It’s time to expect more from Austin Daye

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

Sorry.

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.

Tags: Austin Daye