The Grizzlies 105-88 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves yesterday was encouraging for a myriad of reasons. For one thing, Mike Conley had one of his best games in awhile, going for 16 points and 8 assists. Additionally, newcomer Tayshaun Prince looked impressive, racking up 18 points, and getting us a bit closer to the point where we can say “Rudy who?” The return of Quincy Pondexter was a wonderful sight as well, especially since his excellent three point shooting will really come in handy during the playoffs. One of the more under-the-radar stories from yesterday was the excellent play of Austin Daye, who chipped in 16 points, looking like a great natural scorer in the process.
Out of all the players acquired by the Grizzlies in the Rudy Gay trade, Daye was by far the least heralded. We talked about what Tayshaun could do defensively, and how much potential Ed Davis has, but Daye received almost no press whatsoever upon his arrival in Memphis, seeming like an afterthought who would struggle mightily to even crack the rotation. You couldn’t blame the fans and press for feeling this way; Daye had been struggling in Detroit, and when a player can’t make an impact on a bad team, it makes you wonder how he could possibly doing anything noteworthy on a good team.
Daye has been a revelation since arriving in Memphis, however, scoring in double figures twice, and looking he like he might be the shooter off the bench the Grizzlies need. Daye could do wonders for the Grizzlies with his ability to stretch the floor. While he’s usually a small forward, he’s tall enough that it’s not impossible to envision him at the 4. Doing so would really the help Grizzlies with spacing, while giving Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph some much-needed rest.
Daye seems like a player who could be rejuvenated by a change of scenery. Up until now, he had spent his entire career trapped on below average Pistons teams who had little hope of going anywhere. This is Daye’s chance to contribute to a legitimate contender, and it appears that he wants to make the most of it.
Admittedly, Daye might struggle to earn playing time in the future. Coach Lionel Hollins has had an aversion to give major minutes to Ed Davis, but at some point, he will have to relent. Davis is simply to good of a player to be wasting away on the bench, especially when he could be contributing significantly to the second unit. the return of Pondexter could eat into Daye’s minutes as well, as he goes back into the role of backup small forward. Once all of this goes into effect, Daye will have to work to earn minutes as the Grizzlies rotation becomes increasingly crowded.
Still, it’s hardly a stretch to think he could continue having a positive effect on the Grizzlies going forward. Other than Daye, the only bench player who can shoot threes is Pondexter, and in the playoffs, they’re going to need more firepower than that. While it might requite some lineup juggling, Daye has been good enough that Hollins will need to find some way to get him minutes, even as Davis starts occupying a larger role, and Pondexter begins occupying his old role. His potential to help the team is too high for him to not get any minutes. If he goes into a slump, that’s one thing, but for the time being, Daye should be seeing about 15-20 minutes a game, although that may turn into 10-15 minutes over time.
No matter how much he plays, though, Austin Daye was a far better acquisition for the Grizzlies than we would’ve thought at the time. In time, he might look like the biggest steal of the trade. He might not be a star, but thanks to his quality shooting, he might be just what the Grizzlies were looking for.