Austin Daye atones for earlier mistakes in Pistons win over Philadelphia

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With a crazy scoring binge by Jrue Holiday in the fourth quarter that helped make the Pistons lead evaporate, I was all set to conclude the Pistons season by writing a familiar recap: the Pistons couldn’t hold on in a game they controlled.

And I was also all set to focus on a player who had a disappointing night despite hitting the 30 minute mark for only the third time in the last two months.

Austin Daye‘s development is a major key to Detroit’s future viability. That’s what has made his ending to the 2010-11 season so disappointing. It’s not that Daye has been bad over the final two months. He hasn’t at all. It’s just that, despite a slight up-tick in minutes over the last two months (about 21 a game in March and April vs. about 19 a game for the season), I was hoping to see Daye start to pull away and make his case for a starting spot next season. Against Philly on Wednesday, getting extended minutes, Daye wasn’t leaving a good impression.

He shot the ball badly — 2-for-10 from the field and 0-for-3 from 3-point range. Many of those looks were good, open ones. His defense was poor — he was beat off the dribble badly by Jason Kapono, of all people, for a layup late in the fourth quarter that cut the Pistons lead to one. With Philadelphia down just three with seconds remaining, Daye gave Kapono, Philly’s most dangerous 3-point shooter, way too much space on a corner three that luckily rimmed out.

But on one play, Daye somewhat atoned for his bad night. With the Pistons up two and less than :30 seconds to go, Daye caught the ball in an iso on the wing, faced up, put the ball on the floor and got to the basket, finishing in traffic and giving control of the game to the Pistons.

I don’t want to grasp at straws too much and act as if one play is going to make or break Daye’s future, but after having a bad game, after missing open shots that he normally makes, the Daye from earlier this season wouldn’t have been aggressive in that instance. He would have given the ball up to a teammate or maybe even not called for the ball at all. Hell, he probably wouldn’t have even been on the floor. But regardless, the play represented an aggression, a growth in Daye that is a positive. The Pistons need growth out of a lot of their young players next season, but Daye is the guy who, some nights, looks like he can score 20 points per game. Some nights, he looks like he can become a bothersome perimeter defender because of his height. If Daye takes the mentality he had on that one Philly possession and builds his offseason around it, things will be looking much better for the Pistons next season.

Stuckey’s game-winning plays

That’s how you close a season. We’ve talked about Rodney Stuckey’s play a lot over the last few games. Since coming back from his two-game benching, Stuckey has played with every bit the promise Joe Dumars has seen in him all these years. It remains to be seen whether Stuckey has finally figured out what it takes to be a success in this league or if he was simply playing harder than normal to try and rebuild some value as he hits restricted free agency. An aggressive, engaged Stuckey is a dangerous player, and his season-concluding line against Philly was impressive: 29 points (9-for-15 shooting), 8 assists, 2 steals, 10-for-11 free throws. He also made two game-winning plays in the fourth quarter.

The obvious one is the shot. With the game tied at 97-97 and just over a minute left, Stuckey’s jumper gave the Pistons the lead for good.

But the not so obvious one was on defense right before that shot. Stuckey got the Pistons the ball back by stepping in front of Spencer Hawes and drawing a charge.

Stuckey proponents have long maintained that he has immense potential at the defensive end because of his strength, quickness and wingspan. The problem, just like on offense, has been getting Stuckey consistently motivated enough to make plays at both ends. The Pistons are a different team if Stuckey can actually play as hard as he has the last couple weeks for an entire season. As soon as the news about him refusing to enter the lineup against Chicago broke, I was ready for the team to move on. Now, I’m right back to square one with Stuckey: he’s a maddeningly frustrating player who gives the impression that the second you give up on him, he’s going to put it all together.

He’ll likely be back in Detroit on the qualifying offer next season, and if that’s the case, I’ll be extremely disappointed by anything less than high level production from him.

A relief it’s over

Dan and I are sure to bombard you all with more season wrap-up stuff over the next few days, as well as some cool offseason features over the summer. But for now, it just feels good to be through this.

The players on the Pistons team are not bad people. I will truly root for Tayshaun Prince and Rip Hamilton if both end up elsewhere next season. If Ben Wallace retires, expect a PistonPowered post from me expecting his jersey to be immediately retired (and not the No. 6) as well as extolling his Hall of Fame virtues. I’ll still be an irrational, unapologetic fan of Tracy McGrady, as I was before he was a Piston.

I think everyone who followed the team from beginning to end — and there have been a few loyalists in the comments who have stuck with us all season while others have, somewhat understandably, needed to step away for a bit — probably feels a range of emotion about this season. After we spent months with little hope, with the team in a holding pattern, with the organization able to do or say little about the situation it was in, the single most important piece of news of the season didn’t break until this month when Dancin’ Tom Gores purchased the team.

Now I kind of can’t wait for next season to start. The Pistons have exciting young players in Greg Monroe, Jonas Jerebko, Daye and (if he’s engaged and motivated) Stuckey. They’ll add a lottery pick to that mix. They’ll possibly have sign and trade options for Prince, who had a nice bounce-back season. Hamilton even repaired some of his value by closing the season shooting the ball better and fighting with the coach less. The Pistons’ prospects are not as bleak as they looked most of this season and I have a feeling that next season will bring a lot of excitement back to the Palace.

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