Daye by Daye

Austin Daye’s behind-the-scenes maturity won him his shot at Frank’s rotation

Austin Daye is back in Lawrence Frank's rotation.
Fernando Medina (NBAE/Getty)
Austin Daye didn’t do much to dent the stat sheet in his first game as part of Lawrence Frank’s rotation after spending the season’s first 26 on the outside looking in. In 18 minutes, he made 1 of 2 shots, grabbed a couple of rebounds and dished out an assist.

Yet it’s a measure of Daye’s maturity, evident both in his play on the court and his demeanor away from it, that Frank saw evidence the fourth-year player whose career has been marked by the search for a positional home can help even when he isn’t putting up numbers.

“I thought Austin did well. I thought he was solid,” Frank said. “He only took two shots, but he was engaged on the boards in terms of keeping balls alive, he took an NBA foul against Blake Griffin when we got beat on an early postup, he made simple plays. For a guy who hasn’t played for the entire year, he did very, very well.”

Daye came to the Pistons as a small forward, spent most of his time a season ago playing shooting guard and then was converted to power forward over the off-season. When Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko won the starting and backup sports in a four-way preseason competition, Daye and Charlie Villanueva both opened the season outside the rotation.

That changed when Villanueva and Jerebko swapped roles in late November, a move that stirred competing emotions in Daye.

“I was happy for him,” said Daye, among Villanueva’s closest friends on the Pistons. “Also, he’s in my position, so I was like, dang, I wanted to try to get those minutes. But he’s my friend, so I was happy for him that he was able to be successful. He approached it the right way. He’s always in shape – as much as he may not look like it, as people say, but he’s in good shape. He wouldn’t be able to go out there and play the minutes he has been without being in shape. I definitely look at his approach and was happy for him. For myself, now I just need to come into my own and make some positive things happen for me.”

Frank admitted, as he considered taking veteran Corey Maggette out of the rotation, that he considered Jerebko as well as Daye as candidates to fill in behind Tayshaun Prince at small forward. Daye put himself in position for consideration by impressing Frank with his daily doggedness even as a way into the rotation seemed blocked to him.

“I’m very proud of Austin, just to see his development and maturity of handling not playing,” Frank said. “Every player in the NBA wants to play. The guys able to stay in the league in a role are the guys that get it. It takes every single day and Austin’s been very, very good every day.”

If Daye can harness his unique skill set – there aren’t many 6-foot-11 players with his ability to make plays off the dribble or score at all three levels – he’ll give the second unit another intriguing dimension to go with Rodney Stuckey’s slashing, Andre Drummond’s athleticism and Villaneuva’s equally diverse offensive array. The strength he gained over the course of the past year can only help, of course, and those strength gains are a testament to not only Daye’s physical maturity but to the diligence he’s applied in the weight room as well as the basketball court.

“I’m older,” he said of his emotional maturity. “Of course, when you’re a kid and things don’t go your way, you want them to go your way no matter what. But as a man, you have to mature and know you have to make those things happen on your own. It can’t really be because someone wants them to happen for you. You have to go out there and do it yourself.”

That’s what he did. Far from the bright lights, Frank would see Daye putting in the work before and after practices, or even on the rare off days, or see him pulling for teammates even as he sat on the bench. Now he gets to go out there and do it himself.