TUALATIN – The Portland Trail Blazers held their first predraft workouts Tuesday, with one projected first-round pick out of Australia and five other players expected to be available in the second round in attendance.
Guard/forward Dyson Daniels, who spent time last season with the G League Ignite, headlined the list of draft prospects the Blazers coaching staff put through workouts at the team’s facility.
Daniels’ name falls between No. 8 and No. 14 in mock drafts listed in NBA.com’s consensus mock draft report. That suggests the 6-foot-8 Daniels could very well still be on the board when the Blazers make their selection at No. 7 during the June 23 NBA draft.
The other prospects on hand for the closed workouts were: St. John’s guard/forward Julian Champagnie, LSU forward Darius Days, Washington State forward Mouhamed Gueye, Maryland guard Fatts Russell and Colorado forward Dallas Walton.
The Blazers have two second-round picks at Nos. 36 and 57.
It is altogether likely that the Blazers will look to trade their first-round selection, be it Daniels or anyone else. General manager Joe Cronin said at the conclusion of the season that it is easier to win with veterans than with younger players. The franchise’s goal is to retool the roster around Damian Lillard following a 27-55 season in hopes of being a playoff team next season.
Daniels is just 19. Other players who could be on the Blazers’ radar at No. 7 include Iowa forward Keegan Murray, 21, Arizona guard Bennedict Mathurin, 19, and Duke small forward AJ Griffin, 18.
While all three are talented, they would be hard-pressed to have a major impact on a team attempting to win right away. Murray might be the exception, but the vast majority of mock drafts from reputable outlets project that he will be gone no later than No. 6.
Daniels would have to impress the Blazers enough to cause them to pass up on Griffin or Mathurin, along with Memphis center Jalen Duren, 18, should all three be available at No. 7.
Daniels is certainly an intriguing talent. But at what position?
At the draft combine in Chicago, Daniels talked about his versatility. He said he grew up as a point guard and then hit a growth spurt in the past two years.
“I kind of have the skills of a point guard, but the height has come along now and it’s kind of an advantage,” Daniels said.
Maybe the last position of need for the Blazers is point guard, with Anfernee Simons set to back up Lillard. But Simons is also expected to get the starting shooting guard spot, so adding depth at the point wouldn’t hurt.
In Daniels, the Blazers would get a player with experience beyond college. Daniels spent time with Australia’s FIBA junior and senior teams before joining the G League last summer. He averaged 11.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while shooting just 25.5% on threes for the Ignite.
“For me, it just prepared me physically and I got used to the NBA style of play,” he said.
Daniels said he got off to a slow start but picked things up toward the end of the season. He said he worked hard on his ballhandling and finishing.
“By the end of the season, my shot started coming along,” he said. “There was definitely a lot of development there.”
One area where he feels ultra-confident is on defense.
“For me, my main skill is my defense,” he said. “That’s what has been keeping me on the floor.”
He said his versatility on defense and ability to defend four positions has allowed him to flourish in defenses that switch often.
“To me, it’s always been my strength,” he said.
Daniels, who said he met with the Blazers in Chicago, emphasized that he hoped to land with a team that was a right fit for him. In his words, a team that plays well together and understands team basketball.
“A team that’s going to compete every possession, plays switchable defenses,” he said. “I’m a versatile player. I’m going to adjust to whatever situation I’m put in and I feel like I can play on really any team in the NBA.”
Daniels said that Blazers coach Chauncey Billups emphasized those same directives while talking to him in Chicago about how he wants the Blazers to play defense
“Chauncey was great,” Daniels said. “Obviously, Portland, they’ve got some good defenders on their roster, too, and they’ve got some offense. I think, if I end up in Portland, I’ll be able to help them. But it’s too early to say what teams I’m liking or what teams I’m going to work out for. So, whatever happens, I’ll give them my best shot.”
Daniels, who compared himself offensively to Indiana point guard Tyrese Haliburton and defensively to Chicago point guard Lonzo Ball, believes he could develop into an elite big point guard.
“I feel like I have the frame and once I get into my game and the game slows down for me, I’m able to see it better and hopefully develop into a Luka Doncic-type role,” he said.
Tuesday in Tualatin, Daniels, who said he grew up in a basketball family, left the workout feeling mostly good about his showing.
The workout, he said, consisted of 3-on-3 competition and some 1-on-1 drills. Daniels said he expected to have a conversation with Cronin.
“I think I could have shot it better, but I’m happy with how I defended, how I played with the ball in my hands,” he said.
The Blazers were the first team Daniels said he worked out for, with more on the horizon. Ultimately, he said, his main goal is to end up with a team that needs his skillset.
“I just want to find the right fit for me really,” he said. “Whether that be top five, whether it be top 20. I just want the right fit. A team that’s going to want me. A team that’s gonna play me. A team that I can contribute to.”
He said the Blazers seemed to be a good fit and he believes he can contribute right away to a team trying to make the playoffs, especially on defense.
“I’ve always had good defensive instincts growing up,” he said. “Being kind of long and having good lateral quickness. I guess I’ve got the tools and defense is a lot about heart and hustle. So, you’ve just got to bring it.”
Daniels, who said he planned to talk to Lillard later in the day, said he began believing playing in the NBA could become a reality after he earned a scholarship from NBA Global Academy in Australia.
Speaking of Australia, Daniels said he is a big fan of fellow countryman and Blazers forward Joe Ingles.
“Me and him have a lot of jokes,” Daniels said. “He’s a funny guy, so he’s good to be around. He’s not here right now, but hopefully, we can catch up soon.”
Cronin and Billups were not available for comment following the workouts per NBA rules.
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