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Kevin Durant’s lessons could pay off big for Austin Daye

BALTIMORE – With a steady handle, he drove past opponents and created room for his pull-up jumpers. His markedly improved athleticism allowed him to finish at the rim. His dunks were hard, and his jumpers were soft.

No, not Austin Daye – at least not yet. I’m talking about Kevin Durant.

The Oklahoma City Thunder star scored 59 points in the the Melo League’s 149-141 win over the Goodman League on Tuesday night, but it’s not that difficult to imagine Daye nearing (not equaling) the ability to produce like that.

Daye has worked out with Durant often this summer, and the Piston planned to work out with Durant in Washington D.C. this week. Coincidentally, this exhibition was slated for the same time, and Daye could join Durant’s Goodman League team.

It wasn’t the best venue to show off his training, but I really hope Daye is picking up a lot from Durant. Like Durant did his first year in the league, Daye is probably best-suited to play shooting guard until he gets stronger. In his first two years, Daye has mostly played the forward positions and catered his skills for the frontcourt.

Durant can give Daye pointers about playing both oversized shooting guard and weak small forward (neither completed a single bench press at their pre-draft combine).

“I’m just learning different combinations of moves and things like that, incorporating my game,” Daye said. “As far as learning curve, I mean, I learned a lot already from my father. So, it’s hard to teach me a lot of new things. But just to get better at certain things.”

As troubling as it seems at first glance to hear Daye say it’s hard to teach him new things, he’s right. For a player his age and caliber, he’s very polished. Most guys so young struggle because their skills are so raw. That’s not the case for Daye. He hasn’t earned a permanent rotation spot yet because his defense and mental focus drift too often, not because his skills lack refinement.

That’s where I think Durant can come in.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Daye said. “He’s a similar player to me, so I like working out with guys like that – especially a guy his caliber.”

I really hope Daye picks up on how Durant carries himself. Durant isn’t one of the best players in the NBA because he’s more skilled than Daye (although, he is). He’s one of the best players in the NBA because he brings it every night, because he’s worked on his defense, because he’s always looking for an edge.

If last night’s game was any indication – although, I honestly don’t think it was – Daye found his edge. He played relatively straightforwardly when everyone else was going for flash. That’s a big reason he scored 23 points, fourth-most in the game behind Durant, LeBron James (32) and Carmelo Anthony (27). I’m not sure Daye’s scoring showed anything about his NBA ability, though.

But Daye’s defense impressed me. He blocked a few shots and challenged a few more. Sure, Gary Neal made a few 3-pointers over him, and LeBron dunked on him. But that was a product of being there. Most defenders never got close enough to be embarrassed.

Throughout the contest, I said Daye was the the Defensive Player of the Game. Although I was half-kidding about the need to even recognize defense in an unorganized exhibition, and although Beckley Mason of HoopSpeak kept making fun of my stance, it was true: Daye played the game’s best defense. Realize that’s a low bar, but I’ll never complain about him showing defensive intensity.

After the game, Daye had hoped to meet up with Richard Hamilton, who lived in Maryland during the offseason. Daye also said he’s been keeping most in touch with Charlie Villanueva this summer.

When he re-connects with the rest of his teammates – whenever that may be – hopefully, he can tell them about his career-defining summer with Kevin Durant.

23 Comments

  • Aug 31, 201112:29 pm
    by brgulker

    Reply

    it’s not that difficult to imagine Daye nearing (not equaling) the ability to produce like that.

    Really? So far the only thing Daye has done with any consistency is make wide open jumpshots.  The only thing the two players have in common is their wiry frame. 

    Austin Daye’s best case scenario is Tayshaun Prince, not Kevin Durant.  I find the comparison rather ridiculous, actually. If Austin Daye were not a Piston, no Piston writer would be making this comparison. 

    There’s no chance Daye becomes a Durant clone or approximation. Let’s hope more realistically that he can become starting material.

    • Aug 31, 20111:14 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I’m with you on not comparing Daye to Durant when it comes to possible production. There’s a couple commenters who do it and it drives me nuts.

      But I will say that stylistically, I think his game/skillset is much more similar to Durant’s than Prince’s. In fact, I think the only reason people compare Prince and Daye is because both are skinny. The reality is, their games couldn’t be more different. Prince has never been a knock-down perimeter shooter. He’s never been particularly good as a face-up player, preferring to back his man down as his means of creating a shot. From what we’ve seen of Daye, it’s clear he can shoot. His form is fantastic, his release is natural and quick and, with regular minutes, at the very least he’d turn into a reliable James Jones-esque floor stretcher. But he’s also shown flashes of a face up game. He handles the ball well for his size, he’s crafty around the basket and he has a floater that he’s shown.

      I don’t expect that his production will ever come close to matching Durant’s. I’d be thrilled if he became even a 15 ppg scorer in this league. But I will say that I’m very excited by the fact that he’s spent a good part of this summer working with Durant. I don’t think there’s a star player I’d rather have Daye work with, actually.

      • Aug 31, 20112:25 pm
        by tarsier

        Reply

        You have to admit though, the line that Ben highlighted certainly seems to be saying that Daye could put up nearly as much production as Durant. I agree with your analysis of the situation (and with neutes’ below) but I read that line and thought to myself, “What the heck, Dan isn’t comparing their styles here, he is saying that Daye could easily end up being nearly as productive as Durant.” Now it’s possible I misinterpreted what he was trying to say, but such a misinterpretation is very reasonable given those words. And clearly I wasn’t the only one. But the rest of the article is good.

        • Aug 31, 20112:37 pm
          by Patrick Hayes

          Reply

          I don’t want to be Mr. Semantics, and certainly Dan I’m sure will explain what he meant, but read it one more time:

          “it’s not that difficult to imagine Daye nearing (not equaling) the ability to produce like that.”

          When I read it, particularly in conjunction with this sentence:

          “He hasn’t earned a permanent rotation spot yet because his defense and mental focus drift too often, not because his skills lack refinement.”

          my takeaway was that, as Nuetes pointed out below, the issue for Daye isn’t so much ability. He’s highly, highly skilled. Maybe the most skilled offensive player on the Pistons. His issues haven’t been about ability. I think Dan was saying that, physically, he has the ability to do some of the things that Durant does on the court. Where the wide gulf exists is in things like work ethic, toughness, basketball IQ, defense, etc. It’s not difficult to imagine Daye being a big-time scorer because we’ve seen the variety of ways he can score. I think the point is, if Daye is working on the other things that Durant does so well — tireless work ethic, basketball IQ, improving defensively, using his length/body to his advantage despite lacking strength — there’s a good chance he could improve significantly this season.

          • Aug 31, 20114:02 pm
            by tarsier

            i freely conceded that i may have misinterpreted. my point wasn’t that it was the only way of reading his words but that it was a perfectly understandable way of doing so. and as i said, i agreed with the rest of what he said.

          • Aug 31, 20114:11 pm
            by neutes

            When I see that line the word ‘imagine’ sticks out to me, and maybe this was Dan’s intent. I have no idea. I don’t find it too difficult to imagine Daye being really good. He certainly has the offensive skills and he’s not a bad rebounder either. I don’t think his skills will ever equate to production though. He’s missing something. He doesn’t attack the basket enough. He’s not aggressive, except when he gets the ball in his hands in a spot-up opportunity then he’s ready to let it fly. He could be using that crossover and getting into the lane, drawing fouls, tossing up floaters, etc. He could put his back to the basket. He could and can do a lot of things, but unless he’s really grown and learned from this summer league tour he’s been on I don’t expect my imagination to ever become a reality. If he wants to be a star, which I assume since he’s been associating himself with them all off-season, then he needs to more aggressive and realize what it takes.

  • Aug 31, 20111:38 pm
    by Jodi Jezz

    Reply

    Hahaha, Daye is good but he will never be the type of player Durrant is…Only thing they have in common is there tall body types, and skills to play to SG and SF…Like I’ve said earlier, sometimes I think these writers don’t know the game of basketball at all!! I think there in la-la land or maybe there stuck in basketball video games…Come on, lets get realistic…lol

    • Aug 31, 20111:42 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I love the irony of someone who can’t even spell ‘Durant’ complaining about someone else’s writing.

      Point me to any passage in here where Dan wrote that Daye is going to be as good as Durant. In fact, there are at least two instances where he very clearly says Daye will never be as good as Durant. He was comparing the following things: their body types; the fact that Durant started his NBA career playing shooting guard, which might also be Daye’s best position; the fact that they score in similar ways; the fact that they’ve spent a lot of time working out together this summer.

      Reading, it’s fundamental.

    • Sep 2, 20113:18 pm
      by Murph

      Reply

      Good post.  I agree that any comparison between Daye and Durant is ridiculous.  The only thing they have in common is that they’re both 6’11 and skinny.

      Durant is a rising superstar in this League.  He’s a two time All-Star and a two time Scoring Champion.  He’s an outstanding scorer and shooter, as proven by the fact that he’s averaged 26 ppg in the NBA for his entire career, while shooting 46% from the floor.

      Daye has been struggling to find minutes ever since he was drafted two years ago.  He’s averaged 6 ppg for his career, and he shot an anemic 41% from the floor last year.

      And the most ridiculous part of this comparison?  Austin Daye is actually OLDER than Durant.
       
      I can’t think of any player that compares to Daye, but it sure isn’t Durant (or Prince for that matter).

  • Aug 31, 20111:54 pm
    by neutes

    Reply

    I wouldn’t compare Daye to Prince in the slightest. In fact Durant is closer. This is funny how all these comparisons come out and we can all argue. Daye is offensively focused, has a well rounded skill oriented game. He’s capable of things that make you say wow, but he rarely flashes them. He has that crossover that he’s made some people look foolish with. He can drive. He just doesn’t do those things enough. He sits on the perimeter and likes that 3-point shot a little too much for my liking. Watching him play you just question things, because he can put his back to the basket, make a quick fade-away, has a crossover, can handle the ball, can pass out of post, he can pretty much do it all – he just doesn’t. And I don’t get it. One thing he can’t do is defend, which makes him non-comparable to Prince. Durant isn’t even that good of a defender. So if I had to say who he’s closer to in style I’d say Durant, even if he’s more likely to put up Prince type numbers.

  • Aug 31, 20112:35 pm
    by vic

    Reply

    Daye will be very good, but not even similar to Durant. He doesn’t even move like Durant.
    Durant moves like a tall skinny Michael Jordan. He’s skinny but still explosive and fast-twitch muscelish.

    Daye is too smooth and doesn’t really explode. He also doesn’t have that aggressive street-battle style of play. Daye’s ceiling is more like Reggie Miller – which is actually awesome.
    just my opinion though

  • Aug 31, 20114:21 pm
    by rob

    Reply

    I keep hearing about all these SL games. Where can we watch them and how do we know when they are?

    • Aug 31, 20114:32 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Mostly, they’re not being televised, which sucks. ESPN News had a few live look-ins last night, but unless you can find a livestream somewhere on the internet, there is usually no way to watch the pro am games.

      ESPN is, however, streaming some of the Eurobasket games online. A bunch aired this morning, but keep this link:

      http://espn.go.com/watchespn/index/_/source/espn3/

      You can check the schedule and watch games there. There were some good games this morning and a lot of NBA guys — Dirk, Kaman, Parker, Diaw, Gasols, etc. — playing.

  • Aug 31, 20114:26 pm
    by rob

    Reply

    On the article, everything sounded great until you mentioned he has been talking to CV the most. With all these great talents he’s worked with this summer, Charlie V’s influence on him almost negates all of them, lol. Durant and Charlie V couldn;t be more opposite ends of the spectrum, in terms of professionalism and work ethic. I think CV’s immaturity like playing xbox and tweeting all day, rubs off on Daye and contributes to his mental lapses and lack of focus in games, that he needs to correct.

    • Aug 31, 20114:37 pm
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      Hahaha. Speaking of Mr. Villanueva, he was reportedly benched during crunch time of the Dominican Republic’s game against Venezuela in the FIBA Americas tournament today.

      • Aug 31, 20119:13 pm
        by jayg108

        Reply

        I watched a bit of the Dom v Cuba game and CV looked alright.  I saw him grab a good rebound and found the fast break with a great pass.  Though, I did see that he still liked wandering around the 3 line instead of getting inside.

  • Aug 31, 20116:33 pm
    by hazen

    Reply

    Why does everyone have a hard on for Austin Daye?  Yes, he has a smooth shot, that is it. He is a liability on defense. He is WEAK. We do not need a skinnier Tayshaun Prince. He is more interested in twitter than his game. What worries me more about his developement as a player is that he is mostly keeping in touch with the worst AND LAZIEST Piston singing in recent history, Chuckie V!

  • Aug 31, 20119:06 pm
    by jayg108

    Reply

    RIF:lol
    I’ve read before (maybe here?) that Daye was more suitable for SG.  That’s when I started comparing Daye to Durant.  Daye seems a bit more cerebral than Durant, but that doesn’t mean Daye cannot stretch himself to be more explosive.  (Daye stretching himself-LTMS).
     
    Daye is a student of the game.  He will get even better in his deficits with the right atmosphere/mentors/trainers.  I wish T Mac was going to be around to work with him more.
     
    Great article on ESPN Dan.  How much were tickets going for?

  • Sep 1, 201112:16 am
    by Dan Feldman

    Reply

    I don’t think Daye can play like Durant does in the NBA, but I think he can score 59 points in a game where he gets to shoot nearly every possession and little defense is played. I think a lot of NBA players can do that. Not everyone, mind you, and probably not Daye right now. But I think Daye can get to the level at which Durant played Tuesday night. There’s a big difference between that level and the level at which Durant plays during NBA games.

    I should have been more clear.

  • Sep 1, 201110:29 am
    by Brian Johnson

    Reply

    I’ve been saying this since almost day one.  Play him at guard (SG)  At 6′ 11″ he will be able to get his shot off on anyone.  And he will be able to contest shots with his length.  He wont get posted up much by other 2 guards.  He doesn’t have to average 28ppg like KD but he can give us 15-17 easy.  I would start him with Stuck or Knight if Stuck leaves and bring BG off the bench.  We need to be innovative on this team and that’s what a 6 11″ two guard does.  Imagine your 4th quarter lineup with Stuck or (Knight) BG, Daye, Jonas and Monroe…nice

    • Sep 1, 201111:55 am
      by Patrick Hayes

      Reply

      I have no idea if that lineup will be any good, but I agree with you … I am really excited to watch it.

  • Sep 1, 20111:43 pm
    by detroitpcb

    Reply

    Daye has the potential to play like a combination of Durrant and Reggie Miller.

    He is not a poor defender. He has two weaknesses: lateral quickness and strength. His height allows him to compensate somewhat for both deficiencies. i expect him to get stronger and while his lateral quickness is unlikely to improve, Daye is a very smart player who will learn the players, their moves, and the best angles he can use to defend them. His length allows him both to challenge outside shots while playing off quicker players and to recover and block shots from behind when they go by him. He is going to be a solid defender.

    He is also a very good rebounder. He blocks out. He rebounds in traffic despite his slight frame. He will never be a rebounding liability at the two or three and as he gains strength he will also be able to rebound and defend the four.

    Daye does not have the twitch explosiveness of Durrant has the same range and confidence in his shot. Daye also has very good court vision and a nice handle. Despite being smooth and not explosive, Daye is going to be able to finish in traffic as he develops and gets stronger. His handle is also going to get better when defenders can no longer physically knoch=k him off the ball.

    This kid is going to be a 20 point scorer in the NBA if he is handled right and be a great #2 option for a NBA offense.

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