In win over Pacers, Austin Daye makes case to start at small forward next year

For a Pistons team that’s often already in offseason mode, Austin Daye burst into what’s hopefully next-season mode against the Pacers.

Want to start next season? Keep playing like this.

As an ugly season nears its end, the Pistons must identify a blueprint for improvement, or they’ll sit in the same position at this time next year. Tonight, Daye drew himself (albeit, in pencil) into those plans as their starting small forward next season.

He had seven points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal – numbers that fail to properly describe his impact and promise – in  a 100-88 win over the Pacers tonight.

A 5-0 Indiana run to start the fourth quarter against five Pistons bench players will give John Kuester haters ammunition. Lottery lovers will bemoan Detroit’s victory. Richard Hamilton fans will use his 23-point, six-assist performance to claim he deserved more minutes all along.

But the honest-to-goodness story of this game was one any Pistons fan can support: Austin Daye is getting better, and he’s inching closer to deserving a starting spot next year. 

Daye missed his first five shots and played nearly six minutes before making any statistical contribution outside of field-goal attempts. He seemed mired in the funk that had permeated over his game the last couple weeks.

Sure, Daye played fairly well against the Cavaliers last night, but he hardly proved the performance was anything more than a brief respite from his slump. Tonight, Daye built on that Cleveland game and, for the first time in a long time, looked like a starting-caliber NBA player.

After his rough start, Daye stopped looking for his shot – and get this, he still helped the team! Think the Pistons could find a starting spot for a player who can positively impact the game without looking to score?

Daye dunked and made a layup on assists from Tayshaun Prince and Hamilton and grabbed two rebounds late in the second quarter, helping Detroit take a one-point halftime lead.

The Pacers never led again. Daye made sure of that.

In the third quarter, Daye spearheaded one of the Pistons’ best stretches of basketball this season. Defensively, he stuck in front of his man, deflected passes and rotated quickly. Offensively, he moved the ball and spaced the floor.

Daye has shown he can shoot like a starter. Tonight, he indicated he can play like a starter.

Finally, Daye shot, making a 3-pointer that served as an exclamation point on a 21-3 run, which gave Detroit an 18-point lead.

After the game, Daye was asked about the playoffs, which Detroit still has a slim mathematical chance of making.

“I think about it all the time,” Daye said after laughing enough to prevent himself from actually processing how naïve those thoughts are.

Next year, Daye might have more of a chance to do something about it. That begins with securing a starting spot now.

Charlie Villanueva takes one step forward, no steps backward

Charlie Villanueva scored 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting in 12 minutes. But that’s not really the point, is it?

It would be easy to look at Villanueva’s performance as vindication. He received a DNP-CD against Cleveland and didn’t enter tonight’s game until the fourth quarter. In some ways, every shot Villanueva made was a “take that” to John Kuester, whose quick hook of Villanueva against Miami sparked the pointing-barking-benching-quote-quote parade.

But we already knew Villanueva is capable of superb offensive performances. He still hasn’t proven he can consistently deliver them or rebound or defend.

Villanueva did everything that was asked of him tonight – and more. But he never really had the opportunity to prove his rebounding or defensive mettle. On nights hye has those chances, he’ll have have to take advantage. Until he does that, I can’t put much more faith in him a player.

By the way, this was just Villanueva’s second game where he shot perfectly from the field. No 1-for-1s or 2-for-2, just a lonely 3-for-3 as a Buck in 2006.

That says a lot about his game – trigger happy when he thinks he has it going and not accurate enough to actually sustain it.

I don’t want to take too much away from Villanueva’s superb night, but it was only one night from a player who’s definitely capable of superb nights. I hope he’s not too satisfied with how he played, though.

I’d like to see him have a superb season, and maybe even a superb career – and that will take not resting on his laurels after one superb night.

Richard Hamilton turns back the clock

Richard Hamilton has played like HOAM, the superhero version of himself, so often lately, he as might as well wear his mask every game. Wait, he sort of already does that.

With 23 points on 7-of-13 shooting tonight, Hamilton is averaging 18.75 points on 48.74 percent shooting in his last eight games.

The last time he scored so many points in an eight-game stretch was March of last year.

The last time he shot such a high percentage in an eight-game stretch was February 2009. (He also averaged 21.63 points per game in that span.)

Maybe this allows the Pistons to trade Hamilton in the summer. Maybe this convinces them to trade Ben Gordon. Maybe they’ll draft two shooting guards and keep both Hamilton and Gordon. Who knows?

In the meantime, I’m just enjoying watching Hamilton play with a passion and energy I haven’t seen from him in years.

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Tags: Austin Daye Charlie Villanueva John Kuester Richard Hamilton

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