Let's just say we live in an alternate reality where Austin Daye did not declare for the 2009 NBA Draft. Let's say instead of getting minimal minutes with the floundering Detroit Pistons, he was back in Spokane playing for the Zags for his junior season.
And...let's also say, that Elias Harris still came to Gonzaga, despite Daye's presence.
So, with those two things being known in this "alternate" college basketball reality, I offer this question: who would you rather have at power forward: Daye or Harris?
I'll make the case for each guy.
The Case for Daye
- Daye is an incredibly more natural outside shooter than Harris. I know the stats may be a bit in the German's favor (Harris is shooting 45.5 percent from three point land, while Daye shot 42.9 percent his sophomore season) but Daye took more attempts (Daye had 84 last year, while Harris has only 22, and most likely will only double that number by the end of the year). Additionally, the best part of Daye's game was his perimeter shooting, while Harris is better utilized in the fast break where he can take it to the rim. What's even more staggering was that Daye was as tall as Josh Heytvelt, and he had a better shooting motion than Matt Bouldin. Seriously, Daye was a matchup nightmare for small power forwards or big men who liked to camp in the paint because of his shooting.
- Daye was a talented shot blocker. Defensively, Daye wasn't all that great. He was slow laterally, and could get banged down low by more physical forwards. That being said, I don't think GU has ever seen a shot blocker like Daye in a Bulldogs uniform. Not only could Daye block shots, but Daye was smart when he blocked shots. Remember how Heytvelt would block shots out of bounds and mean mug opponents? Well...not Daye. Daye would block shots and keep them in play, initiating the offense. That's the kind of stuff Bill Russell was known for, and not a lot of guys currently do now because it doesn't get you TV time. Watch Jarvis Vanardo from Mississippi State. He can block shots, but he's not as smart a shot blocker as Daye was at-times. Vanardo still falls in that "block shot out of bounds for cameras" pattern that plagues all good shot blockers. Furthermore, I'm not even counting Daye's sideline defense as well, which might be the most underrated aspect of his game. Until Daye, I never thought of getting the ball inbounds as a big play, and yet Daye always made things interesting. Granted, refs let him get away with some things (such as crossing the line), but I never saw a guy at the college or NBA level deflect as many inbounds plays as Daye did in his two years as a Zag.
- Versatility. Daye could play almost four positions. His ballhandling was passable for a two or three. His shooting was certainly good enough for a two or three. He could block shots like a center. And he was tall enough to play four or five. That's how versatile he was. Harris is athletic, but he doesn't have the ball-handling abilities to play two or even three. Harris looks uncomfortable when he puts the ball on the ground. As for Daye, he's not Pete Maravich, but he certainly looks capable when he's dribbling the ball.
The Case for Harris
- Toughness. Harris is one bad dude. This was a guy who elbowed a Wake Forest player clearly intentionally with the idea of taking McFarland's face off, and was totally unapologetic about it after the game. Just check out his quote in the Spokesman:
“I just stepped back and just normal underarm on his chest and went for the rebound. He just fell.”
- Seriously, that's all he said. He didn't say "sorry" he didn't apologize for being "unsportsmanlike." He just said "He just fell." I know I may get some critics, but that's the kind of stuff Zag basketball fans haven't seen since Adam Morrison and Zach Gourde. And that's a good thing. A lot of people wonder why this Bulldog team is tougher than years past. Harris is the answer to that question. Harris brings a no-frills, no prisoners attitude to this team. Now, I know some fans will say "What about Rob?" Well, Sacre is tough as well, but Rob plays to his environment. When in a loose environment like last year and the year before, he shows some toughness, but is more prone to the knucklehead antics of his teammates (e.g. Daye's complaining). But when you get a guy that is as serious as Harris (he has a scowl the whole game), it rubs off on Sacre and he becomes tough as well. If GU overachieves in the tournament this year, Harris will be the reason, not because of his skills, but because of the mean streak he brings to a team that has lacked that fire and intensity since Adam Morrison's last year at Gonzaga.
- Harris is explosive. Nobody gets to the rack harder than Harris. You can try to bump him and he'll still get airborne and throw it down. The amazing thing about Harris is that he actually seems to want contact. Daye was the polar opposite. He hated it. You bumped him, and not only was he retreating, he was looking to the refs for a bailout. Not Harris. Don't believe me? Check out this dunk in Germany from last year. The defender did everything he could to knock Harris away from the hoop and Harris still throws it down. If that's Daye, he's in the fourth row seats.
- Harris is a better rebounder. No question about it, Harris knows how to grab boards. Sure, Harris has the statistical advantage (7.5 to Daye's 6.8 last year), but Harris is much smarter and more fundamentally sound in comparison to Daye when grabbing rebounds. He understands position, and he's tenacious on misses both on the defensive and offensive end. Daye simply used his height and that was about it. Daye didn't really know how to box out, and consistently he was losing out on boards because he was too far underneath the hoop. Remember the Western Kentucky game? Daye boxes the guy out, there is no buzzer beater, and Gonzaga wins comfortably. I just don't see that happening with Harris if he's in that situation (though in a pressure moment like that, anybody could freeze, just ask Hakeem Olajuwon).
So who do I go with? I love Daye's shooting and shot blocking, but Harris is the better overall deal. He's explosive, he's more fundamentally sound, and he has the X-factor (toughness and a mean streak) that Daye sorely lacked. That X-factor alone in my mind just trumps any of the athletic gifts Daye brought to the table. That isn't to bash Daye. I do like Daye, and love his game (I think I pardoned his actions more often than most GU fans), but Harris gives you the better chance to win. Plain and simple.
I definitely would like to see who Zag nation would go with on this issue.