Since coming into the league in 2010, Ed Davis has been pretty handy with rebounds. Without a reliable shot - or handles that would allow him to create his own shot even if he had one - Davis has been content to live around the rim on both ends of the floor.
But what, exactly, makes him a great rebounder?
MAKING THE CASE
Before asking "why," you've got to establish that he’s a good rebounder in the first place. That’s not hard. Per 36 minutes, he’s the Blazers’ best rebounder: offensive, defensive, and total. He has the team’s highest rebounding rates, too: offensive, defensive, and total. And the team snags over 28% of offensive rebounds when he’s on the floor, but just around 23% when he’s sitting. Finally, his offensive rebounding percentage (14) is top-10 league-wide, and his total rebounding percentage (18.4) is top-15.
All these numbers say the same thing: yes, Ed Davis can rebound. To be able to say HOW, we need to hit the tape.
POSITIONING ON COURT
As we said, Ed Davis can’t really shoot and he can’t really dribble. He also has a limited post-up game, and while he has a serviceable flip hook and something resembling a spin move, they aren’t exactly things he can hang his hat on. Most of his points (70%, to be exact) come from inside three feet, which explains his blistering 64% field goal percentage; and 29% of his shot attempts are putbacks, tops in the NBA among those who've played in at least 5 games.
Without a sophisticated offensive arsenal, Davis is freed up to focus on other things, like setting screens, acting as a relief valve when his teammates get trapped, and, of course, rebounding. We can see this pretty clearly in the play below:
If Davis had a midrange game and wanted to get where he needed to be for his favorite shot, he wouldn’t have been in position to corral the offensive rebound. In this play, he was not only able to save the possession, but get the and-one, too. And while being in good rebounding position doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get the board, it definitely helps.
POSITIONING RELATIVE TO OTHERS
Once he’s parked himself where he needs to be to grab missed shots, Davis can look around and figure out how to create the most space possible for the ball to land.
The next two videos show a contrast between Davis and teammate Meyers Leonard in this regard. Davis, an excellent rebounder, sees the ball go up in the video below. As soon as it does, he looks around to see where the closest opponent is, makes contact with him, and only then does he focus on the ball. With the opponent securely behind him, Davis can grab the board.
By contrast, Meyers Leonard in the video below sees the shot go up... but rather than checking to see who he needs to body, he instead has his eyes on the ball the entire time. While Meyers wasn't in perfect position to begin with, he could have thrown himself at Karl-Anthony Towns, who finds little resistance as he swoops in from the side and saves the possession for the Timberwolves.
Good rebounders go out of their way to make contact with the opponent when the shot goes up, carving out as much space as possible before the ball hits the rim. Davis does this to a "T."
After you’re in the right spot and know where your opponents are, it comes down to timing. A person who’s spent years tracking rebounds has a decent sense of where the ball is going and when: if it’s coming in from the side and looks long, you try to jump right when it hits. If it’s high-arcer and short, you might wait a breath to see if it takes a double bounce.
There’s more to it than that, and the equation gets doubly (or triply) complex when you take other players into account. In the clip below, Davis is not only able to worm his way into good rebounding position, but he meets the ball at exactly the right time. Notice that by timing his jump slightly later than the Thunder's Enes Kanter, Davis is able to secure the board.
Coincidence? Maybe. But sometimes you make your own luck, and in this case, Davis got himself right where he needed to be, and at the right time, to put himself in position to grab the board.
Ed Davis doesn’t shy from contact. If he gets pushed out of position, it’s not because he ceded ground, it’s because the laws of physics worked against him. While fans most often hear confidence in the same breath as shooting, the same applies for rebounding, too.
See the clip below: Davis needs to fend off multiple defenders in the paint. But that doesn’t stop him from sticking with the play, to the point where he saves the possession not once, but twice. The willingness to jostle for position, again and again, unflinchingly, is a hallmark of Davis' that not all players his size share.
DESIRE TO REBOUND / LACK OF DESIRE TO DO OTHER THINGS
Ed Davis doesn’t want to be a 20-point scorer. He doesn’t demand the ball. He hasn’t worked on his shot enough to pretend he’s trying to stretch his range to 20 feet (or even to 10 feet), though it may not hurt him to work on free throws a bit. But everything we said before doesn’t mean much if the player isn’t willing to be a rebounder.
While rebounds show up in the box score, it’s not a flashy specialty. And, as Davis is finding out this year, it doesn’t even guarantee playing time, even if you’re one of the league's better rebounders minute-for-minute.
What it does mean is that he’s found what he’s good at and he sticks with it, night in and night out. Players like that are valuable. The Blazers are lucky to have him, and while they may be reluctant to get him more court time because of his limitations on offense, his offensive rating is over 125. That’s good for second in the league behind Steph Curry, which means he can stand to shoot (and miss) a couple more shots a game... just so long as he keeps fighting for those rebounds.
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