Over-valuing youth: Detroit Pistons fans should avoid making the same mistake with Austin Daye that they did with Rodney Stuckey


Rodney Stuckey is a solid NBA player. He’d be a rotation player on any team and he’s a starting-caliber player on some poor teams.

And typically, for a mid-first-round, non-lottery pick, that would be better than good. Other guys picked at Stuckey’s spot (No. 15 in the draft) in recent years: Cedric Simmons, Antoine Wright, Reece Gaines, Bostjan Nachbar and Steven Hunter, to name a few. It doesn’t mean that really good players are never found in the middle of the first round, it just means it’s rare. There are as many guys who are busts as there are guys who are versatile, rotation players. So Stuckey represents tremendous value based on where he was picked.

But unfortunately, ‘solid’ isn’t good enough for him, and that is not Stuckey’s fault. The Pistons organization put ridiculous expectations on him by anointing him as a future All-Star when he only had a handful of NBA games under his belt, deeming him ready to take over as the leader of a playoff team in his second year and giving away their best player, Chauncey Billups, who was still productive at the time, to clear more minutes for the untested Stuckey.

Stuckey has been decent at times, spectacular on occasion and dreadful every once in a while, which is pretty common for most solid but not great players. But the team’s expectations for what he could become haven’t materialized, giving Stuckey undue pressure that guys from small colleges picked in the middle of the first round typically don’t have to deal with.

And I’m starting to think that many who follow the team have learned nothing from that experience of overvaluing potential rather than focusing on the tangible. Check out this Tweet from Pistons.com writer Keith Langlois during last night’s Pistons-Suns game:

"Don’t have to watch Daye too long to grasp that 3, 4 years from now, there’s a kid who could be a top-10 scorer in the NBA."

Langlois’ point is not the first time I’ve heard a Pistons writer or fan express a similar sentiment. DetroitPCB trumpets Daye’s potential frequently in the comments. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News also has parroted Daye’s virtues pretty reliably this season. I just don’t understand the need to get so far ahead of ourselves simply because a kid is long and has a nice jumpshot.

In the last five seasons, scoring averages for the 10th place scorer have ranged from a low of 23.1 points per game to a high of 25.1 points per game. I realize Daye has been given really limited minutes and his spot in the rotation has never really been figured out. But he’s also never scored 20 points in a NBA regular season game. He’s scored in double figures in only 17 of 93 career games.

Again, he has rarely been given big enough minutes to expect major scoring outputs whenever he steps on the court, but he’s also done precious little to suggest he’s going to become one of the most prolific scorers in the league, as Langlois suggests he could easily become down the road. In the last five years, only 22 different players have finished in the top 10 in scoring. A few are guys who are going to fall off soon due to age — Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Dirk Nowitzki for example. But LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Chris Bosh, Danny Granger, Monta Ellis, Chris Paul and Amar’e Stoudemire are nine guys who virtually yearly locks to be in the top 10 in scoring and are all still in their 20s. Plus, there are young prolific scorers like Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and John Wall knocking at that door. And unlike Daye, most of those players showed from the minute they stepped in the NBA that they had potential to be volume scorers. To think that he can suddenly join that group of names just seems way too optimistic a prediction.

This isn’t meant on a knock on Daye at all. He’s a good shooter, he finishes well, he has a mid-range game and a couple of go-to moves and a nice array of release points as he gets to the basket that he’s comfortable using to get shots off. But expecting that he’s going to turn into one of the best scorers in the league is simply putting undue pressure on a player who was also a mid-first round pick for a reason — strength and durability are still question marks, and he’s not a very good defender right now, although his length certainly affords him the ability to bother shots.

Truth be told, Pistons fans should be thrilled if Daye, who like Stuckey was picked 15th overall, simply turns into a rotation player. Since 2000, Al Jefferson and Stuckey are the only two No. 15 overall picks who even average double figure scoring in their careers. It’s not impossible to find above average starting-caliber players outside the lottery or later, but it’s also not easy.

Daye represents value if he’s able to provide competent minutes on a consistent basis. He might become much more valuable than simply a solid NBA player, and I certainly hope he does. But it’s completely unreasonable to expect that he’ll become an elite scorer minus any evidence other than circumstantial opinions about his potential and a good preseason/summer league run.

The fact is, few modern era elite scorers failed to crack their team’s rotation as rookies. The only cases I can really think of are guys like Gilbert Arenas or Michael Redd, who were second round picks and thus had a tougher road to playing time than first rounders early in their careers. Dirk Nowitzki averaged single digits his rookie year in Dallas and Kevin Martin also did in Sacramento, but both of those players also were reliable rotation players with consistent minutes by the start of their second seasons. Daye was out of the rotation most of his rookie season and he’s yet to earn consistent playing time from Pistons coaches this season.

There are probably plenty of explanations for that — I know some chalk it up to incompetence of the coaching staff or Daye being a casualty of the team being stuck with a veteran roster of guys that need to play in order to be showcased for trades. Maybe there’s some legitimacy to those reasons, maybe there’s not. But overall, Daye has had precious little actual production that shows he’s capable of becoming the major scorer many think he should become.

The Pistons made it damn near impossible for Stuckey to succeed in Detroit because of unrealistic expectations they themselves created for him by constantly harping on his potential. They need Daye to turn into a major player because the organization has assembled a bad roster with little flexibility, thus making it imperative that the young players on the team make dramatic improvements. But just because people in the front office are banking on that improbable level of improvement, just like they were with Stuckey, doesn’t mean it’s a fair expectation that Daye will become that type of impact player.