ORLANDO – Success in Summer League is no guarantee of NBA stardom or even of finding a consistent niche. But failure in Summer League doesn’t usually portend good things for a player’s NBA future. So Austin Daye didn’t solidify a spot in Lawrence Frank’s 2012-13 rotation with an Orlando Pro Summer League performance that landed him on the five-man first team chosen when the week concluded.
But Daye, about to enter his fourth NBA season, did give the Pistons a lot to think about.
“I was proud of Austin this week,” Pistons president Joe Dumars said after Daye averaged 15.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots a game while shooting .510 from the field and .353 from the 3-point line over five games. “Not just because he made shots. The reason I’m proud of Austin is that he’s not shied away from any challenge down here.”
The primary challenge for Daye was to show how he could hold up while playing power forward, which he did exclusively in Orlando for 26 minutes a game, guarding players like promising rookies Andrew Nicholson and Jared Sullinger. Daye came to the Pistons primarily as a small forward and has even played shooting guard, but at 6-foot-11 with a unique offensive skill set, Dumars believes power forward could well be his future.
“The way the game is played now, yeah,” he said. “People stretch the floor and you’ve got to have those versatile guys that can swing between the three and four and do those types of things. If a team doesn’t have those types of guys, they’re looking for them.”
Daye, for his part, saw the week in Orlando more as an opportunity to re-establish his confidence and prove to the organization that he still should be considered a part of their future more than proving his ability to play a specific position.
“It’s very important to take these games very seriously,” he said. “Guys are out there trying to prove themselves as well as I am. I haven’t played a full 82-game season yet. I’m either not playing the whole game or getting DNPs, so I have things to prove myself.
“I know what I’m capable of. I just need to be able to get some quality minutes and be comfortable out there. This is a starting point for me, get right, get my confidence up.”
The Pistons appear crowded at small forward with veterans Tayshaun Prince and recent trade acquisition Corey Maggette plus rookies Kyle Singler, who gave every indication in Orlando that he’s ready to play, and Khris Middleton. Even at power forward, the drafting of Andre Drummond and signing of European 7-footer Slava Kravtsov – if they’re good enough to push for minutes – could throw Greg Monroe into the mix with Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko. Charlie Villanueva gives the Pistons another option as a “stretch four.”
“Everything is crowded with us right now,” Daye said. “We’ve got a lot of guys at a lot of positions, so it’s just about carving your niche and I’m trying to do that at the four a little bit now. Whatever positions Lawrence wants me to play, I’m willing to play just to get on the floor. I told him I’m willing to play the four no matter what.”
“It was part of what we wanted to see,” assistant general manager George David said. “In Austin’s case, when you’ve played multiple NBA seasons and you’re playing in Summer League, you’re looking to see if they can consistently dominate. One of the things that took precedence over whatever position he played – two, three or four – was the fact Austin consistently dominated every game for us, not only from a scoring standpoint but going into the last game he and Drummond were tied for (the league lead) blocks.”
While many teams have role players who do little more than come off the bench to provide deep shooting, Daye showed in Orlando that he could contribute in other ways. In the finale, a win over Philadelphia as the Pistons rested both Brandon Knight and Singler, Daye speared a team-best 11 rebounds on a day he didn’t make a 3-point shot.
David’s history of scouting Daye goes back to his high school days in southern California through his two years at Gonzaga. It was always Daye’s versatile scoring that set him apart, so to see him able to contribute in so many other ways was especially gratifying for him.
“He had some huge rebounds, blocks for us,” David said. “He was able to show he can consistently, game in and game out, impact a game even when his shot is not falling. His shot did fall quite a bit, but he also had some games where even if his shot hadn’t gone in you could make the argument he might have had the biggest impact on the game. That’s a huge step for us in terms of his progress.”
Bulking up even moderately and adding strength has been Daye’s quest since coming to the Pistons. He took to a unique training regimen devised by strength coach Arnie Kander last season revolving around the simple pushup and has continued to do that as well as work out under trainer Joe Abunassar in Las Vegas. Daye will never win bump-and-grind battles with traditional power forwards – just as they would struggle to guard Daye away from the paint – but coming off the bench he’s less likely to be put in disadvantageous positions.
“When you prove you can go out and hold your own against different types of guys, then the matchups should and sometimes can be in your favor,” Dumars said. “If you’re not going to get overwhelmed, then your skills are going to come to the forefront. He’s figuring out how to guard these guys without his body and lack of strength becoming an issue.”
“This is what we envision from Austin,” Pistons Summer League coach John Loyer said as the week unfolded. “He’s a good stretch four shooter. Austin knows how to play the game. Hopefully, he can build on this. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Austin Daye.”