Datome stays upbeat while he waits on his shooting stroke to come around
There’s a reason the Pistons were able to sign Gigi Datome without having to spend a draft choice on the 2013 Italian league MVP. It’s because when he was last eligible to be drafted, in 2009, no one chose him. And that’s because Datome, though a pro in Italy since he was 15, had yet to establish himself as en elite international player.
He’s drawing on that experience – the watching, waiting and learning – now in his first season in the NBA.
“I’ve been through this,” Datome said. “Also, national team, first years I was struggling and like now didn’t have much playing time. I had to keep working like I’m doing now. I’m pretty confident because I already passed through something like that. Also, I’m very happy because it’s big for me to be here in the NBA, so I have great motivation every day.”
Truth be told, the slow integration of Datome into the NBA has been more difficult for his countrymen to grasp than it’s been for him. He finds himself explaining to friends and family back home how a player who carried Italy in EuroBasket competition last summer hasn’t found instant success in the NBA.
“Everybody who is close to me would like that I play,” he said. “But it’s not that easy coming to the NBA from a different world and immediately getting playing time unless you are very, very good. I am aware of this. I tell everybody, I think it is the right way. I work out every day and wait for my moment. I’m happy how it goes. I keep on working and trying to be ready.”
Datome, after not playing in six consecutive games, got a shot during the closing minutes 10 days ago as the Pistons lost to Houston. He knocked down 4 of 5 shots that night, earning him another chance two nights later in Cleveland when he scored a season-high 13 points. But it was what Datome showed Cheeks in other areas during that win at Cleveland that opened his eyes.
“When you have a guy that’s known for shooting, some of the other things they do go unnoticed,” Cheeks said. “They didn’t go unnoticed by me. He dove on the floor one time, he got a steal on the weak side. I think he does more things than just shoot the ball. I think he’ll shoot the ball better, but the other things he does can be a little bit contagious.”
Datome understands his reputation as a shooter attracted NBA interest, but he had become a rounded player over his last few seasons in Italy. That’s what jump-started his evolution from shooter to team captain, league MVP and national team captain and mainstay.
“In Italy, I start my career like a shooter and, step by step, I became so I could do a little bit of everything on the court,” he said. “Here the level is higher and I came back a shooter, but I think I have to try to do something else. Like now, I’m shooting really bad from 3-point but to contribute I have to do something, like defense, for sure, and to be physical, make the smart pass, read the defense. I’m happy that I have the possibility to do it.”
“And I’m waiting for a higher percentage from the 3-point line.”
While Datome might be as baffled as anyone who watched his marksmanship in Italy about his 19.6 percent 3-point shooting to date, he says his belief in his shooting ability hasn’t wavered.
“I have confidence,” he said. “I’m shooting a lot and my teammates have a lot of confidence in me. They look for me a lot and I have to thank them. Percentages are up and down and this, for sure, is a down. So I’m waiting for the up.”
The quandary for Datome is how he can win a more permanent spot in the rotation while trying to solve the mystery of his suddenly errant jump shot and doing it in sporadic minutes. It’s been a tough first season for him that began with a foot injury – lingering from his EuroBasket play in September – and a hamstring pull suffered in the first week of training camp, wiping out all of his preseason.
“That was bad because that was my opportunity to show to the coach what I’m able to do on the court,” Datome said. “But it happened and I can’t do anything. It was unlucky, but I can’t complain. They know me because they signed me. George (David, Pistons assistant general manager) came over to see me. They know what are my skills. I have to show them in those few minutes. It’s not easy, but that’s my role. I’m really happy and satisfied with it.”