Welcome to Better Know an NBA Player! In part 1 of my 450 part series (shamelessly co-opted from Colbert, and Mike Prada to some extent), I’ll cover Ed Davis. Ed Davis has been somewhat of a mystery so far in the NBA. Stuck on the middling Toronto Raptors for two and a half years, the 6’10’’ power forward out of UNC showed promise but didn’t develop as quickly as some might have hoped. He was Memphis’s main return from the Rudy Gay trade, along with Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye, and cap savings. Unfortunately his minutes dropped off heavily compared to his time in Toronto, before he was buried in the postseason by Lionel Hollins. With Hollins gone, Ed Davis should see an upgraded role this season. So, without further ado, what exactly does Ed Davis bring to the table?
Davis is a great finisher at the rim. Last season he converted 67.8% of his shots from that distance, according to Basketball Reference. Davis can be an asset in the pick and roll game as well. He can finish inside when he rolls to the basket, and has shown the ability to adjust his shot in mid-air. His shooting touch outside of the rim adds a nice element that defenses have to adjust for as well. He won’t draw any comparisons to Brandon Bass or Dirk, but he is an effective shooter to around 15 feet or so. Davis’s ability to hit the free-throw range jump shot forces the defense to react to him fading off the pick, or give up an open shot.
His post game is more of a work in progress. His Points per Possession (PPP) was .91 in Toronto, and .86 in Memphis. Both of these are good numbers, but he doesn’t get many touches per game. It is important for him to establish good position before receiving the ball. This is obviously true for all players posting up, but his lack of strength makes it necessary. You won’t see many instances of Davis actually backing someone down and scoring. Davis goes to his left almost every time in the post. The fact that he performed as well as he did is a testament to his finishing ability inside. This predictability could turn into an issue as he gets more looks in the future. He does have a pretty nice up and under move that he uses occasionally. Davis should utilize this more often to beat players that key on his left too hard.
His insistence on using his left hand leads to some awkward looking plays. There are a few instances where he fools the defender with a pump fake, drives to his right, but doesn’t use his right hand to finish. This makes it easier for the help defender to contest his shot. It’s not some crippling issue that needs to be addressed, but just a little touch with his right would really add to his game. As a related observation, Davis is clearly more comfortably on the left side of the court. He attempts nearly double the amount of shots from there, as compared to the right side. Last season, he converted a higher percentage from the left as well, as shown by his shot chart.
(via nba.com )
With his slender frame, Davis can get bullied in the post. He gave up 1.06 and .96 PPP in Memphis and Toronto last season. Those numbers are both awful. His strength, or lack thereof, has been a recurring problem since coming out of college. He finished his rookie year at a sub Nerlens Noel weight of 215. He’s reportedly played around 230 the last two years, which is better. This area is where his tweener 4/5 position is hurting him. In an interview with the Toronto Sun last year, Davis explained "I came to training camp last year at 237 and I didn’t feel like I could move. I was much bigger but it just wasn’t right. Right now I’m about 230 but I’m much stronger and moving better." He understandably doesn’t want to gain too much weight and lose his ability to defend quicker forwards, so his physical strength is of prime importance now. If he requires a real post defender to be on the court beside him, then it can create spacing issues on offense. Luckily Marc Gasol fills this need perfectly, but that won’t always be the case.
Thankfully, Davis is much better at defending the pick and roll. This past year, Davis only saw 58 pick and rolls where the possession ended with the screener, per synergy. Davis defended these possessions very well. Davis has good quickness for a big man, so he is able to cut off the ball handler and recover back to the screener well. He could improve on his closeouts a bit, but that could apply to just about everyone defending the pick and roll. Davis gave up .86 PPP in Memphis, .9 in Toronto. These Points per Possession numbers were better than Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, Serge Ibaka, Noah, and Boozer. It has to be noted that each one of them faced more pick and rolls, so the sample is skewed a bit. Davis posted .78 PPP the year prior, so that gives us a little more to work with.
Davis has improved as a help defender since coming into the league. Earlier in his career he would rush out, bite on the pump fake, and allow an easy drive to the basket. He is much better at rotating to the open man and contesting the shot. His length and relatively quick feet give him the ability to challenge shots and take away easy points. Davis actually ranked 15th in the NBA in Block % last year. In Memphis, he was blocking shots at a Serge Ibaka/Larry Sanders, sorry, LARRY SANDERS! rate. This probably isn't sustainable, but it’s a promising to see what his peak blocking production could look like.
Notice how his initial positioning allows him to see the action near the ball, but not lose track of his own assignment. He leaves enough distance from his man to be able to help on defense. The distance is also small enough for him to recover and prevent a shot.
Davis recognizes the cutter, and breaks towards the basket.
As you can hopefully see, Davis reaches Stiemsma and blocks his shot off the backboard.
Davis then grabs the rebound and kicks it out to Tayshaun, while falling out of bounds himself. A play like this might seem inconsequential, but they do matter over the course of a game. Davis prevents an easy basket by being aware and rotating to the open man.
The sample size is just about unusably small, but Memphis lineups with Davis on the floor were incredible defensively. Playing with Tony Allen, Conley, and Marc Gasol can prop up anyone, but it’s impressive that the defense didn’t statistically decline with Davis on the court. The playoffs are a different story though. In very limited playing time his numbers were abysmal. The true measure will fall somewhere in the middle, so a full season will provide a better idea of how well he fits into the Memphis defense.
Despite the concerns about his lack of strength or explosiveness, Davis is actually a solid rebounder. He positions himself well and reacts quickly. His hands are good too; it’s a rarity to see him bobble with the ball. His career Total Rebound % is even with Derrick Favors and Greg Monroe, two of his draft class brethren. Using Hoopdata’s numbers, Davis ranked 22nd in Total Rebound Rate at 17.6 while in Memphis. His Toronto number came in slightly lower at 16.4. (The average number for centers is 16, with power forwards coming in at 14). Ed Davis has proven himself to be an above average rebounder for a center, and a good rebounder for a power forward.
Davis has somehow drawn some criticism regarding his "small wingspan" of 7 feet. The rationale being that a 6’10" player should have a wingspan well over 7 feet. I wouldn't put much stock into that line of thinking though. If he blocks shots, finishes at the rim, and rebounds well, then what else are you really looking for? A longer wingspan would be nice, but it’s not like he’s working with T-Rex arms out there. The important thing to keep in mind with Davis’s statistics is sample size. He didn't see many minutes with Memphis, so drawing conclusions can be risky. Having said that, I believe that he will be a key player next season. His per 36 minutes statistics have always been solid; he just needs the appropriate role/playing time to find success.