When NC State coach Kevin Keatts spoke on Zoom with the media last month, he stated that he believed both DJ Funderburk and Devon Daniels would go through the NBA pre-draft process.
During his second season on the floor with NC State, Daniels played strong two-way basketball. The 6-foot-5 wing averaged 12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.7 steals per game (3 percent steal rate). Daniels was one of only 10 players in the ACC to average 10 points, 5 rebounds and 1 steal per game this season.
With one year of eligibility remaining, it made perfect sense for Daniels to at least explore the process. The same can be said for Funderburk, one of the 15 most impactful players in the ACC this season.
Kevin Keatts says DJ Funderburk and Devon Daniels will go through the NBA Draft process. Says he is unsure what that will entail, but both plan to get feedback.
— Cory Smith (@RCorySmith) March 26, 2020
However, earlier this week, the NBA released its official register of 2020 early entrants; Daniels wasn’t present on the list.
This is potentially big news for the Wolfpack. As I wrote earlier this month, NC State — with the departure of Markell Johnson (and also CJ Bryce) — must reorient elements of its offense next season. NC State is a high-volume pick-and-roll offense; during the three seasons under Keatts, Johnson was the team’s unquestioned primary offensive engine. He’s gone now, which means others, like Daniels, will be called upon.
(Josh Hall, the top signee in NC State’s 2020 recruiting class, will test the draft waters, too.)
Without Johnson and Bryce, NC State needs new primary and secondary options to step-back as creators. There are several candidates to replace some of those play-making duties, including incoming freshmen Cam Hayes and Shakeel Moore. Daniels will be a major factor, too.
Over the last three seasons, Johnson made a total of 374 field goals — 289 of which were unassisted (77.3 percent). Nearly 53 percent of his 3-pointers, going back to the 2017-18 season (73 of 138), were also unassisted.
Inside the arc, however, is really where Johnson’s shot-creation skills kicked in: 91.5 percent of his 2-point field goals were unassisted (216 of 236).
With Daniels, there’s an aggression to his offense. Daniels is comfortable getting downhill and attacking with a live dribble. According to Synergy Sports, Daniels shot 63 percent (65.7 eFG%) in transition this season, which ranked third in the ACC (50+ possessions), behind only Tyrece Radford and future lottery pick Devin Vassell. He also finished the season with 15 dunks, third most on NC State’s roster.
In the half court, his first step is solid, and he plays with power through contact. Daniels also has the quirky ability to spin and jump off either foot for finishes in the final third of the floor.
During the 2018-19 season, according to Bart Torvik’s site, about 51 percent of his 2-point attempts came around the hoop. This season that number jumped to just under 62 percent. As a result, his free throw rate spiked as well: 3.7 FTA per 40 minutes, up from 2.9 FTA per 40 last season.
Top 10 highest frequency drivers in 2020 (% of FGA at the rim)
1 Isaac Likekele .704
2 Devon Daniels .615
3 Damion Baugh .589
4 Ryan Woolridge .584
5 Saben Lee .548
6 David Johnson .534
7 Sahvir Wheeler .532
8 Nate Pierre-Louis .517
9 Jordan Goodwin .504
10 Devon Dotson .493
— Spike Smeagol (@Cosmis) April 3, 2020
At times this season, when Johnson sat, Daniels was able to serve as an offensive kickstarter. This is a setup NC State could utilize next season: Braxton Beverly as a caretaker — bringing the ball up — with Daniels as the one used for dribble penetration.
Even with two bigs on the floor, Daniels still found gaps and lanes to attack.
According to Synergy, Daniels shot 50.6 percent out of the pick-and-roll this season (No. 3 in the ACC, players with 100+ possessions), scoring 0.85 points per possession.
Daniels will still need to cut his turnover habit; he coughed the ball up on 22.5 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions, per Synergy.
As the leader of NC State’s screen-roll activity, Markell Johnson evolved into one of the top assisters in program history. In his three seasons under Keatts, Johnson dished out 8.1 assists per 40 minutes, assisting on 35.4 percent of his teammates’ field goals while on the floor (2,649 minutes).
Johnson, alone, accounted for 36 percent of NC State’s total assists the last three seasons. With his twitchy handles and knowledge of passing angles, Johnson could manipulate defenses and create easy catch-and-finishes for his teammates.
Next season, a team effort will be required to replace Johnson’s creativity and production. Daniels may not have Johnson’s Everyone Is Open At All Times pick-and-roll feel; however, he can still put pressure of defenses with his handle.
With dribble-drive penetration, Daniels can force rotations and bend defenses, which should loosen things up for NC State’s secondary scoring threats. During his freshman season at Utah, Daniels kicked out 4 assists per 40 minutes. This season, he dished 2.9 assists per 40 minutes — an assist rate of 17.4 percent.
NC State scored 1.07 points per possession when Daniels passed out of the pick-and-roll. That’s a really solid number, and speaks to something the Pack should look to access more.
With Funderburk (assuming a return) and Manny Bates, NC State has two of the better rim-runners in the ACC. Both bigs shot over 75 percent on basket rolls this season, per Synergy. Jericole Hellems is an interesting piece, too; from his small-ball 4 position, he offers a pick-and-pop component to the offense.
Again, Daniels doesn’t have to be the primary option. But NC State should find possessions for Daniels to run things, especially in leverage moments — late-clock situations or at the end of halves.
Iverson Sets: Devon Daniels
This is something else I’ve covered before, but it seems logical to expect NC State to dial up the use of Devon Daniels from its 1-4 High Iverson pick-and-roll sets.
From this set, Daniels can look to drive from the wing: reject the screen and go baseline, or use the screen and force opponents to guard ball-screen action.
When defenses shift, weaknesses and deficiencies start to show; little gaps and lanes open up. Daniels has the ability to make a daring pass, including some artful lobs. If both players are back in Raleigh next season, Daniels and Funderburk could be a dangerous 1-2 combination.
(NC State likes to mix in that roll-replace/lift action, especially with Hellems and in conjunction with side pick-and-roll. This is an area where Hall, if he decided to play college ball, would’ve been a dangerous asset.)