Marquis Daniels: Taking Advantage of Certain Matchups

I will get to Marquis Daniels and his exquisite game last night, but for now, I subject you to one of my insane, almost-but-not-exactly-related stories.

I was watching Prison Break late last night, because I'm newly addicted to the show. For those who watch, Michael Scofield (the main character) reminds me of Larry Bird.

Scofield doesn't wear short shorts, possess a viciously crooked finger, or make passes that encourage the name "Basketball Jesus," but -- like Bird -- he's always a step ahead of his opponents. It's like Scofield plays chess, while all the policemen and FBI agents trying to catch him play pin the tail on the donkey. If Scofield would grow a wispy mustache, tell Xavier McDaniel exactly where he was going to hit a game-winner, and offer Chuck Person an expletive-laced Merry Christmas, he'd be the exact fugitive equivalent of Larry Bird.

Anyway, before I lose ALL my readers with this absurd tangent, there's a point to my Prison Break talk. In the episode I watched last night, an FBI agent discussed his drug habit with a former addict, Sara Tancredi. The FBI agent used tranquilizers every day, and Tancredi told him something like, "You must feel like you're walking under water all the time." 

Since I'm a Celtics freak, that quote made me think of one person: Marquis Daniels.

No, I'm not accusing Daniels of a tranquilizer addiction. Of course not. But you have to admit: compared to his teammates and opponents, Daniels often seems like he plays basketball under water. It's not that he's lazy, because he's not. It's not that he's unathletic, because he's not. Daniels just plays basketball at his own pace. Some people sprint; Daniels glides. Some people celebrate big plays; Daniels stays completely stone-faced. Some people possess another gear to drive by opponents; Daniels just patiently saunters by. 

Not that Daniels' pace is a bad thing. Daniels' always-in-control, rarely-screw-up play is the perfect medicine to recover from the Tony Allen Error. Daniels can be frustrating at times, specifically when he disappears for long periods of play. I enjoy that he never forces anything, I do. But it's nice to have SOME production out of the backup small forward spot, and  there are some nights when Daniels hardly produces anything. Yet for the most part, I'm perfectly content with Daniels' play. He doesn't always (read: ever) score at a scorching rate, but Daniels is a steady hand and versatile piece for the second unit. Even when his stat sheet remains close to empty, Daniels' presence on the floor doesn't hurt. He plays defense, refuses to take bad shots, and can play multiple positions. Most importantly, he's not Tony Allen.

And then, sometimes, out of nowhere, there are nights like last night. Nights when Daniels looks like he could be the NBA's best sixth man. Nights when he takes over a game, and the Celtics run their offense through him, and if you didn't know any better you'd think Daniels was a matchup nightmare each and every night. (Hint: he's not.) 

What's different on those nights? Normally, it's Daniels' defender. Daniels is not the type of player who can destroy all defenders, but he can kill smaller players. When someone like Darren Collison or T.J. Ford defends Daniels, his eyes light up. (Or they would, if he knew how to show emotion.)

I say this all the time, even though it's probably a ridiculous exaggeration: if Marquis Daniels were seven feet tall, he'd be one of the best low-post players in NBA history. All Daniels needs is a slight height advantage, and the defender is at his mercy. Out come the herky-jerky post moves, and Daniels morphs into the league's best sixth man. Last night, I would even say Daniels took over the game. The Celtics ran their entire offense through him, as if he were their superstar.

But the key to finding mismatches for Daniels is his ability to defend point guards. Darren Collison and T.J. Ford are blurs, and Daniels is the player who often plays like he's on tranquilizers. Yet somehow, Daniels is able to stay in front of them. Just because Daniels normally plays with the patience of Buddha and the pace of Vince Wilfork doesn't mean he's incapable of occasionally pressing the turbo button. Because Daniels can defend quick PGs, the Daniels-Pierce-Allen lineup works.

Since Daniels excels when playing point guard in that backcourt trio, Kevin Garnett has suggested Daniels see more time with the first unit. (Boston Herald)

"I think when he’s very valuable is when he’s with us, when he’s with the first group," said KG, who had 11 points and 13 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. "He’s important to the second group, but when he’s with us I think he flows more. "You know, we lobby for him to play with us, but it’s however Doc sees fit for this team to win, and we all understand that, so it’s not a problem. It’s not a big issue or nothing, because Doc knows best and we follow that."

Maybe Daniels should see more time with the first unit for now, so he can utilize the mismatches that would inevitably come his way. But when Rondo returns from injury, the Daniels-Pierce-Allen backcourt will surely play together very irregularly, and Daniels will mostly play small forward.

In all likelihood, Daniels will remain steady. He'll play at his own pace, and sometimes seem to disappear, and mostly affect games silently. Then, on certain random nights, Daniels will go to work. He'll look like the game's best backup small forward, and you'll briefly wonder why he doesn't play so well every night. Then, you'll remember:

It's all about the matchups.

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