Flipping the Switch: On Waiting For DeAndre Daniels to ExplodePosted by Mike Lemaire on November 16th, 2013
For a six-minute stretch near the start of the second half of yesterday’s blowout win against Detroit, Connecticut forward DeAndre Daniels looked like the kind of player that should have Huskies’ fans excited. Of course everyone would be more excited if the mercurial junior could play like that when it matters and not in the second half of a game against an overmatched opponent that UConn was already beating by 20. In that win, Daniels missed his first four shots and spent the majority of the first half on the bench because of foul trouble, but he wasted little time atoning for that slow start in the second half with a three-pointer, a dunk, two easy baskets around the rim, and a pair of free throws all before the 12-minute mark of the second half. He finished the game with 11 points and four rebounds in just 15 minutes of play — his best line of the season — which only served as proof that Daniels is one of the most frustrating players to watch in all of college basketball.
Remember, we aren’t talking about an unpolished freshman who is still growing into his body and has plenty of raw ability but little experience. We are talking about a 6’9″, 210-pound junior who has the size and length to protect the rim, the shooting touch to score inside and out, and the athleticism to create mismatches no matter who is guarding him. We are also talking about a player who last February laid waste to opposing defenders on his way to 25 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks in a one-point loss to Georgetown and followed that up two games later with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks against South Florida.
Of course Daniels’ play was uneven last season too, but it was those types of performances late in the season against physical, defensive-minded conference opponents that made pundits and fans alike get excited about what the rising junior had in store. Unfortunately, Daniels’ start to this season has not gone the way anyone would have liked. He started off by shooting 4-of-9 from the field in 32 minutes of play against Maryland, but at least he filled the stat sheet in other ways with two rebounds and two assists and three blocks. In 18 minutes against lowly Yale, Daniels was a non-entity, missing all five of his shots and grabbing just one rebound. And while his performance against Detroit was slightly better, it is hard not to wonder what sort of disappearing acts he might pull as the competition gets significantly stiffer.
It would be one thing if shots weren’t falling and Daniels was being overly aggressive. Those are easily correctable issues that can even be attributed to the small sample size. But Daniels’ issues seem to stem from a lack of consistent effort and a distinct lack of aggressiveness that people have questioned throughout his career. During the broadcast, SNY sideline reporter Kerith Burke mentioned that in talking with Connecticut assistant coach Karl Hobbs about Daniels’ struggles, that he thought it was a matter of getting Daniels to “flip the switch.”
Unless there is literally a switch inside of Daniels that everyone has neglected to flip, Hobbs’ comments should be translated to read, “We have no idea how to fix the obvious issues with Daniels’ play, but we sure hope he figures it out himself soon.” And therein lies the real problem. UConn staff can’t coach up Daniels’ aggressiveness and effort. They can tell Daniels that he needs to play more aggressively and give more effort, but there is nothing obviously broken that needs fixing, so any change in his game will have to come from within first, and if he hasn’t been able to flip that switch in more than two years, you have to wonder whether he will ever flip it at all.
There is nothing inherently wrong with being something less than the floor-slapping, no-regard-for-his-body type of competitor. There have been plenty of excellent college basketball players over the years who contributed to their team’s success without giving maximum effort on every play. But what’s frustrating is that everyone who knows anything about basketball can see the type of player Daniels can be if he can find his consistent effort and aggressiveness. And let’s be frank, Shabazz Napier is incredible, Ryan Boatright is an all-conference guard, Omar Calhoun is close to an all-conference guard, and Niels Giffey has been a revelation thus far, but if the Huskies have larger goals than just making the NCAA Tournament in March, they will need Daniels to transform into the type of player he has shown flashes of being.
For all of their strengths, the Huskies still noticeably lack any semblance of frontcourt depth, consistent rebounding or the ability to defend against size. A four-guard lineup has worked so far, but the Huskies haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row of opponents and the schedule only gets harder from here. Daniels still has time to find his groove and become a big-time difference-maker; it’s just that Huskies’ fans and head coach Kevin Ollie are just hoping it’s an issue with the position of the switch and not the circuitry itself.