Big Baby's all grown up. - Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE
In Boston, Glen Davis was nothing more than a Big Baby. Now he looks like a big man on campus. Will Davis grow into his role as a leader on an overachieving young team? It would be quite a career turn.
It's safe to say the time has passed for taking cheap shots at Glen Davis.
Here in Boston, where we're nearly a year removed from the sign-and-trade deal that shipped Big Baby off to Orlando and reeled in Brandon Bass, the act is old and tired. Beating a horse that's long dead, buried, decaying and forgotten. Old, old, old news.
But now, with Davis finding a bigger role this season on a Magic team that might surprisingly not be half-bad, it's time to ask a really interesting question: How much is Davis truly capable of? Were the Celtics fully aware of what they parted with when they traded the polarizing young forward a year ago?
Shortly after the lockout ended last year, Danny Ainge shipped Davis to Orlando, along with Von Wafer, to land Bass on Dec. 12. In Bass, he got a reliable power forward, a fringe starter on a good team, a guy who quietly drops low double figures in scoring and brings you energy on the glass.
In Davis, he's apparently given the Magic a franchise cornerstone.
Would it be an overreaction to say that after four games? Sure -- but this is about more than four games. Injuries derailed Dwight Howard's season at the end of March, and Davis proceeded to elevate his game to the tune of 16.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game in April, more than double his season averages. Then he was a beast in preseason play this year, and he followed that up with a 29-point, 10-rebound gem in a shocking blowout of the Nuggets to open the regular season on Friday.
Yeah, yeah, the sample size is tiny, but right now Glen Davis is 22nd in the league in PER. Dwyane Wade is 29th; Russell Westbrook is tied for 34th. Bass, incidentally, is 149th.
Glen Davis has ostensibly morphed into a world-beater. He's the kind of guy who can take over a game for long stretches, carrying a team on his back.
Then again, he's also still the kind of guy who sabotages his team by taking terribly ill-advised 3-pointers late in close games. Some things never change.
So which is it? Is Davis the breakout star his numbers would have us believe? Or is he still just the young bonehead who spent more time in Doc Rivers' doghouse than his starting lineup?
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Davis is now 26 -- not a rookie, not yet a vet, still learning to be a well-rounded player. But he's come a long way since the Celtics made him a second-round draft pick in 2007. He's maturing in his mid-twenties. And who doesn't?
Rivers and the Celtics' veteran leaders made Davis the butt of every joke for four years. He was young, he was impressionable, he was (perhaps overly) sensitive, he was a bit short and fat for an NBA big man, and he occasionally made questionable decisions both on and off the court. He was an easy target for criticism.
But he also always had potential. With the strength, energy and basketball instinct he possesses, Davis has always had a chance to be a star. And he knew it, too. That's why he couldn't stay in Boston -- he wanted to be more than just Kevin Garnett's backup, and he wasn't getting that chance.
"I want to be a player in this league," Davis said in May 2011, on the night he played his final game as a Celtic. "I feel like I've got a lot more to offer. I want to show the world my talents, whether it's here in Boston, or wherever."
He chose wherever (technically, Ainge traded him, but make no mistake, Davis wanted out of Boston). He's happier in Orlando. Not for the money -- he'd make roughly $6 million a year anywhere -- and not for the quality of the team, certainly. But he's happier because he's got the role he always wanted. In Boston, the older guys pushed him around, and they pigeonholed him as a player. He was the energy guy off the bench and nothing more.
Now, Davis is one of those "older guys" himself.
"I've always seen it: One day I will have an opportunity to lead," Davis told the Orlando Sentinel a couple weeks ago. "But I never had that opportunity. Now, the opportunity is here, and the organization and the coaches and the team just keeps feeding that fire. Now, there's a responsibility. You start believing in that character. You start to walk the walk, because it's important."
There's a quote you never would have read in Boston two years ago. He used to be the whipping boy for Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen; now he's the man in charge.
Now that he's being asked to play the leader off the floor, that mentality might have an impact on his play on it.
Davis might not drop 29 and 10 every night, but he might be one reason the Magic inch closer to respectability this season than expected. That's no laughing matter.