Pelton, 12/22/05

In "Every Play Counts,"'s Kevin Pelton focuses on one player or team in a single game, looking to explain how and why they succeed or fail. Naturally, one game isn't everything, but the results can be fascinating. Also see Michael David Smith's original "Every Play Counts" at

It is one of the great mysteries of the early NBA season in Seattle, if not around the NBA: What's happened to Antonio Daniels?

During two seasons in Seattle, Daniels made good on the promise that made him the fourth pick of the 1997 NBA Draft by Vancouver. A season ago, Daniels' ultra-efficient, heady play off the bench was a key reason why the Sonics won the Northwest Division and advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals. He finished eighth in Sixth Man Award voting.

Daniels parlayed that performance into a five-year deal from the Washington Wizards, who expected him to help replace Larry Hughes. Instead, Daniels has been a non-factor. A healthy Daniels saw just four minutes of action on Dec. 10 against Chicago, and Daniels had scored just 14 points in the month of December, shooting 4-for-18 from the field (and 4-for-his last 26 dating back to late November), before posting 11 points Sunday in Portland on 3-for-5 shooting.

The most popular theory here for his struggles, and one I shared, has been that Daniels was hurting. Last spring, he suffered a partially-torn meniscus in his left knee. He sat out five games in April because of the knee, then had a quiet First Round series against the Sacramento Kings (9.0 ppg, 34.4% shooting) before rebounding with a great series against the San Antonio Spurs (17.8 ppg, 66.1% True Shooting Percentage). To the best of my knowledge, Daniels never underwent surgery on that knee, making it a possible culprit.

Wizards expert Kevin Broom of CourtsideTimes.Net and had a different explanation.

Daniels has been, "Pretty tentative in the offense because he still has to think about what heís supposed to be -- and what everyone else is supposed to be doing," Broom wrote last week. "Still, Iíve seen enough smart plays from him that I think once he gets over the culture shock of coming to a new team with a new system heíll be good for them."

I usually defer to Broom in all matters Wiz-related, but in this case I've got one advantage over Broom, that being the opportunity to compare Daniels' performance to what I saw watching him on a night-in, night-out basis over the previous two seasons. With Daniels playing limited minutes off the bench, I analyzed his performance in a pair of games -- against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 8 and against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 16.

From what I saw, I don't think my injury theory is quite right. I'm also not sold that Daniels' issue is with learning the Wizards offense, as Broom suggests. I think the problem is, more simply, the Washington offense. Eddie Jordan's Princeton-style offense has had success with several teams, but Daniels is not a good fit for it whatsoever.

I thought Daniels would work well in Washington alongside Gilbert Arenas because Broom explained to me that there are no designations for "point guard" and "shooting guard," per se, in Jordan's system, but instead two guards. Arenas and Larry Hughes shared ballhandling duties last year, and both thrived. But where Hughes was more of a slasher, Daniels is more comfortable with the ball in his hands. I saw him frequently bring the ball upcourt in the two games I watched, but he (and the other Washington guards) would often hand the ball off to one of the Wizards' forwards to initiate the offense.

Where Daniels was at his best in Seattle was off the screen-roll. He would explode off the pick into the lane looking for contact, whether real or imaginary (Daniels is the master of the flop; he once demonstrated his form to several of us reporters last season). Daniels is not, and never has been, a great outside shooter, but his touch from midrange and in the paint is underrated.

In 35 minutes over two games, I only saw Daniels run seven pick-and-rolls. He was actually fairly effective in these situations, showing the burst I remember from Seattle and getting into the lane. He was able to connect with Etan Thomas for scores on a couple of occasions.

The main thing I saw him do in the two games on offense was spot up on the perimeter for jumpers, which is not his game. Daniels has never been great at moving without the ball for open looks.

Where I do think Daniels' knee is hurting him is on his shot. He has a tendency to fade away when he shoots off of the screen-roll, and he missed all of these shots short. Remarkably, Daniels has hit only three of his 23 3-pointers this season (13.0%).

Daniels' defensive statistics were interesting:

IND   0   2    0    1    0
LAL  .5   1    0    2    0
TOT  .5   3    0    3    0

Daniels helped force only one missed shot, while opponents made three shots against him, but he also caused three turnovers -- none of them recorded in the official statistics. Two of them came when Daniels drew charges, which is his most valuable defensive contribution.

After primarily defending off the ball against the Pacers against secondary offensive options, Daniels was matched up against Kobe Bryant for most of his 15-minute stint against the Lakers. This matchup worked out better than I would have expected, because Bryant mostly tried to use his two-inch size advantage in the post against Daniels. Though only 6-4, Daniels battles hard in the post, and he consistently had relative success when forced to defend down low (against the Pacers, this occurred after switching the pick-and-roll).

Where Daniels is at his worst defensively is containing the ball on the perimeter, and this was evident against the Lakers. On the handful of occasions Bryant drove, Daniels was overmatched. One play late in the first hand brilliantly illustrated Daniels' inability to move laterally. Bryant isolated at the top of the key, then got in the lane with ease. He was fouled by Jared Jeffries in the paint and hit two free throws.

For the most part, the Daniels I saw over the two games I watched was the same one as I saw in Seattle, but used in a very different system. I'm not sure whether this is good news for Daniels. I don't think he's lost a step or needs surgery, as I suspected, but I also wonder whether a comeback is possible without a change of scenery. Jordan's system is entrenched in Washington and won't be changing to accommodate a 30-year-old backup guard.

Keep in mind that when Daniels signed in Seattle, he was considered a journeyman and was already on the fourth team of his career without enjoying consistent success. With the benefit of hindsight, Daniels' time with the Sonics looks more and more like a perfect marriage of team and player.

Kevin Pelton formerly wrote the "Page 23" column for He provides original content for both SUPERSONICS.COM and, where you can find more of his analysis of both the NBA and the WNBA. He can be reached at

Also see Kevin's previous columns for
The Year in Stats
Why I'm an APBRmetrician
Wanted: Open Minds
Investigating Dwyane Wade's Injury Risk
The Similarity of Eddy Curry and Mike Sweetney
Rating the Rookies: Projected Fantasy Stats
Valuing the Preseason
Every Play Counts: Kobe Bryant
Comparing the 50 Greatest
Every Play Counts: The Phoenix Pick-and-Roll

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