"Hi, my name is Ed Davis." Rebound. Dunk. - End Scene
This is the movie reel that has been playing in opponents' heads night-in and night-out over the course of the 2015-16 NBA season. Ed Davis shows up every game, plays his role - simply and subtly - but brutally effective.
Davis is the Michael Caine of supporting roles in the NBA. As a fan you appreciate him when he pops up throughout the night but he doesn't really blow you away until you take a step back and look at the entirety of his work - his consistent presence and steadying hand throughout the course of the evening and the reliability of his work every time he steps out there to put in a shift.
So why is he so underappreciated? Why was Portland able to sign him to a relatively inexpensive 3-year, $20 million deal?
Edward Adam Davis, 6-foot-10 power forward and center from the University of North Carolina, No. 13 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and on his fourth team in six years... It ticks the boxes all along the way as you read it - good size, right pedigree, lottery pick, fourth team in six years...wait. What? For someone who has nearly reached folk hero status among Portland fans, it's a bit strange to see that Davis has bounced around so much early in his career.
He's not really doing anything differently, statistically speaking, on the surface than he has in years past. Davis holds career averages of 7.1 points per game, 6.4 rebounds, and has shot 56.2 percent from the field.
Davis is down in scoring from his career mark this year, sitting at 6.4 points per game but up on both rebounding (7.2 rebounds per game) and shooting - now 60.6 percent. Both the scoring and field goal percentage are to be expected - he's playing roughly four minutes per game less in Portland than he did in either Los Angeles or Toronto - but that only makes his rebounding look all the more impressive.
When Davis came into the league his floor was projected by DraftExpress.com as "a more physically gifted Udonis Haslem." Considering their per 36 numbers, it turns out that was a pretty apt comparison.
The only real notable difference is where Davis shows up on the offensive rebounds, an area that has always been a strong suit but has increased every year, percentage wise, for the last three seasons. In the 2012-13 season Davis picked up 32 buckets off of 50 putback attempts; this year 60 out of 99. Per Synergy Sports, Daivs ranks No. 11 in the entire league in points generated from putbacks:
In contrast to his floor, Davis' ceiling was that of Al Horford. This may go a bit in explaining why he's bounced around so much early on. Expectations may have been higher than what he was truly capable of delivering. Maybe a projection like that is entirely wrong in the first place. One thing is for certain: His numbers have held steady throughout his career as far as production is concerned, but how he's getting things done this year has definitely changed.
While the numbers on the surface may look like 7 points and 7 rebounds a night for his career and his time Portland, the way he produces those stats has evolved over the years. His ability to generate his own possessions and cash in on them has driven up his value drastically. Speaking from just a pure cost standpoint, Ed Davis' points and rebounds per dollar are incredibly valuable:
What's really interesting is that his usage rate is at a career low 12.5 percent, yet he's boasting his second-best PER of his career (18.5). Davis is one of the best in the entire league at getting the most out of every possession - ranking in the 93rd percentile in points per possession, which makes every extra possession he generates with an offensive rebound that much more valuable (there's that value thing again). Davis is currently No. 1 in the league in field goal percentage off the bench.
When you take a look at where he gets his looks, that's not entirely surprising:
While Davis had been a solid rebounder over his first few seasons, what sparked his sudden ascendance to one of the premier offensive rebounders in the league? Humility.
"I think sitting on the bench for a year and a half in Memphis really matured me," Davis told Pro Bball Report. "I've seen a lot of things. I've been humbled, so I just try and take my experiences and try to help other guys out and use all the negative times I've had throughout my career as to not take things for granted."
While Davis says humility has inspired his play, the physical manifestation of that can be seen in his activity and movement. Davis ranks No. 12 in the league among bench bigs in distance covered nightly, and all but two of them play more minutes per night. "Phys. Ed" is often lauded for his physical play underneath, and while his strength and athleticism allow for him to finish through contact and power through for the and-one often, it's his spatial awareness that allows him to be so successful.
Time after time, Davis employs his ability to keep separation and slither, slide, float, glide (or whatever verb you would like to use to describe "least amount of contact necessary") into empty space so that he can utilize his 7-foot wing span and 9-foot standing reach. His 36" vertical allows him to catch, grab, tip, and/or dunk the ball down the hoop.
The same level of awareness, combined with his length and constant movement can be seen on the defensive end as well:
No one will ever mistake Ed Davis for Anthony Davis, but Ed does move very fluidly from about 18 feet and in defensively. Particularly in the pick-and-roll Davis does very well - staying true to Coach Stotts' defensive principles. Consistently you can see him floating around the nail, stretching up when the coverage demands it, sagging back on non-shooters, and chasing all would-be rim runners with his length and quickness.
While quantifying defensive coverage is not always an easy thing, it's worth noting that for big man pick-and-roll coverage Davis ranks in the top 30 of bigs in the league and ranks ahead of Draymond Green, Nerlens Noel, Andre Drummond and Robin Lopez.
When you step back and take a look at the entirety of Davis' game the contributions start to pile up rather quickly.
No. 1 in field goal percentage off the bench
No. 2 in total rebounds off the bench
No. 11 in free throw attempts off then bench
No. 2 in blocks off the bench
No. 2 in double-doubles
No. 17 in NBA in overall rebounding percentage at 18.7 percent
No. 6 in offensive rebounding percentage at 14.1 percent
All of that and more is being delivered nightly by arguably the most underappreciated man in the NBA for less than $7 million this season. Basketball Insiders announced their All-Reserve team recently and again Davis wasn't recognized - they instead opted to go with Evan Turner and former Trail Blazer Will Barton at the forward spots and Enes Kanter at the center spot.
Back in the fall, Blazer's Edge Staff Writer Eric Griffith highlighted how ridiculously close Davis and Tristan Thompson were statistically and stylistically - yet the disparity in pay is, well...it's pretty big. This was all done before Davis had registered a single game for Portland, and now that the season is coming to a conclusion the numbers skew even further in Davis' direction.
In PER 36 numbers Davis nearly sweeps every category with only marginal wins in turnovers, fouls, and free throw percentage swinging in favor of Thompson.
While Blazers fans may want their guy to have more notoriety, hoping that others will take notice of the diamond in the rough nestled away in the Northwest - basketball purgatory for those three time-zones away - Davis doesn't seem to care for the attention. From Alex Kennedy at Basketball Insiders;
I've never really cared about getting credit or being famous or anything, I just wanted to do my job," Davis said. "I do like to prove others wrong, but I don't care about the fame or Twitter followers or whatever it may be. I just play hard and try to help my team win. If I get noticed for it, great. If not, I'm not losing any sleep over it. I get paid well, I love my job and I love the situation I'm in, so I can't complain about anything."
Before the trade deadline it felt that other than Damian Lillard, Ed Davis may be the safest player on the roster. For all the reasons listed above statistically, the video evidence backing it up, Davis' apparent desire to finish his career here, and the fit he seems to have on this roster it feels like Davis may have found a permanent home - one where he's truly appreciated and valued.
He has a contract that he can easily play up to and above, while possibly earning a raise in two more years. Teammates do nothing but sing his praises, and coaches constantly highlight his contributions. His energy, hustle, and nightly introductions to opponents around the league through rim-rattling dunks and sneaky tip-ins may mean the Trail Blazers could end up with a new shelf full of awards come this summer - NBA Coach of the Year in Stotts, the NBA's Most Improved Player in CJ McCollum and the league's Best Supporting Actor in Ed Davis.