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Austin Daye, Pistons’ Starting Power Forward?

Last week I posted an Expected Scoring profile for the Pistons’ Austin Daye. I don’t follow the Pistons closely, but watched Daye quite a bit at Gonzaga and did a fair amount of digging into his strengths and weaknesses for the Expected Scoring profile. That’s why I was so surprised to read this morning that Daye may have won the starting power forward job for the Pistons. This is not surprising because of his potential, which is considerable, but because it doesn’t seem to be the position which would best play to his strengths.

Daye has great versatility as a scorer, capable of knocking down shots inside and out. He is long, reasonably athletic and a good rebounder for a small forward. However, his lack of strength leaves visions of consistent abuse he might take on the glass and on defense in a role primarily at power forward. I know the Pistons experimented with him at both forwards spots as well as at shooting guard last season, so I decided to look at the numbers by position and get a handle on this idea.

Daye played 912 minutes last season with Detroit. I dove into the 5-man unit data from Basketball Value and found that only 34.35 of those minutes, or roughly 3.7% of his total minutes played, came at the power forward position. 273.2 of his minutes, or 30%, were spent at shooting guard. So clearly Daye didn’t have a lot of experience at power forward last season, but maybe the results were promising. I looked a little closer at the 5-man unit data from BV and put together some graphs showing the Pistons’ Offensive and Defensive Ratings as well as their Offensive and Defensive Rebound Rates, broken down by what position Daye was playing. If you prefer the spreadsheet, the link is here.

The only scenario where the Pistons were above average defensively was with Daye at shooting guard. With Daye at small forward the team was slightly above average offensively, scoring 106.2 Points per 100 Possessions. However, the team struggled mightily on defensive allowing 116.7 Points per 100 Possessions. With Daye at power forward the team posted a very strong 115.9 Offensive Rating, and an absolutely atrocious 122.2 Defensive Rating. Keep in mind that we are only talking about 34 minutes here, so a very small sample size.

In terms of offensive rebounding the Pistons were terrific with Daye on the floor at any position. Their Offensive Rebound Rates were above 40% with him at shooting guard or at power forward. As good as they were on the offensive glass, they were just as bad on the defensive glass, with Defensive Rebound Rates hovering around 65%. These rebounding numbers would seem to be heavily influenced by Daye’s physical attributes. Tom Haberstroh at Hardwood Paroxysm did some analysis this summer looking at the correlation between height and rebound percentages. Height has a much higher correlation with offensive rebounding, as it appears to be a more random proposition. Defensive Rebounding, which is more dependent on strength and positioning, is not as affected by height.

The second place I looked for information was 82games.com counterpart stats for Austin Daye. 82games tracks a few of a player’s individual stats by position and then compares them to the stats put up by the opponent playing opposite them at the same position. The table below shows the counterpart stats for Austin Daye last season (all stats are per 48 minutes):

There are lots of strange comparisons in this table, likely due to the small sample size in his minutes at shooting guard and small forward. The key number to me seems to be that the smallest differential in PER (Player Efficiency Rating) between Daye and his counterpart came when Daye was playing small forward.

The last thing I wanted to look at was Daye’s statistics compared to an average small forward and an average power forward (all stats are per 48 minutes):

*Points-per-shot = [PTS-FTM]/FGA
*Adjusted Field Goal Percentage = PPS/2
*Net Possessions = Rebounds + Steals – Turnovers

For each comparison, categories highlighted in green are ones where Daye was better than the average player at that position. Comparisons in red are categories where Daye was worse than the average player at that position. Regardless of position, Daye will likely be above average with respect to scoring efficiency, turnovers and blocked shots. In addition, his field goal attempts and points scored will likely catch up with an average player as he assumes a larger role in the team’s offense this season; again regardless of position. The most important areas for me are rebounding and net possessions. Daye is a very strong rebounder at the small forward position, but his numbers are way below average when compared to other power forwards.

Now it’s entirely possible that Daye’s designation as starting power forward is mostly about the title. There should be plenty of opportunities for him to slide to small forward with Tayshaun Prince off the floor. Having him start will give the Pistons an opportunity to keep him on the floor as much as possible and benefit from his terrific scoring efficiency. However, when he is on the floor at the power forward position the team will be at a rebounding and defensive disadvantage. Looking over the rest of the Pistons roster it may be that this is preferrable to some of the other options at that position. (This scenario likely wouldn’t have occurred without the injury to Jonas Jerebko). Or perhaps the coaching staff has thoughtfully decided that the benefit of his scoring efficiency will balance out the disadvantages at the other end of the floor. Or maybe they have seen something in practice or preseason that makes them think Daye has progressed physically or in his skill set enough to have a different experience at power forward this season.  

Daye is a promising young player with terrific potential. One has to hope that being pressed into duty at a position that doesn’t provide the best opportunities for him to be successful, will push him to develop as a player and not stunt his growth. I don’t normally root for the Pistons, but for Daye’s sake I’m certainly rooting for this experiment to be successful.

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