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It’s time to expect more from Austin Daye

If Austin Daye averages between 18 and 22 points in a season –


I think I’m supposed to say, when Austin Daye averages between 18 and 22 points in a season.

Many Piston observers not only anticipate Daye’s scoring ascension, they accept it as an inevitability. They look past his middling 7.7-point-per-game average this season (a career high) and see his offensive giftsthe smooth stroke, the limitless range, the confidence. I get it. You can’t just ignore his fantastic offensive skillset, and you shouldn’t.

But he’s still averaging just 7.7 points per game this season. In the previous 15 years, six players posted a career-best season of 7.7 points per game:

  • Joey Graham
  • Tarence Kinsey
  • Chris Andersen
  • Corey Benjamin
  • Eric Washington
  • Zan Tabak

Who? Exactly.

Because of his age and offensive tools, Daye has a solid chance of becoming one of the NBA’s better scorers – probably a better chance of reaching that level than any of the aforementioned six players ever had. But let’s not disguise how much ground Daye must cover before reaching the 18-to-22 points-per-game range.

I know, I know. When the Pistons drafted him, everybody said he would need time before he could contribute. And on one hand, it’s easy to say he’s just a 22-year-old, second-year pro.

On the other hand, he’s already behind pace.

What a young player who turns into an 18-to-22 point-per-game scorer looks like

In NBA history, 212 players have averaged between 18-22 points per game in their highest-scoring season.* We’ll call them qualifying players.

*I set the cutoff at 22, so players who averaged in the high 20s – a higher ceiling than most are forecasting for Daye – didn’t distort the numbers.

Of those 212 qualifying players, 202 (95 percent) averaged more points per game in one of their first two seasons than the career-high 7.7 points per game Daye is averaging this year.

But wait, you say. That’s not fair. Daye, who spent just two seasons at Gonzaga, is young for a second-year player.

OK, 117 qualifying players averaged more points per game in a year by age 22 (55 percent) than Daye is averaging. By that measure, Daye looks closer to the pack, but he still trails it.

Just to give you an idea, here are the players who didn’t have a better scoring season than Daye by their second season or age 22:

  • David West
  • Don May
  • Doug West
  • John Starks
  • George McCloud
  • John Salmons
  • Mike Riordan

The per-36-minute consideration

I’m sure some of you read the previous section and think I’m grading Daye unfairly, because he plays just 19.6 minutes per game.

My response: I know, if it were his and the Pistons’ singular goal, Daye could score at least 18 points per game right now. But that’s not their singular goal, and it never will be. Daye doesn’t play more, in part, because he doesn’t do enough things, other than score, well enough to stay on the court. To average a large number of points per game, a player must earn enough playing time to score a lot. That’s a challenge every qualifying player met, and Daye must meet it, too.

Just in case you believe the Pistons are unfairly limiting Daye’s playing time and that he deserves more minutes:

Of the qualifying players,* 90 percent scored more points per 36 minutes in one of their first two seasons than Daye is scoring this season (14.2).

Also, 56 percent of the qualifying players* scored more points per 36 minutes in a season by age 22 than Daye is scoring this season.

The per-36 numbers and the per-game numbers both leave Daye similarly behind his could-be peers.

*Of 208 (because four players played their 22-and-under and first and second seasons before the NBA tracked player minutes.)

Again, to give you an idea, here are the qualifying players who, in their best season within their first two years or prior to age 23, didn’t score more points per 36 minutes than Daye is scoring this year:

  • David West
  • Doug West
  • George McCloud
  • John Salmons
  • Mike Riordan
  • Stephen Jackson
  • Bob Kauffman
  • Mike James
  • David Lee
  • Jeff Hornacek
  • Josh Howard
  • Andre Iguodala
  • Fat Lever
  • Derek Harper
  • Harvey Grant
  • Guy Rodgers
  • Chris Kaman
  • Mike Dunleavy

Daye has company, but not a lot of it.

Third-year and age-22 expectations

By their third year, the average season high for a  qualifying player is 16.9 points per game and 18.2 points per 36 minutes.

If you still want to give Daye the benefit of the doubt about his age, by age 23, the average best season for a qualifying player is 13.3 points per game and 15.7 points per 36 minutes – and that’s generously lowering the bar by counting the 19 qualifying players who hadn’t reached the NBA by age 23 with career-highs of zero points per game and zero points per 36 minutes.

How about we split the difference and call it 15.1 points per game and 17.0 points 36 minutes? I think those numbers present reasonable targets for Daye next season.

Earlier in the season, Patrick wrote about the danger of setting sights too high for Daye. Patrick was spot-on then, and if Daye doesn’t meet those marks next season, we better get real serious about downgrading our expectations.

As quickly as it’s come, we’re entering the put-up or shut-up era for Daye.


  • Mar 8, 201111:36 am
    by ds


    Daye averages 7,7 points on 6.7 shots. I think that on many teams he would get fed the ball a bit more frequently.
    I don’t disagree with you – the jury is still out on his ceiling. But to me, the number of shots he gets – which is mostly determined by the fact that the team is made up of shooters (even Monroe SHOULD get fed the ball more). Where do the shots come from?
    A second point – Rip has been our leading scorer, averaging 17ish points, right? So the focus of the team would have to shift in order for one person to have an average ppg that high. We’d have to move away from being a balanced scoring team. (NOTE: I’m not saying that would be bad or good – just that it would mean a change in philosophy).

    • Mar 8, 201112:32 pm
      by Patrick Hayes


      Part of the reason Rip never averaged over 20 is that for most of his career, the 3-pointer wasn’t a huge part of his arsenal. Because Daye could theoretically hit more 3s per game than Rip, it’s conceivable he could hit the 20-22 ppg mark at some point getitng a similar number of shots that Hamilton did in his stretch leading the team in scoring.

  • Mar 8, 201112:53 pm
    by neutes


    I actually like some of Daye’s other skills. He has a sweet stroke, but his shot isn’t always falling. Only shooting 42% on the season. Hopefully more consistent playing time would breed more consistency in his game. Scoring isn’t the biggest thing. He looks like he has some good b-ball IQ, when he’s patient that is. There are times when he’s ready to unload the ball the second he touches it as well. Can’t teach that awareness though, and Daye looks to have that innate ability at times. The issue will always be his defense, but I don’t want him to be pigeon holed into the Peja Stojakovic all he brings to the table is shooting just yet.

  • Mar 8, 20111:10 pm
    by frankie d


    i’m sorry, but this is ridiculously premature.
    an example of using sheer numbers and stats in a way that completely ignores other factors that determine a player’s role on the court and impact on a game.
    the idea that anyone can make any rational judgment about daye’s future based on an examination of his stats so far is just so staggeringly myopic that it boggles the mind.
    i would agree that his numbers have not been where anyone would like them to be, but any rational analysis has to factor in:
    -the fact that his role on the team and the court has been extremely inconsistent his entire career
    -his minutes from night to night have been extremely inconsistent
    -when he is on the court, he has to struggle to get shots, as the pistons’ still dominant old guard players often seem to be playing a separate game where they pass the ball around to each other while the young guys stand and watch
    -is he a  power forward, a small forward or a shooting guard, and does he or the organization know the answer?
    -the team already has a veteran starting small forward who they insist on hanging onto, a veteran starting shooting guard and several – ben gordon and mcgrady and stuckey, at times – reserves who all have played in front of daye and a position – power forward, where daye is clearly not physically ready to compete
    -the team signed a potential hall of fame player who played the same position and role that daye should play and then gave that player minutes daye should have played despite that player not playing during the supposedly rotation-establishing preseason
    this story is so old and redundant in detroit that it is tough to watch.
    the same things were said about young players like amir johnson and aaron afflalo and were all cited as reasons to justify dumping young players who had supposedly been incapable of establishing their place on an nba roster.
    young players, just like inexperienced professionals in any field, will have ups and downs as they learn their craft.  smart observers are able to discern real potential by watching guys play AND looking at numbers.  relying on numbers solely makes no sense whatsoever.
    if that had been done with a guy like rodman early in his career – as many advocated, as the argument was that rodman’s abysmal offensive numbers should keep him nailed to the bench – rodman may have been one of those guys who was in and out of the league in 2-3 years.
    when daye is given a legitimate shot at playing regularly then this type of statistical analysis will carry some validity.  until then, this smacks of a provocative way to jump start a debate on a dreary winter day.

    • Mar 8, 20112:21 pm
      by Patrick Hayes


      Ugh … all of those “factors” you list are actually mentioned in Dan’s rational analysis.

      - If you paid attention to any of the statistical content about Afflalo and Johnson when they were here, particularly Matt Watson’s numerous posts on Johnson, you would find that many people actually advocated bigger roles for them based on per-minute stats. They were extremely productive in the liminted time they got in Detroit.

      - Rodman had two elite skills that got him on the court – defense and rebounding. Those two things were abundantly clear to anyone who watched him early on, and the stats backed that up.

      Now name me two things, other than shoot, that Daye does at an above average level right now? His shooting stroke is awesome. But what else does he do well right now that justifies him getting big minutes?

      I really think you jump to conclusions that aren’t there in this post. What is wrong with saying that Daye needs to be more productive in the minutes he’s given? He very clearly does. That’s not anyone saying he’s a bad player. It’s just saying that, for the people projecting he’s going to be a 20-22 PPG scorer, he hasn’t shown it in the minutes he’s been given, and a lot of comparable players had shown it by now at smiliar stages in their careers.

  • Mar 8, 20112:19 pm
    by Rodman4Life


    He can shoot, he is smart, he has length, he is tall, he seems motivated, he can mismatch, he passes well.  All of these things lead me to believe that he will get more playing time than his defensive deficiencies would normally indicate.  Finally, he is a 10ppg scorer this season after you figure the disarray and confusion Kuester’s roster moves have created.  Confidence is so important for a young player and this team’s “drama” hasn’t helped that at all.
    With all that being said, I don’t really see him ever hitting 20ppg.  I always figured he’d settle into the 15-18 ppg range.

  • Mar 8, 20112:42 pm
    by swish22


    I agree he still has tremendous upside but only if he can continue to get stronger physically.  Offensively he seems to make good decisions in general but defensively he takes so many bad fouls and he just can’t keep anybody off the glass due his lack of bulk.  He looks like a guy who’s committed to getting better though and I’m ready to see him get big minutes to help him mature and toughen up! 

  • [...] I’m a big fan of Daye. He’s come a long way since his rookie year, but it’s not entirely sure that he’s ready to start next season. For now it would seem that he’s slotted to do just that, although Jonas Jerebko’s return from injury could have something to do with that. For more on Daye’s development, be sure to check out PistonPowered.com’s article It’s time to expect more from Austin Daye. [...]

  • Mar 8, 20113:10 pm
    by frankie d


    two things daye does very well other than shoot?
    when he plays the shooting guard spot, he is an awesome post-up option.  with his size and length, he commands a double team, when he posts down low against the typical SG defender, who will usually be 4-6 inches shorter.  when he played the position in summer league and during the preseason, he created all sorts of havoc because teams would typically try to provide defensive help.
    it has mystified me as to why the pistons abandoned something they had talked about developing, even after watching it work well, when it was tried. and the team could certainly use a consistent post-up option.
    another skill?
    he is an excellent ballhandler and facilitator on the offensive end.  for a man almost 7 feet tall, he has extraordinary ballhandling skills and he uses that skill well in half-court sets.  he is able to break his man down, get to a spot on the court where he can  either shoot, or pass, and he has the kind of court vision that allows him to see open men and make a good pass, if the defense collapses on him.  this ability keeps the ball moving, causes the defense to have to move and rotate and ultimately opens up shots for everyone.
    the only other players who have that talent are tayshaun and mcgrady and to some degree bynum and monroe.
    he also makes that quick, decisive pass to an open man for an open shot, something few pistons, if any, do well.  unfortunately, most hold onto it too long.
    mcgrady makes that quick pass.  afflalo used to make it consistently.    tay hardly ever makes that pass as he tends to just hold onto the ball for a couple of beats while he decides what to do.  making that quick pass to an open shooter makes a huge difference in how well a team operates in the half court.  it is a very underrated part of a players game.
    need another skill?
    he is an excellent rebounder.  in college, he showed surprising toughness under the boards, for a guy built like a stick.  as a piston, he also shows a willingness to stick his nose in the middle of scrums and rebound.  now, he is not ben wallace by any means, but he is a good rebounder for a forward and he would be an excellent rebounder from the SG position.
    in fact, if you want to look at the numbers, daye would be the best rebounding SF over 36 minutes, better than tay or mcgrady.   over 36 minutes, tay would average 5 boards, while daye would average 6.4, a pretty significant jump.
    but, imho, daye is a SG and he would be most effective from that position.  if i ruled the pistons, i’d do several things:
    -bring in a real point guard
    -make daye my starting SG
    -make stuckey the 3rd guard
    -maybe keep bynum as a 4th guard
    -get rid of everyone else…rip, gordon and mcgrady.
    my view is that it is simply impossible to know what kind of player daye would be, given his lack of a role and lack of consistent playing time.  imho, the numbers are irrelevant until he is given a consistent role, with consistent minutes over a number of games, say…half a season.  only then will any of those numbers make any sort of sense.
    finally, on rodman…i remember rodman’s first couple of years well, and despite the fact that he was a very good rebounder and defender, there were plenty of people who questioned whether he should get playing time because he was such a poor offensive performer.  daly stuck to his guns and kept playing him, but doing so was pretty extraordinary because he basically gave the team nothing offensively.  daly deserved plenty of credit for sticking with him, but it was, by no means, something that was universally applauded, even with his extraordinary rebounding and defense.

    • Mar 8, 20113:32 pm
      by Patrick Hayes


      So your criticism of Dan’s post is that you think there’s simply not enough evidence to have any kind of conclusion with Daye because he hasn’t played enough, yet you say he’s played enough for you to conclusively say he’s an “excellent” post-up player and facilitator? And because he was a good rebounder at Gonzaga that mean’s he’s definitely going to be a good NBA rebounder in an expanded role?

  • Mar 8, 20114:48 pm
    by frankie d


    you specifically requested that i note two things that he did above average.
    obviously, any response i provided would be based on what he has done so far in the pros.
    i noted gonzaga only because it was consistent with his pistons’ experience.  also, as any nba draft observer knows, rebounding is one thing that translates from the college level into the pros.  guys who rebound well in college, typically rebound well in the pros.
    and if you can use numbers to support your argument, i figured i’d use some of those same numbers you referred to to support what i said.
    i suppose i could have qualified what i said, by noting that any observation was based on limited information, but i believe i covered myself by specifically talking about the limited examples of his playing in certain positions, eg, SG.
    and yes, i think it is much easier to note the kind of potential a player may have, when observing him in limited instances, as opposed to concluding based on those same limited examples that a player cannot do certain things.
    stephen curry could shoot and it would not take watching 10 games to understand that fact.  whether he will continue to be an atrocious defender is something no one can tell just yet.  he may get better, he may continue to be really bad.  only time will tell.
    likewise, it is easy to see that a 6’11″ daye can be an excellent post option against your typical 6’6″ shooting guard.  you only need to see him do it a couple of times to understand the possibilities.
    whether he will ever become a better defender against guards and forwards is something that will take time to determine, imho.

  • Mar 8, 20115:16 pm
    by brgulker


    I think this is all very solid analysis, Dan.
    Purely personal opinion here, but I’m skeptical that Daye will become a 20ppg guy at any point in his career. I think mid teens is much more likely, approximating what Tay has done throughout his career.
    I also don’t think this is a bad thing. We’ve had Tay playing very solid ball for a long time. To find another similar player in the middle of the first round would be excellent.
    But, he’s not there yet.

  • Mar 9, 20118:22 am
    by detroitpcb


    a list of other things Daye does beside shoot:

    1) He boxes out almost every play. While he sometimes gets physically manhandled and pushed out of the way, he also gets his share of tough rebounds in traffic. And he will only improve in this area as he gets stronger in his core

    2) He passes very well. He makes the swing pass on rotations. He can pass off the dribble. He is excellent at feeding the post. The one thing he does not do well yet is to pass out of the post when double teamed. He is not strong enough and gets overwhelmed and turns the ball over. Otherwise though, he is not turnover prone.

    3) he sees the floor very well, has that intangible thing called court awareness. is a very smart player.

    4) when not hindered by having to deal with a screen (his biggest weakness is getting around screens) he moves his feet well, positions himself well defensively to help teammates with lane penetration and takes charges.

    5) he gets some blocked shots because of his length

    6) he hits clutch shots. He is not just a first quarter shooter. he makes them in the fourth guarter when they count.

    and finally – if he didn’t have to play with Will (i never pass the ball when i can drive and get it rejected or turn it over) Bynum, he would be averaging a lot more points this season. Daye rarely gets the ball when he wants it. Even when he does get it, it is usually a second or two late as Bynum consciously decides whether to pass to the open man instead of just seeing the open man and delivering the ball.

    • Mar 9, 201111:46 am
      by Patrick Hayes


      “He is not just a first quarter shooter. he makes them in the fourth guarter when they count.”

      Did baskets start counting for five points in the fourth quarter now?

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