It was just half a month ago that we were wondering what affect new coach Dave Joerger would have on the dynamic between power forwards Ed Davis and Darrell Arthur. Would Joerger, as a defensive coach and a believer in advanced stats, decide to buy in on Davis and give him the lion’s share of minutes? Or, would he do the opposite and give Arthur, the one who has spent more time with the team, the opportunity to retain his minutes?
Now, however, that dynamic has changed. Wondering what Ed Davis and Darrell Arthur might’ve been is a moot point entirely. Gone is Arthur, as he was sent to the Denver Nuggets along with the draft rights to the 55th overall pick in this year’s draft, Joffrey Lauvergne, in exchange for a new big man: Kosta Koufos.
With Koufos replacing Arthur, the dynamic has changed noticeably. It’s a new look for the Grizzlies, Koufos himself, and of course, Davis. Not many minutes are available behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, two of the Grizzlies’ most prominent players ever. So, exactly where does Davis stand now?
First and foremost, we should understand where each of the two players stand at this point in their careers. Both turned 24 this year, but Koufos is the much more proven of the two. He was drafted in 2008, and established himself as a reliable starting center for the Denver Nuggets as they played themselves to the third seed in the dreaded Western Conference. At 22.4 minutes per game, Koufos never assumed true starter’s minutes, but at the same time, he started 81 games and was a very helpful player for the Nuggets.
What about Davis? Well, he’s easily the unknown quantity in this equation. Drafted in 2010, Davis has been a backup for almost all of his career. He spent the first two and a half seasons in Toronto, mostly playing behind Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson before stepping into a starting role for about 20 games this season after Bargnani went down with an injury. That was when the Raptors sent Davis to Memphis as part of the Rudy Gay trade, where he was left to contest with Arthur for whatever minutes existed behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
There’s no question about it, Koufos is by far the more reliable option at this stage. He’s tall, he’s strong, and he’s a good defender and rebounder. With that in mind, it’d be very surprising if Koufos didn’t receive the majority of minutes as the main backup big right off of the bat. The Grizzlies are a win-now team that will play their established players over their less-proven players. However, exactly what type of role or opportunity will Davis see in Koufos’ shadow?
There won’t be many available minutes for the backup bigs. If Koufos claims most of the playing time, Davis might not see many. At this point, the team’s need at power forward becomes relevant. Neither Koufos nor starting center Marc Gasol are ideal power forwards. Gasol’s passing, range and mobility makes a twin towers lineup viable, but it’s hardly something to go to for an extended period of time.
So, when Zach Randolph comes off, it’s very likely that Davis could see at least some time in replacing him. The other options would be to play small ball with someone like Tayshaun Prince at power forward, and for a team that plays the way the Grizzlies do with their attack so concentrated towards the paint, that’s hardly viable.
Certainly, Davis has a lot going for him. Going back to the original article about Davis, Arthur and Joerger, Davis has a nice statistic profile. Additionally, from his solid performance in Toronto as a starter, there’s not a lot of reason to think that he couldn’t produce in extended minutes if they were available.
The way it all shakes out, the Grizzlies’ frontcourt rotation will probably see the starters Gasol and Randolph playing most of the minutes. Both are likely to see 33-35 minutes per game. Something around 20 minutes would sound logical for Koufos in his first year with Memphis. After crunching some numbers, that would leave Davis with roughly 10-12 minutes a game–a role even less sizable than what he held with Arthur.
I do believe that the Grizzlies’ front office is committed to Davis and his development. They have said all the right things about him, and value him as part of the return package from that Rudy Gay trade. They will give him every chance to take minutes from Koufos.
However, at this moment, there’s very little leverage in the way of denying that Koufos is a better player than Davis. Against the reloaded hard-hitters of the Western Conference, they will need their most capable hands on deck. For now, that’s Kosta Koufos.