Why The Memphis Grizzlies Can Trust Ed Davis

04.01.13 6 years ago

The Memphis Grizzlies have clinched a playoff berth and are now vying with the Clippers and Nuggets to sort out who will hold the third, fourth, and fifth seeds in the Western Conference. When the Grizzlies traded alleged franchise centerpiece Rudy Gay to Toronto, more than a few pundits lamented what appeared to them to be the front office’s decision to play for next year. Well, since the trade, the Grizzlies have gone 20-9, including a 15-game stretch where they went 14-1 (their lone loss to the Miami Heat, who I’ve heard are pretty good).

Back when the trade first went down, we took a look at Ed Davis‘ potential as a Grizzly, as well as the on and off-court factors that may impede the fulfillment of said potential. Since arriving in Memphis, Davis has averaged a mere 14.8 minutes per game. However, in the month of March, due to injuries to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, Davis has received an uptick in playing time, and thus given us an opportunity to revisit some of my initial analysis.

Toronto shot distribution:

Memphis shot distribution:

(All stats per NBA.com/Stats)

Since swapping the white, red, black, and occasional camo of Toronto for Memphis’ white, navy, and light blue threads, Davis is taking a much higher percentage of his shots from at the rim, from 62.4 percent up to 78.3 percent, and his perimeter attempts have all but disappeared, both of which are good things. At least for now, there is little reason for Davis to be playing outside his strengths (which does not include perimeter shooting), especially when he isn’t getting much playing time to begin with. Away from the rim, Davis still has a preference for operating from the left side.

In Toronto:

In Memphis:

While Davis’ continued preference for the left side is unsurprising, his shot charts show that he is performing much better from the right than the left since joining Memphis. Do not be deceived, however, as the sample size of Davis’ work away from the rim as a Grizzly is far too small to deduce anything. What matters here is his play at the rim, where he’s making 59 percent of his shots in a Memphis uniform, only 2.5 percent higher than the league average, which is far from ideal for a big man. However, because of changes in his shot distribution, Davis is still registering an overall 53.8 percent field goal percentage for the Grizzlies, a slight drop from his 54.7 percent with the Raptors. Since much of post play is about establishing position and involves getting oriented in the often claustrophobic space of the paint, Davis’ drop in performance at the rim could be attributed in part to his sporadic playing time and consequent difficulty in finding a sense of orientation.

It is often said that defense is a skill that travels well, and that is proving to be the case with Davis, who, in 27 games with the Grizzlies, has already equaled his block total of 38 in Toronto, which was amassed over 45 games. Furthermore, out of five-man Grizzlies lineups that have registered at least 20 minutes of playing time in February and March, the lone lineup including Davis (rounded out by Allen, Conley, Gasol and Prince) has the best defensive rating, an 80.9 mark. Of course Davis is now the beneficiary of playing alongside elite defenders such as Allen, Gasol and Conley, and on a team that preaches defense.

When Zach Randolph missed four games in early March, Davis played well in three out of the four games, averaging 9.3 points per game, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, along with a field goal percentage of 56.3. The Grizzlies won all four games. In the two games Marc Gasol recently missed due to an abdominal strain, Davis played well, going 7-for-11, scoring 20 points, collecting 15 rebounds, and blocking five shots. In those two games, the Grizzlies beat Boston and lost to the rejuvenated Wizards. Frustratingly, Lionel Hollins gave Davis a “DNP — Coach’s Decision” in the following game, a loss to the Knicks which saw Mike Woodson‘s squad use a small ball lineup to run the Grizzlies ragged from the jump (which makes Davis’ DNP all the more curious, since his skill set is well-suited for small ball). That brings us back to the issue of Hollins’ acceptance of Davis.

When the Grizzlies first received Davis, Hollins, clearly bitter about losing Gay, did not exactly exude enthusiasm. The Grizzlies’ winning ways without Gay appeared to open Hollins up a bit. He acknowledged Davis’ growth (though it wasn’t exactly effusive praise), and softened his rhetoric regarding the trade. He even gave Davis slight dap, saying Davis has given the Grizzlies “a little bit of a lift backing up the power forward spot.” Gasol is helping teach Davis, and both Hollins and Tony Allen have noted the improved ball movement and team play since Gay’s departure. Hollins, to his credit, has shown a willingness to adapt. Despite the DNP, that is cause for optimism, which will be tested in the playoffs. The nature of seven-game playoff series forces coaches to make multiple in-game and in-series adjustments. Whether or not (and how) Hollins will include Davis will be something to keep an eye on.

Should Memphis be playing Ed Davis more?

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