Night and Daye

2009's No. 1 pick stands out in Pistons open scrimmage

Austin Daye wasted little time in flashing his full array of skills during Saturday's Open Practice scrimmage.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Austin Daye wasn’t one of the 10 Pistons on the floor when their scrimmage began Saturday, which probably means about as much (hint: very little) as depth charts that currently list him No. 3 at two positions. But it speaks to the depth the Pistons possess that a player who came off the bench in an intrasquad scrimmage drew the most oohs and ahhs from the 8,000-plus fans who came to The Palace to watch the team’s annual open practice.

“We definitely have a lot of depth on this team,” Daye said after scoring 10 points as his Blue team – comprised mostly of players expected to come off of that bench this season – won both quarters in two 12-minute scrimmages, 22-20 and 21-19. “It shows in our scrimmage. It will show throughout the season. Hopefully our bench will be as productive as our starters and we’re able to get some wins that way.”

Daye entered the first scrimmage with about four minutes left for Tracy McGrady and played just as advertised. Coaches and teammates have been buzzing about the poise, decision-making and array of offensive skills he’s displayed in the first week of training camp, with Charlie Villanueva saying the difference between his rookie season and this year is “night and day.”

Daye wasted little time in flashing the full array, knocking down a 3-pointer, scoring on a hesitation drive and finish with his left that put a charge in the crowd and threading the needle with a gorgeous no-look lefty pass to Ben Wallace for a layup after stealing the ball at the other end by swallowing up an entry pass with his freakish length.

Daye said it was the culmination of a strong week of training camp for him.

“I’ve talked to people on the staff and I’ve talked to Joe Dumars and other guys in the office and they’ve been very happy with how I’ve been playing,” Daye said. “I think I’ve been playing the same way throughout and today was just another highlight of my week, I guess.”

The depth chart Daye faces is daunting – Tayshaun Prince and McGrady ahead of him at small forward, Rip Hamilton and Ben Gordon at shooting guard – but the only conclusion to draw from Saturday’s scrimmage was that John Kuester is going to have to find a way to get him on the floor if he continues to perform the way he has to date.

“That’s the objective – to beat one of these dudes out,” Daye said. “Not necessarily beat them out, but just to earn minutes, make coach feel like he has to put me in at one point in the game. It is kind of cluttered, but hopefully my ability on the floor has proven itself and the coaches have taken notice of that.”

“I’m telling you, we’ve got 15 guys under contract (and) you want to, as a coach, feel comfortable that these guys can play,” Kuester said. “And they can play.”

Other members of Daye’s blue team that stood out were Will Bynum, who played exactly the type of pressure defense the coaches are urging him to play and took charge of his team offensively, and Charlie Villanueva, who rebounded well and played aggressively on offense in scoring eight points, two on a lob dunk perfectly placed by McGrady.

While Daye’s emergence and McGrady’s signing makes the perimeter the most obviously loaded position on the roster, the camp buzz that the frontcourt is also shaping up as a competitive situation gained momentum with the scrimmage showings of Chris Wilcox and Jason Maxiell.

Wilcox is the surprise, according to a number of players. He scored eight points in the scrimmage and did it in a variety of ways – a strong finish in traffic, on an end-to-end rush and with a nice turnaround baseline jumper.

“Whoo – Chris has done a real nice job of finishing around the basket,” Kuester said. “His energy has picked up so much from last year. He has a chance to be a changer-of-the-game type of player. When he wants to run and when he wants to jump, he’s probably got everybody beat.”

Wilcox didn’t want to spend much time talking about last year, but he did admit that a back injury he suffered in training camp lingered throughout the season and limited his explosive athleticism, the trait that’s always separated him from most big men.

“Some mornings, I woke up, I couldn’t touch my toes, put my socks and shoes on,” he said. “But I want to leave everything that happened last year in last year. I just want to focus on this season. I came in ready and hopefully things change up a little bit. Now I’m 100 percent. I’m healthy. The only thing that’s going to hold me back now is me.”

  • Ben Gordon came off the court late in the scrimmage wincing, then took off his left shoe – the ankle that he sprained last November and required off-season surgery to remove bone chips. But he said afterward it wasn’t a setback or reaggravation. The ankle merely got sore, he said, from playing a little longer than he should have in the scrimmage.