Two days before LaMarcus Aldridge announced his intentions to sign with the Spurs , the Trail Blazers' front office somewhat quietly agreed to terms on a three-year, $20 million deal with free agent big man Ed Davis. Following forward Al-Farouq Aminu's signing a day prior and amid the uncertainty surrounding the team at the time, the addition of the 26-year-old Davis didn't seem to make much of a splash.
But now that Meyers Leonard and Chris Kaman are the only two holdovers from Portland's 2014-15 frontcourt still remaining, a handful of question marks now encompasses the team's corps of bigs. Gone are Aldridge, Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland, replaced by Davis, 19-year-old Noah Vonleh and third-year center Mason Plumlee.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts has the rest of the offseason, training camp and finally preseason to ponder how his frontcourt rotation will look early next year. Fans are likely to see the lineups shuffled for the better part of the season, as the pressure to win during the team's rebuild will be far outweighed by internal player development. Kaman, 33, isn't likely to play the 18.9 minutes a night he registered last year, instead giving way to the youth movement up front led by Leonard, Davis, Plumlee and Vonleh.
Aldridge was a multi-talented, 6-foot-11 big man who displayed staggering offensive versatility and underrated defensive chops in nine years with the Blazers. That type of skillset isn't easily replaced, but Portland GM Neil Olshey has done a solid job stocking the team's frontcourt cupboard with young, athletic and unrefined talent for Stotts to throw into the mix and see what works.
Vonleh is raw but showed recently in Summer League that he has the physical tools to compete; he just needs some sharpening to carve out his role. Plumlee is known for his athleticism and rebounding, while Leonard showed late last season and in the first round of the playoffs against the Grizzlies that he could potentially cause fits for opposing defenses next season with his accurate outside shooting as a 7-footer.
Davis has been in the league five years, but few fans in Portland know just what to expect from the former Laker, Grizzly and Raptor.
Hustle, hard work and effort are terms often used by pundits familiar with Davis to describe what he brings to the floor on a nightly basis. He's earned a reputation as a blue-collar, likeable fan-favorite who should endear himself to the Blazers faithful by embracing the dirty work that needs to be done up front.
The Oregonian's Joe Freeman, who has reached out to various teams' beat writers across the country this summer in order to get insider's perspectives on the Blazers' new stable of talent, spoke with Bill Oram of the Orange County Register a couple weeks ago to gauge what Davis brings to the table.
"He plays hard, has an entertaining style, is a good quote and, at least so far, stays out of trouble," Oram told Freeman about Davis. "Like Robin Lopez before him, he doesn't need the ball to be effective, so you're not going to hear a lot of griping about his touches."
Lake Show Life writer Scott Asai recently spoke with Hoops Habit about Davis and echoed many of Oram's sentiments:
"Ed Davis is a workhorse. His production in limited minutes last season with the Lakers was impressive," Asai said. "Rebounding and contesting shots are two of his strong suits, but his biggest impact(s) on the court (are) his ability to finish around the rim and (his) energy."
Asai, like Oram, noted Davis' contentment as a role-playing big, willing to embrace the less-glamorous aspects of banging down low on a nightly basis in the NBA.
"As long as he stays healthy, (Davis) will be a steal. He’s going to bring it every night and doesn’t need plays drawn up for him. He’ll blend in with the team and be a locker room glue guy," Asai said.
Similar to Thomas Robinson before him, Davis appears ready to be embraced by Blazer fans for his energy and effort. But Robinson also had clear limitations that kept him off the court at times, regardless of his hard work. Davis has a somewhat limited skillset, too, but is known for playing more to his strengths.
Let's take a look at Davis' shot chart last season with the Lakers:
He clearly has no jumper to speak of, but Davis is incredibly efficient at the rim and stays down low for the majority of his attempts. According to NBA.com, of players who played at least 10 minutes a night and saw action in at least 41 games last season, Davis was No. 6 in the league in field goal percentage last year at 60.1 percent. He did so shooting fewer than six shots per game.
"Davis rarely shoots outside of five feet (and took the vast majority of his shots on the left side of the basket), making him a spacing killer that can be tough to compensate for," Silver Screen & Roll writer Trevor Lane penned in a piece about Davis last month. "In order to maximize his impact, a team would need to find a big to play alongside him that has the bulk to defend the stoutest centers in the league, but also the shooting touch to step outside to at least 20 feet on offense."
If Lane's assertions are correct, that means we won't likely see Plumlee and Davis on the floor much at the same time, as both need to be down low in order to be most effective. A Davis/Plumlee frontcourt combo would hamper Portland's potential floor-spacing ability -- which is already up in the air with Aldridge, Wes Matthews, Nicolas Batum and Arron Afflalo gone -- and would clog up the lane for slashing wings like Aminu, Gerald Henderson, and Maurice Harkless, as well as point guards Damian Lillard and Tim Frazier.
But pairing Davis up front with Leonard would make for an interesting dynamic; the former could pack the paint all day and feast on offensive rebounds and putbacks, while the latter could draw his man outside of the middle and force opposing defenses to respect his three-pointer. Sure, teams could cross-match and throw a power forward on Leonard to defend him on the perimeter and put a center on Davis down low, but Leonard, at 7-foot-1, likely has the height and length to get his shot off in catch-and-shoot situations around the arc when guarded by a smaller defender. If he's making those shots consistently -- he canned 42 percent of his threes last season -- Stotts should have no issues working around Davis' limited range with Leonard on the court.
Likewise, Vonleh -- who drilled 38.5 percent of his threes last season in limited time with the Hornets and 48.5 percent of his threes two years ago in college at Indiana -- could play the floor-spacing counterpart Stotts needs in the frontcourt to balance the skillset of Davis. With the 6-foot-10 Vonleh on the court next to Davis, the Blazers would lack a true center, but it's a lineup Stotts could trot out more than occasionally in a league that is valuing solid outside shooting from bigs more and more over pure size and bulk.
The paint defense would be a nightmare, sure, but in a season where wins will be scarce anyway, Stotts has the opportunity to experiment without many negative repercussions. The length and athleticism of Davis and Vonleh -- and to a similar extent, Leonard -- could allow Portland to play an aggressive style of defense, overplaying from the weakside and getting long arms in the passing lanes. Without a true rim-protector on the floor, the Blazers will have to compensate by gambling, forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. A rotation featuring Davis/Plumlee and Leonard/Vonleh up front would allow Stotts to play to his roster's strengths offensively while keeping the defense aggressive; all four should be able to help implement a re-imagining of Portland's pick-and-roll defense where the screener's defender could hedge harder on the ballhandler than Lopez did and still recover quickly enough to defend the basket. It'll take plenty of time and the headaches will abound, but the potential is there.
Davis is considered a good help-side defender, decent rim protector and a solid shot-blocker. His defensive stats might imply otherwise, however, as Davis allowed 54 percent shooting by opponents at the rim last season, according to NBA.com, ranking him outside of the top-50 players in the league in that category. When defending the pick-and-roll, Davis allowed .95 points per possession, also somewhat pedestrian numbers, especially for a player with a reputation as a good defender.
Davis has averaged 1.7 blocks per 36 minutes over the course of his career and averaged 1.2 blocks a night in 23.3 minutes last year, though, so his weakside help should help keep opposing players at bay as he's always a threat to send shots back. Also consider that Davis played for the Lakers last year; Some of his numbers could be artificially deflated slightly because L.A. was one of the worst teams in the league and he was often on the court with fringe-NBA talent, which could've put more pressure on him defensively and skewed his stats for the worse as he often served as a backstop for the Lakers' leaky backcourt.
Also consider that Davis can hedge harder than Lopez, which would make life a little easier for Lillard and McCollum when handling pick-and-rolls. Even taking into account the silver linings, though, he'll still have to watch his aggressiveness so as to not rack up fouls.
Davis' biggest strength is probably rebounding. Last year, he hauled in 13.4 percent of available offensive rebounds, putting him near the top of the league in that category. He's also adept at rebounding on the other end, though he's not among the league's elite defensive rebounders.
Many of his points will come as the roll-man in the pick-and-roll and off putbacks, and Davis certainly won't require the ball in his hands often. But his free throw shooting could make him a potential liability and also keeps him from being as efficient a scorer as a he could be. Davis hit only 48.7 percent of his free throws last year and has shot just 56.6 percent from the stripe over the course of his five-year career. Portland's bigs could all make their free throws at a serviceable, if not good rate last year, so Davis' lackluster free throw shooting will be a large departure for Stotts.
Still, while Davis' upside may seem limited, a presumably good fit in Portland, a few-dozen minutes a game and being put in a position to succeed could all push the 26-year-old to another career-year following his success in Los Angeles last season. Stotts has shown that he can -- given at least some talent with which to work -- implement a system on both ends of the court to suit the particular skillsets of his players and maximize their contributions.
Blazer fans can also take solace knowing that Davis will never short-change them by giving less than his full effort on a nightly basis.
"I'm someone that Coach can depend on every night," Davis told Freeman in an interview hours after agreeing to terms on the deal that brought him to Portland. "He knows exactly what he's going to get from me. I'm just going to go hard every chance I'm out there, give 110 percent effort. I'm going to crash the glass hard and give it everything I have — on the court, off the court, in practice in the weight room — every day."
And, really, what more could you ask for from a sixth-year, role-playing veteran on a rebuilding roster?
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter