First of all, let’s take a moment to reflect on Ed Davis’ position in the NBA, which has to be one of the best in the league for a young player. He backs up Zach Randolph, an all-star power forward, whose excellent hip movement and rebound positioning he can study every day. The ownership loves him — he was a key piece in the Rudy Gay trade, his lack of minutes likely factored into Hollins’ dismissal, and even without much to show for his 2012-13 stint with the Grizzlies, the organization chose him over longtime backup PF Darrell Arthur, who was traded away in the offseason. He is assured more minutes next season, as Zach plays out the penultimate (pending a player option for 2014-15) year of his contract and the front office tries to develop Davis into a reasonable replacement for one of the most beloved Grizzlies ever. In this team’s mind, Davis is the long term solution at power forward.
All he has to do now is prove it.
Ed Davis had a big fan base in Toronto — a much differently constructed team than the Grizzlies — as a “garbage man,” a hard worker and second-chance machine. He started 24 games for the Raps in 2012-13, racking up 6.7 rebounds per game and 10 points on 55% shooting. Those are decent numbers in 24 minutes, giving Davis the second-best PER on the team (behind Jose Calderon) at 18.1 (.2 points higher than Zach Randolph).
The PER doesn’t tell the whole story though: Davis came off as unimpressive with the Grizzlies last year. Chalk it up to limited action, sketchy minute distribution by Hollins, culture shock, whatever — Davis’ numbers shrank in Memphis (even in proportion to his diminished floor time), and it was obvious, especially by comparison to rebounding maestro Zach Randolph, that his size and positioning were not up to snuff. His shot blocking was a bright spot, something Randolph can’t really provide; in fact, his block percentage of 7.1% (crazy!) nearly doubles that of Marc Gasol, Memphis’ leading shot blocker. Davis uses anticipation and unexpected length to get to shots, to make up for his lack of bulk (225 lbs) and average height (6’10’’). That’s great, but without a running hook shot in his offensive arsenal, Davis is simply not thick enough to bully players in the post, and he can be knocked over with a feather in rebounding situations. He also struggles to finish through contact, a useful tool for a low post man. This is where his development will focus: Davis needs to either bulk up significantly or improve his lower body positioning to improve his presence under the basket — ideally a mix of both.
As Kevin notes in his excellent piece on Davis’ development, Ed has increased his outside shooting attempts every year, and is becoming steadily reliable from Carlos Boozer range. If he continues this trend, he will be an even more valuable bench piece, one that can play dynamically around the rim with Marc Gasol and from midrange with Kosta Koufos. Again, Davis is perfectly positioned to make himself a must-have asset for the Grizzlies going into next summer’s qualifying offer; it’s just a matter of performance.
So what indications do we have that Davis can do it? The lineup stats tell us that Davis was staggeringly effective when playing with the starters, +24.3 in points, +9.2 in assists and +6.8 in blocks. He was also solid when paired up with sharpshooters Austin Daye, Jerryd Bayless, and Quincy Pondexter, who together with Davis and Arthur were +32.3 points (!) per 100 posessions. Those are pretty theoretical numbers, though, so how about this: Grizzly Bear Blues reader BluesCityJoe dug up some promising numbers that show the Grizzlies improvement when Davis played 17+ minutes (Davis’ field goal percentage in particular goes up astronomically with an increase in minutes, from 38% in under 10 minutes to 60% in over 40). Memphis went 12-1 in those games (in the regular season), although it’s worth noting that Davis excels against teams without bruising power forwards, namely Eastern Conference teams like Brooklyn, Cleveland, and Washington. He shot 57% against teams from the East, compared to just 50% against teams from the West.
Pay attention to Ed Davis this year. If Zach Randolph shows decline and Davis is unable to pick up the slack, the Grizzlies may wrap them up with one of their numerous trade exceptions and head down to the marketplace. But if Zach and Ed can form a power forward Yin Yang next season, the Grizzlies will have their best shot yet at a title.