Cautious Infant Optimism

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Hats off to the Infuriated Infant.  Glen Davis was fantastic on Thursday night in Orlando.  Knocked down his jump shots, used the hook nicely inside, hit all four of his freebies en route to a season-high 16 points (he went 6-of-8 from the field) and did a fine job on Dwight Howard at the defensive end.  Big Baby was the story in the Celts' 90-80 win over the Magic.  I can hardly imagine being happier with his performance.

But while the Pugnacious Papoose's big game is a cause for optimism, it seems only fair for the jury to remain out on whether it will serve as a turning point.

As someone who has found himself frustrated with Baby's play this year and leaned toward the detractor side as a result, I'm happy to cop to being pleasantly surprised last night.

I've been annoyed with the Nasty Newborn several times throughout the season.  His defense has been good in many situations (especially against big post players that he bodies up) and awful in others (waddling around after Al Harrington during the humiliating loss at MSG comes to mind).  That has been the better end of the floor. 

The offense has been a mess for a good portion of the season.  That he works on his jump-shooting before every game is a good move.  That more than 60 percent of his field-goal attempts have been jumpers despite the fact that he is posting an effective field goal percentage below 30 on those jumpers isn't so good.  He hasn't looked to go inside enough thus far this season, but when he has, it has ended badly on a couple of occasions with disastrous showings around the basket.  Being an undersized big man and posting a 37.3 field goal percentage and a 44.7 percent true shooting mark is a major problem.  Watching the Celts late in a game in which Davis hasn't yet been called for an illegal screen brings to mind the old adage about waiting for the other shoe to drop.

All that in mind, it has been easy for me to scapegoat the Infant at times this season.  It remains my contention that on a good deal of those occasions, he deserved plenty of blame.

But I also understand that in addition to being a likable guy who is beloved by fans and teammates alike, the Terrifying Toddler also has plenty to offer on the court.  As mentioned above, he isn't a world-class defender, but he is a good one much of the time.  He loves matching up with big centers in the low post and using his bulk to drive them out.  He crashes the offensive glass hard.  Though we don't see it all that often, he has the ability within him to provide this team some scoring punch, both inside and with his jumper.  Baby never stops working when he is on the floor.

We've seen flashes of all those good things.  He made Tim Duncan work for every inch when the Spurs came to town last year.  He put up 20 points when the Celts topped the Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills last January.  There are a few others along the way as well, and last night marked one more occasion.  His shots were falling, and he was playing defense and not serving as a liability to this team.

But as far as the future is concerned, I'm not ready to call last night's explosion proof of anything more than what we already knew: Big Baby can be an important contributor, and he can hit his shots.  But the truth is that his overall body of work, especially the part that has taken place this season, has yet to indicate him a reliable performer off the bench.  He has played well of late and looks more comfortable shooting the basketball and rotating defensively.  But Rajon Rondo has had a couple of games in which he has shot the basketball well from distance also, and his jump-shooting is no less a question mark than it was at season's start.

The issue here is consistency.  The Infuriated Infant doesn't need to put up 16 points and slow down Dwight Howard every night out.  That was fantastic, and I'll gladly take any game like that as a bonus.  But until he makes hitting a decent portion of his jumpers, playing effectively underneath the basket and staying out of foul trouble more routine occurrences, I'll remain unsold.  For now, cautious optimism for Glen Big Baby Davis reigns here at the Babble.

 

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