You're used to seeing an article by "Dave" in this Thursday morning slot and an article by Dave is exactly what you're going to get! Please join us in welcoming David MacKay of RipCityProject fame to the Blazer's Edge family. David has years of experience as a managing editor and will be a wonderful addition to the Blazer's Edge news staff and feature writing departments. I've admired David's work for a long time and I hope you'll make him feel welcome in the comment section of his inaugural feature for Blazer's Edge.
Oh, but D-Mac? I want my slot back for next Thursday, mkay?
The excitement surrounding the Portland Trail Blazers’ newly assembled frontcourt has been largely focused on youth of late, and for good reason. Meyers Leonard, Noah Vonleh, and, to an extent, Mason Plumlee are unknown quantities on the cusp of realizing their potential. The prospect of prominence for even one of them is enough to warrant cautious optimism as the 2015-16 season approaches. Yet, seemingly lost at times in anticipation of incipient growth is recognition for those who have already found a niche in which to excel. Newcomer Ed Davis, entering his sixth year in the league, came into his own offensively with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, and is primed to further his success in Portland.
After years of figuring out who he was as a player (as many Trail Blazers are doing now), Davis streamlined his game in Los Angeles. He almost completely abandoned the ineffective mid-range jumpers that have blemished his repertoire for years, in favor of bringing his game closer to the basket. In fact, the deepest shot he took during the 2014-15 season was a mere 14-footer. Over 71 percent of his shot attempts were at the rim, and over 96 percent were within 10 feet. As a result, Davis’ field goal percentage spiked to a career-high 60.1 percent, from 53.4 percent one year prior. Had Davis made 18 more shots, he would have qualified for the field goal percentage leaderboard and finished second league-wide behind the Los Angeles Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan.
To illustrate just how much Davis tightened his shot selection, here are his heat maps from the 2013-14 season in Memphis and the 2014-15 season in Los Angeles, courtesy of basketball-reference.com:
A byproduct of his proximity to the basket was an increase in offensive rebounding and second chance opportunities. He grabbed 2.9 offensive rebounds in just 23.3 minutes per game, narrowly outpacing then Trail Blazers center Robin Lopez in the per 36 minute metric (4.5 to 4.2). Unsurprisingly, Davis led the Lakers in offensive rebounding percentage (an estimate of the available offensive rebounds a player grabbed while he was on the floor) with 13.3 percent, which was good for eighth among all players last season. Due to his constant presence at the rim, and scoring efficiency around it, he also finished with the fifth best offensive rating in the league (123.5).
A huge part of Davis’ success came from his use in the high pick-and-roll; specifically with point guard Jeremy Lin. The formula was as basic as it comes, but ruthlessly effective. Davis came up to set a screen for Lin, then dived to the basket for an easy layup or dunk. This is something that is potentially replicable with Damian Lillard, who, as Chris Lucia and Willy Raedy discussed in episode 63 of the Blazer’s Edge podcast, led the league in pick-and-roll possessions as the ball handler in 2014-15. Having become a more viable finisher himself last season, increasing his field goal percentage at the rim from 52.9 to 64.3, he and Davis could be a tremendous combination. This is something that Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey no doubt considered when Davis was signed in July.
Of course, with such radical specialization comes limitation. Davis is anything but a floor spacer and will be difficult to implement in conjunction with the aforementioned Plumlee, who also scores primarily at the rim. Head Coach Terry Stotts will have to be creative with rotations to open up the floor and get the most out of his new pieces without shrinking the court. Still, Davis’ newly established offensive focus will be a welcome addition to Portland’s bag of tricks. We will see less of the pick-and-pop and more of the pick-and-roll this season, due to an increasing number of finishers (Davis and Plumlee) to go with the jump shooting bigs (Leonard and Vonleh), hopefully to great effect.
Because Davis has found his offensive identity and successfully simplified his approach to scoring, he stands to factor into the Trail Blazers’ game plan just as much as the arguably more intriguing frontcourt options, despite a fairly fixed skill set. He has always been known as an aggressive defender, so his quiet offensive breakout (if that is possible in the limelight of Los Angeles) bodes well for his overall effectiveness as a role player in Portland. He is more than an afterthought on offense, and is actually one of the more proven players on the Trail Blazers’ reshaped roster.