Night and Daye
Gonzaga sophs potential at odds with productivity
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Perhaps the most gifted high school graduating basketball class was produced in 1979. Pistons fans would recognize many names on that list, none more than Isiah Lord Thomas III, who had a pretty nice career in Detroit that included the franchise’s first two NBA titles.
Among his classmates were Ralph Sampson, James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins, Byron Scott, Sam Bowie and Clark Kellogg. When they gathered for that year’s McDonald’s All-American game, held in Charlotte, N.C., the MVP went to a member of the West team – UCLA recruit Darren Daye, who scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in a one-point overtime loss.
Fast forward 30 years. Among the players the Pistons will be scrutinizing very closely with the 15th pick in the 2009 NBA draft is Gonzaga forward Austin Daye, Darren’s son.
Daye, only 20, put his name in the draft but has yet to hire an agent and could still decide to return to Gonzaga between now and the June 15 deadline for pulling out. Most feel it’s likely he’ll stay in the draft – presenting NBA general managers with a dilemma. Though possessing a bevy of ideal qualities – tremendous length and above-average ball skills for a player of his size – Daye’s production was lacking at Gonzaga and his sophomore year was, in many respects, a disappointment.
The debate in war rooms over Daye, in fact, will be the reverse of ones personnel people will have over Pitt’s DeJuan Blair. While Daye has prototypical skills but marginal production, Blair has marginal measurables but off-the-charts productivity.
So scouts are going to have to decide not what Daye’s ceiling would be, but how likely he is to reach it – and when. Teams really get a cheap look at a player for two years before needing to decide what his future holds. In two years, teams might not be able to accurately assess where Daye’s career is headed.
There is some sentiment that Gonzaga had so many NBA prospects, including upperclassmen like Jeremy Pargo, Josh Heytvelt and Matt Bouldin, that coach Mark Few did little to feature Daye in hopes that he’d stick around for more than a season or two. There’s also the fact that Daye incurred a few injuries over last summer that slowed his progress as a sophomore.
You could be swayed in either direction on Daye depending on which videotape you choose to watch. Against Tennessee, he had six points, one rebound, five turnovers and four fouls in 19 uninspired minutes. Against Arizona, he went for 22 points with five blocked shots. Against Maryland, 17 points and 10 boards. But against Memphis, six points and three boards. Daye scored 20 points or more five times – but nine times he was held to single digits.
There is a belief that Daye is going to start moving up draft boards as workouts unfold over the next four weeks leading into the draft because that’s where he shines – watching him run, shoot and glide around cones in drill work. It’s the five-on-five stuff where things tend to get a little messy for such prospects.
While the consensus is that Daye represents a classic case of a young player whose needs would be best served by returning to college to prove to himself and others that he’s capable of dominating games at a mid-level Division I conference, it only takes one GM to get weak knees over a player’s athletic gifts and convince his agent that his client should stay in the draft.
The best guesswork is that Daye will find more than one GM who gives him the encouragement he needs to believe he could work his way into the lottery. Right about now, it looks like a 50-50 call whether Daye will be available to the Pistons at 15 should he decide to stay in the draft. And you can bet the Pistons will have a spirited war room debate about his stock.