6′10.75”, 192 lbs. (Combine measurements)
21 years old
Projection: Mid-late 1st round
Austin Daye doesn’t exactly fit the Mavs’ needs like a glove. He’s a 6-10 small forward, which as you may recall is a position currently occupied by Josh Howard. Daye obviously won’t be running the offense, he can’t fill the void at shooting guard (unless that meant Howard could be moved to the 2), and he isn’t going to be defending centers anytime soon.
In the spirit of the NBA draft, we’ve now covered what Daye is not. What Daye is, though, is a pretty intriguing talent. He’s a very versatile offensive player and an excellent shooter. His knuckles rub on the ground when he walks, and he’s got some serious size.
Digging for stars in this draft is going to get you nowhere. Instead, teams need to bank on talent and production to pan out with rotation players, with second tier guys to supplement their team’s core. Austin Daye is a perfect prospect for that set of expectations. He’s still far too thin to be dominant at 6’10”, and lacks both the strength and speed that would make him a superior NBA small forward. His athletic abilities aren’t anything to write home about, but his height helps him compensate for that weakness defensively. Daye’s knack as a scorer helps him from just about any spot on the floor; his three point stroke is pure, and his finishing ability is solid. He’s a do-it-all offensive small forward with plenty of potential. Daye’s blessing and his curse are one in the same: his versatility is more likely to result in a still very respectable Lamar Odom-esque career than a LeBron James one. He has the talent to be a fantastic player, but his skill set and lack of brawn could send a team on all sorts of tangents trying to find his place on the floor.
I have a feeling that Daye would thrive in a role similar to Odom’s. With two proven scorers ahead of Daye in the food chain, he could thrive as an offensive jack-of-all trades. The Mavs have that with Dirk and JET, just as the Lakers do with Kobe and Pau Gasol. Still, like Lamar Odom, teams may find Daye to be a bit mind-boggling. He’s not a very aggressive player on either end, and that style may be confused for a lack of effort. The skills are all there, and the notion that Daye wouldn’t seek to utilize them at all times is a bit confusing to some. It’s one of the things that comes with the package, and given what Daye can bring to a team, I think it’s well worth it.
The biggest obstacle in terms of drafting Daye will be the Phoenix Suns at 14. The Suns are rumored to be very interested, and have brought Daye in for workouts. But if Daye manages to slip past the Suns for whatever reason, he could certainly slip into a freefall. The incredible parity throughout the first round means that many teams are going to be high on very different players. If there is no general consensus on Daye, it seems very plausible that he could still be on the board when the Mavs pick at 22.
I’m sold on Daye’s potential, but it’ll take some time before he’s ready to accept offensive responsibility in the NBA. There’s a reason he was rocking the t-shirt look on the college court; Daye is so lean that his height won’t be useful in the post until he bulks up. In the short-term, Daye can spot-up on the perimeter, take bigs off the dribble, and finish around the basket. Not a bad set of skills, but only a glimpse of what Daye can bring to the table as a pro.
I’ve asked Jon Nichols of Basketball-Statistics.com to use his Box Score Prediction System (BSPS) to project career numbers for Daye. The values given are career averages per 36 minutes, considering that per minute statistics at least partially eliminate variables such as abnormal playing time, lack of opportunity, etc. The projections are based on Daye’s two-year career at Gonzaga. For comparison’s sake, I’ve dug up some other players who have averaged similar numbers over their careers (click here for an enlarged chart):
(Note: the years indicated in the chart refer to the last year of the season played. For examples, the 2004-2005 season will be marked 05.)
Finding comparisons for Daye was tricky; he rebounds at a rate superior to most small forwards, and has enough range to disqualify most bigs. That left one player in Daye’s range that had both size/rebounding and a sweet shooting stroke: Rasheed Wallace. Wallace is a fitting comparison for Daye, despite the fact that Sheed is a power forward/center and Daye a more natural wing. Just as Rasheed has puzzled teams with his playing style and tendencies, Daye may get on some nerves with his unwillingness to dominate. What separates Daye from a player of Wallace’s caliber is defense. Sheed is one of the better interior defenders of this era, combining strength and size with decent speed and shot-blocking instincts. Daye is more likely to come out an average defender, albeit one who gets his fair share of blocks.