Pretend for a moment that Tayshaun Prince walks as a free agent. (I'm not convinced Joe Dumars wants him gone, but who knows? Maybe the impending rebuild in Los Angeles will convince Prince to sign with his hometown Lakers.) With Prince out of the picture, who should start at small forward?
At the moment, it's a moot question: Austin Daye is the only small forward under contract for next season. (Jonas Jerebko, technically a restricted free agent, could be in the mix
if when he re-signs, but he was more productive at the four as a rookie, and will likely continue to be so after bulking up over the past 12 months.)
Is Daye ready to assume a starting load? He started 16 games this past season with respectable results: 11.4 points per game (vs. 6.3 per off the bench) to go with 4.4 boards (3.6) and .462 three-point shooting (.375).
On the surface this is encouraging, but it's worth noting he played as many as 30 minutes a game only six times all season. In his 16 starts, he averaged just 25.9 minutes, meaning he still spent nearly half the game on the bench. Does Daye have the stamina to play 30-32 minutes over 82 games? Only time will tell, but the fact that he's struggled to gain any weight after two years working with an NBA training staff has me concerned.
"He was probably up to 215-pounds by the start of the season," [Arnie] Kander said of the forward who's in line to replace Tayshaun Prince at small forward if the veteran free agent leaves.
"By the end of the year he had probably lost close to 10 pounds. ... He'll gain weight during the summer, guaranteed, every year. The problem is once you start to run during an NBA season, you're going to lose at least 10 of that during a season just because of the nature of the schedule. You're constantly running, not much recovery and all of that.
"After two years of an NBA life, the body starts to adapt and it starts to learn it has to push through different levels of soreness. He has to be able to eat when the body is extremely exhausted and tired. You have to push fluids when you can't put anymore in your system. It's as much a mental adaption as it is a physical one."
[...] "He's a very skilled athlete," said Kander. "I thought he did a nice job with his weight early on and then he hit that wall. He had a good rookie season, but it's not like he's playing 30 minutes a night. Then you get used to the whole thing of one game you play, one game you don't play.
"To stay mentally strong and keep your body firing at a high level, it is a process. You can learn the X's and O's of training your body and eating properly. To do that for 82 games is another challenge."
(Another random note from the article: Daye has reportedly grown a half-inch since being drafted. As Dan Feldman points out, this means Daye now stands just a shade under 7-foot in shoes.)
It'd be silly to write Daye off simply because of his frame. Hell, the man he's replacing (in this hypothetical, of course) has a similar build and didn't miss his first game due to injury until his eighth season. But as much as I'd like to give Daye every chance to win the job -- his ability to stretch the floor with efficiency (ahem) gives the team a much-needed dimension -- I can't help but wonder if he's better suited off the bench. What say you?