You don’t declare for the NBA Draft as a sophomore and then let the withdrawal deadline pass unless you’ve heard good things from the League. And you definitely don’t accept an invite to the Green Room unless you’re damn sure you’ll be gone somewhere near to the Lottery.
And yet there’s Austin Daye, in New York City, with a spot reserved in the Green Room next to Tyreke Evans and Blake Griffin and the rest of the top-flight incoming rookies despite having more doubts surrounding him than any first-round prospect.
On paper, Daye is a pro. At 6-10 and 192 pounds with a 7-2 wingspan, he has NBA size and NBA genes; his father, Darren Daye, played in the League for five years in the ’80s. Austin put up solid numbers this season at Gonzaga, averaging 12.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while hitting 42% of his threes. With that kind of build and versatility, Daye could be a middle-class man’s Earl Clark, or if you’re optimistic, a Danny Granger kind of player in the future.
“I’m a real unique player,” Daye told Dime in an interview during the season. “I think I fit more of the Dirk Nowitzki-type forward. I can shoot the ball, pass and handle real well. I’m always trying to find ways to get open. My movement is key, and I think that will only help my game in the future.”
Daye started off his freshman year with a couple of 20-10 stat lines against competition that wasn’t exactly Duke and UNC, but nonetheless suddenly started showing up at the top of 2010 mock drafts, sometimes as high as #2 overall. But ever since then, too many times he’s disappeared in big games and never seemed to live up to his potential.
By the time Daye declared for the ’09 Draft he was seen as a early-second round pick, late-first at best. Very few reports surfaced of Daye wowing teams in pre-draft workouts, and the consensus scouting report was that he had to prove he was physical enough to play in the League. It wasn’t until the deadline passed and Daye stayed in that he started to move up the mocks — probably because people assumed he must have gotten some promises from teams picking in the middle of the first round.
Here’s my thing: Any time a player has to prove something like “Can you be physical?” or “Can you shoot the ball?” in workouts, it’s because he didn’t show it on the court. You think the teams that worked out Stephen Curry were actually unsure if he could shoot? Or teams that worked out DeJuan Blair had to check and see if he was physical? So if a player hasn’t proven it on the court — in Daye’s case, during two years of regularly playing against high-major competition — what makes you think his performance in an empty gym is going to answer your questions?
In an empty gym, Shaq can shoot free throws and Eddie House can handle the ball and Stromile Swift has a plethora of post moves. But what happens when the lights come and and it’s gametime? This is how Darko Milicic gets picked ahead of Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh; how Nickoloz Tskitishvili goes ahead of Caron Butler and Amar’e Stoudemire and Tayshaun Prince.
With the Draft just a few hours away, Daye is still all over the board. Some reports have him as a second-rounder, while other have him in the late-teens or 20s in the first round. If he follows through and takes a seat in the Green Room, he’ll be the last guy to leave, but I do think he’ll go first round; if nothing else, out of pity by some team who doesn’t really need him but is willing to take a chance that the Draft Night experience will light a fire under him and maybe they’ll have another Randy Moss or Paul Pierce-sized chip on Daye’s shoulder.