In the drama-filled aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade, something to keep an eye on is the development and usage of Ed Davis in Memphis. Should the ongoing discord between Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins and the front office continue, Davis may become collateral damage.
Davis is essentially replacing Marreese Speights, who had, along with Darrell Arthur, composed one of the more imposing frontcourts off the bench before being shipped to Cleveland. Davis is not nearly the shooter that Mo Speights is, but the former Tar Heel is young, long and full of potential, and may be whom we point to in a few years to signify which team won the Rudy Gay trade.
Since the trade was made primarily for salary cap reasons, acquiring Davis made a lot of sense — he’s still on his rookie contract and has showed promise in his three seasons in the Association. Though his numbers dipped a bit during his sophomore campaign, he has progressed nicely this season, having been given more minutes in Toronto. With Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas both struggling through injuries, Davis started 24 times for the Raptors, averaging 12.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.0 blocks on 55.7 percent shooting in those games.
From Davis’ shot charts, we can see that he both favors and performs best from the left side of the floor, which is unsurprising, considering he’s a lefty big. Davis is not an elite finisher at the rim at 62.7 percent, but it’s a respectable clip (plus-6.2 percent better than the league average), and the percentage of shots taken from that efficient spot is a good sign. Furthermore, the correspondence between his shot distribution and shot performance suggests that Davis plays within his game. While this may not seem unusual for a power forward, Davis is athletic enough that it wouldn’t be surprising if he too often attempted things outside his repertoire.
The film on Davis shows him to be long, athletic and agile whose go-to move is a quick little lefty hook. In the post, Davis generally doesn’t hold the ball too long, either going to the hook or finding cutters and shooters in proper time. Davis has also developed into a nice facilitator from the elbow, and is long enough to stride to the basket from there. However, in addition to struggling with his right and a slightly late release on his jumper, Davis has difficulty finishing through contact. When he is able to finish despite contact, Davis does it with his quickness and length, slithering by instead of powering through. Fortunately for Davis, strength, jumpshooting and off-hand proficiency are all things that players can improve with time.
On defense, Davis is active and engaged, using his length to disrupt plays at the rim. With his quickness, he also has the potential to be a force on pick-n-roll defense. His lack of bulk and strength does hurt him, though, on post defense and that is an immediately conspicuous disparity from the existing Memphis frontcourt culture: the Grizzlies are bullies on the block, and they make damn sure you know it.
Memphis is clearly in a state of transition right now, and that means there is an opportunity for culture change. The “grit and grind” mantra encapsulates the team attitude well, but it also reflects the stagnant nature of their offense. Hollins is old school, and defiantly so. As teams around the league shift to small ball lineups, spread pick-nroll offenses, and greater reliance on three-point shooting, the Grizzlies have continued to largely run a low-post and isolation dependent offense. Their hot start notwithstanding, the results have been less than impressive, as evidenced by their horrific shooting (Memphis is second to last in True Shooting Percentage at 50.6).
Davis can get stronger, and under the tutelage of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, develop facets of his game that fit better with the existing Memphis offense. As it stands, Davis is currently stuck behind Darrell Arthur in the rotation off the bench, and Hollins doesn’t seem to think Davis is capable of filling the five spot. This may turn out favorably for Memphis. Davis is still on his rookie contract (making $2.2 million this year, and $3.2 million next year), and if his minutes remain limited, might remain something of a hidden treasure when he hits the open market.
Were Davis to get minutes now, fellow southpaw Mike Conley would have an additional option to his passing strongside (along with Tayshaun Prince). Davis also spent two seasons with Jerryd Bayless in Toronto, so they may have something to build off of there. For the time being, Davis will probably be relegated to insurance should something happen to Darrell Arthur, although with rumblings of a trade involving Z-Bo already emerging, we might not have to wait that long to see how things go with Davis.
Davis is incredibly energetic on offense without the ball, proactively looking for screens to set. He’s become quite good at setting slip screens, and threatening on the roll. On high screens, Davis will often receive the ball from the handler, give it back, and immediately re-screen, which led to open looks from downtown for DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson (although Memphis doesn’t have the perimeter shooters that Toronto has). Couple that with his elbow facilitation, and you have a great contributor capable of injecting more movement and flow to an offense — but only if Hollins is willing.
Should Memphis play Ed Davis more?
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