The Spurs have traded one of their back up guards for a forward, like many had hoped. Nando De Colo was shipped to Toronto for 6'11" combo forward Austin Daye. While the trade makes sense on paper, it's really hard to say that the Spurs have gotten even marginally better with the move. But after doing some research, and watching some of Daye's play I'm ready to look at all the variables.
Salary cap implications
Daye is making the minimum -- that's $947,907 -- while De Colo was making $1,463,000 after being signed using the bi-annual exception. So the Spurs are saving over $500,000 with this transaction. The problem is that while Nando had no guaranteed money pending for next season, Daye has $250,000 of next year fully guaranteed. So if the Spurs waive him before his contract becomes fully guaranteed next season (very likely), they would be saving only $250,000. That's not bad, but it's not enough to be a real factor.
A quick scouting report on Daye
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Austin Daye is the definition of a tweener. At 6`11"and with a 7'2" wingspan, he has length to spare as an NBA wing. But reports seem to indicate that he doesn't have the lateral speed, consistent effort or court awareness to utilize those tools defending perimeter players. And at only 200 pounds, he doesn't have the strength or toughness to guard inside players or rebound at an acceptable rate. That inability to adequately defend either forward spot is what's hindered Daye's career so far.
Spot-up shooting is the only area in which Daye has shown flashes of competence. He's averaged over 40% on spot-up three pointers twice in his career and there's no such thing as too many outside threats. Unfortunately, he has sandwiched those seasons with terrible numbers, which is why inconsistent is the description most often used to describe his game.
Other than his shooting, Daye doesn't bring much to the table on offense. Too much of a featherweight to back anyone down and lacking a tight dribble, he is not much of a playmaker, and except for his rookie season, he's always been a below-average finisher at the rim. He also doesn't get to the line a lot and doesn't grab offensive boards since he mostly operates in the perimeter and is too frail to bang down low.
Here's how Kevin Lipe from the Memphis Flyer's "Beyond The Arc" described him to J.R. Wilco: "He probably has the potential to create off the dribble. He's not terrible from three but not great. He's not going to be less valuable than Nando De Colo."
Not exactly a glowing endorsement but the only summary of Daye's abilities that allows for at least some optimism.
How does he fit with the Spurs?
It's hard to see Daye getting minutes in San Antonio. The Spurs have Marco Belinelli, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard soaking up all the minutes at the wing. There's no chance he'll unseat Bonner as the designated stretch-four.
Where a 6'11" combo forward could be useful is in small ball units. The problem is that, after a couple of good years, Daye has increasingly become an atrocious rebounder for a guy his size. He should still be an improvement over the guards the Spurs slide up to small forward, but the trade-off will be a decrease in offensive versatility and defensive awareness.
That's still the only role that I can conceive Daye filling, as he could space the floor, rebound acceptably and block a shot or two using his length. But he would have to learn the system quickly enough to prove worthy and by most accounts he doesn't have the highest of BBIQs or confidence. Unless there's an injury, Daye will almost certainly only play a reduced situational role.
Could this be a long term move?
The chances of Austin Daye contributing meaningful minutes this season aren't great. But the same could have been said of Nando.
But as a long forward with an outside shot, Daye stands out among the rest of the Spurs' roster in a way Nando didn't. The only player with a comparable skill set and build is Matt Bonner and he will be an unrestricted free agent next season. Maybe Austin Daye can be developed into a decent role player in the mold of Dante Cunningham or Anthony Tolliver and the Spurs could use someone like that for cheap next season.
When you look at his whole career, Daye has never been in a good developmental situation. His rookie season in Detroit he had to battle both a couple of veterans (Tayshaun Prince and Charlie Villanueva) and a more NBA-ready rookie (Jerebko) for playing time. In 2010/11 he was caught in the middle of a player's rebellion that resulted in the firing of head coach, John Kuester. In 2011/12 the Pistons tried to turn him into a power forward. After that he landed as a throw-in on a Grizzlies team that was in the middle of a reinvention. And then he finally signed with the Raptors as cheap injury insurance.
So for the majority of his time in the league, Daye has been in situations in which he either had pressure to perform due to his draft selection but was not in the right environment, or was an afterthought on teams that didn't expect him to perform at all. Not exactly environments conducive for a youngster to grow into his talent. Maybe if the Spurs commit to developing him, they could be pleasantly surprised. For such a small financial investment, it's worth a shot.
Trading Nando De Colo on his own was never going to bring back a quality player. Daye figures to be in street clothes when the playoffs roll around, just like Nando would have been, so it's not a bad move by the Spurs. It won't affect this year's chances one bit. The Spurs simply balanced their roster by trading away a redundant player and getting back an arguably inferior one that fits better. Not all that exciting a move, but as Spurs fans we've learned not to expect fireworks in February.