I’m just joking. After a visit from Joe Abunassar of Impact Basketball in Las Vegas (seriously, can this guy just be added to the coaching staff?), who he worked out with all summer, Austin Daye showed his full, tantalizing offensive repertoire, the one that made him such an intriguing prospect in the first place, the beautiful skillset that, despite how abysmally he’s played, keeps a vocal contingent of fans strongly in his corner. Daye scored 28 points in 30 minutes and only needed 18 shots to do it. He hit four of his eight 3-pointers.
For the first time this season, he didn’t pass up shots that he can make. He didn’t over-dribble. He didn’t shrink after the few mistakes he made. He played freely, effectively, confident and with energy. As a result, he played 30 minutes in a game for only the 10th time in his career. It’s no secret that Daye’s most dangerous weapon is his jump shot. When he was passing them up to dribble, he was hurting the team. Against Miami, he wasn’t passing them up and, as happens with all good shooters, they started going in. Then, surprise surprise, the defense adjusted, played him tighter and this gave him opportunities to put the ball on the floor, make a few nice passes and show off some other understated elements of his game.
The formula isn’t a difficult one. It’s unrealistic to expect 28 points per game from him, but it’s not unrealistic at all to expect him to play this well. Daye has the ability to be one of the league’s best shooters. Even in limited minutes last year, shooting 40 percent from three wasn’t an accident. He has a pure, natural shot, a quick release and the height to get it off against anyone. He has other offensive skills that are valuable situationally. He can dribble sometimes. He has a mid-range game. He has a nice, un-blockable floater that he can get off in the lane. It’s all dependent on the long-range jumper though. If that part of his game isn’t working, he’s not skilled enough in the other areas to be much of a factor on offense. But if the shot is falling, and with as good as his shot is, it usually should be falling, those more subtle skills he has suddenly make him a more dangerous player and a tougher cover.
Last season, Daye had some success against the Heat, but also made mistakes as a result of Miami’s size and strength on the perimeter. Tonight, that hardly fazed him. Miami didn’t play well and also played without Dwyane Wade. But LeBron James was still around as were Shane Battier and Mike Miller. All three of those guys are much stronger than Daye. All three are solid or better defensively. All three guarded Daye at times and weren’t shy about using their strength advantages to try and push him around.
I’ve seen Daye play well for the Pistons, but even in those moments, Daye’s physical limitations were still very apparent. He still shied away from contact, he still struggled when defenders resorted to clutch and grab tactics. This was the first time I’ve watched Daye in three seasons and didn’t get distracted by his physical strength disadvantages. This season, Daye’s body of work has been far more bad than good, but in a single night, he’s earned his way back into the rotation and for now, that’s enough.
Monroe had a brutal performance (as did the entire team) against Oklahoma City. He was bothered by Oklahoma City’s strong interior defense and he missed several close-range shots. If he’s truly an All-Star level big man, he can’t miss shots like that, especially against a good team where opportunities around the basket are limited.
He was 8-for-14, he exploited Miami’s weak centers (apologies, Eddy Curry) and he grabbed 10 rebounds. He was back to the Monroe he’s been all season. But, he’s also still a work in progress. The Pistons had no answer for Chris Bosh, and at some point, the Pistons need Monroe to be able to at the very least make things tough for players like Bosh. He and the other Pistons bigs couldn’t do that tonight.
Monroe also had a good look from close range that would’ve given the Pistons the lead in the final minute. He didn’t make it. That’s OK, but the Pistons are also counting on him to be the focal point of the offense, so at some point those are shots he’s going to be relied on to make. For now, it’s progress enough for him to simply bounce back from his worst performance with another strong one.
Wilkins starts for Prince
Tayshaun Prince is still a solid veteran capable of occasional good performances. Much was made of the Pistons re-signing him long-term largely for his intangible qualities — intelligence, leadership, defense, etc. I don’t agree with the signing, but I also don’t disagree with the sentiment. Rebuilding teams that don’t pay any attention at all to maturity, leadership and intangibles in the locker room end up as the Washington Wizards. No one wants that.
My beef though, is that Wilkins essentially showed tonight why the Prince signing was unnecessary. Is Wilkins is good a player as Prince? No. But can he deliver intangible qualities like toughness, defense, intelligence, maturity and being a good teammate for a fraction of the cost? His performance against Miami in 34 minutes gave a resounding ‘yes.’ Wilkins (and Rodney Stuckey, Daye and Jonas Jerebko in more limited turns) did about all a defensive player can do against LeBron James, made things difficult for him. He hustled, played with toughness and played with energy. He didn’t play perfectly — he probably should’ve passed on a couple of his 3-point attempts and he turned it over three times. But he gave decent enough minutes and his energy was a nice compliment to the young players.
The reasons Prince was brought back were valid and justifiable ones. The Pistons just could’ve got those qualities for a much cheaper price.
“It ain’t the same”
A reporter asked Ben Wallace after the game if it was good to hear just a bit of cheers and fans yelling “DEEEEETROIT BAAASKETBALL” for one of the first times this season. Laughing, Wallace responded with the above quote. He’s right — the comparison to the energy of the Palace right now to the Palace during Wallace’s prime years is ridiculous to think about.
But for this team, right now, this is as good as it gets. And for this team, tonight’s game was entertaining. It was fun to see Daye, Knight and Monroe as the team’s driving forces. It was fun to see the team have a chance to win it. It was fun to see Monroe as the guy who got the ball down one in the closing seconds. It doesn’t matter so much that the team lost. What matters is that the young players are asserting themselves and the veteran players are content to let them do that. Even if the results are still a bad team on the court, it’s a positive development compared to last season.