The eight points on 4-of-13 shooting and seven rebounds hardly tells the whole story of how Davis impacted Game 2. When Boston’s offense began to struggle in the second half and the Lakers turned what had been a blowout into a nip-and-tuck ballgame, Big Baby was the sparkplug that kept Boston competitive until Rondo took over down the stretch. With Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace in foul trouble and Kevin Garnett playing like Kevin James, Big Baby battled L.A.’s seven-footers in the paint. He dove on the floor for loose balls. He grabbed big offensive rebounds. Ray and Rondo got the headlines, but Boston would be down 0-2 right now were it not for Big Baby’s effort.
In the five years I’ve been writing for Dime, I’ve probably said it 200 times: Every NBA team needs a guy like Big Baby, a rugged frontcourt grizzly bear who busts his ass every night, who makes a living by hitting the glass, getting tough buckets inside, setting solid screens, playing good defense, and taking out the first two rows of courtside seats if it means securing a key possession. Sometimes these guys are starters, sometimes they’re backups. Sometimes they’re centers, sometimes they’re power forwards. And almost always, they were picked several spots too late in the NBA Draft — because they’re “undersized” for their position, or don’t have a smoothness to their game, or don’t have as much tantalizing potential as a 6-9 small forward who runs like a thoroughbred.
So while the Julian Wrights and Earl Clarks of the League ride the pine, that’s how you get a Big Baby Davis (2nd round, 35th pick), a DeJuan Blair (2nd round, 37th pick), a Carl Landry (2nd round, 31st pick), a Paul Millsap (2nd round, 47th pick), a Leon Powe (2nd round, 49th pick), a David Lee (1st round, 30th pick), a Brandon Bass (2nd round, 33rd pick), a Udonis Haslem (undrafted), a Ben Wallace (undrafted).
I’m not counting international players, e.g. Luis Scola or Anderson Varejao. I understand the unfamiliarity factor with guys from overseas that allows them to often slip down the draft board. But with NCAA talent like that listed above — often players who shined at major-conference schools and stuck around longer than a one-and-done mystery — what is the excuse for NBA scouts continually missing the boat?
Who will be the undersized big man to breakout from this year’s Draft class? Who will be the next Big Baby?
My pick is Clemson’s Trevor Booker. At 6-foot-7 and 236 pounds with a wingspan slightly under 6-10, the senior power forward fits the “undersized” bill. NBADraft.net and DraftExpress.com each have him projected as a second-rounder, despite plenty of evidence on the table that says he’s more likely to succeed as a pro more than some of the projected first-rounders.
At the Chicago pre-draft combine, Booker registered a 36-inch vertical and bench pressed 185 pounds 22 times, tied for second-best among all prospects. So we know he’s strong and he can jump, which can make up for a lack of height and reach. And playing in Clemson’s up-tempo full-court pressure system, we know Booker is well-conditioned and athletic enough to handle the speed of the NBA.
Booker is an energy player, much like Blair and Davis and Millsap. He averaged 15.2 points and 8.4 rebounds this season, and in his one meeting with North Carolina sophomore Ed Davis, a potential Top-10 pick, Booker posted 21 points and nine boards next to Davis’ four points and four boards.
But on NBA Draft night, I guarantee Davis will hear his name called at least 20-25 spots ahead of Booker. And although some people might think I’m a North Carolina hater (not true), I’m not picking on Davis or saying he’s a bust in the making. Booker will also be drafted well after first-round freshmen projects like Marshall’s Hassan Whiteside and Kentucky’s Daniel Orton. Aside from height and potential, though, what have they done to show they’ll be better on the NBA level than Booker? Whiteside led the NCAA in blocks (5.4 bpg), but did it against Conference-USA competition. Orton didn’t even start at UK.
And if it’s not Booker who becomes the 2010 poster athlete for “The Draft Is An Inexact Science,” it’ll be Miami’s Dwayne Collins, Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado, Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody, UTEP’s Derrick Caracter, or Louisville’s Samardo Samuels.
All imperfect frontcourt prospects, all productive in college, all hiding in plain sight on Draft night. And in a year or two, one of them will emerge as one team’s Draft-night steal, and everyone else’s Draft-night regret.