Portland Trail Blazers big man Ed Davis does not put up remarkable numbers. Nor is he, on the surface, a player that stands out very much. He just seems like another competent backup big -- one of many limited offensively, strong defensively centers that have populated the NBA for the past decade. And in some ways, that is his game. But while he does fit that general category, he’s one of the best in that grouping, a plus/minus dynamo that makes almost every lineup he’s in better. When Ed Davis plays, good things happen.
Davis is averaging 5.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game in just 19.1 minutes (per 36, that would put him at 10.7 and 14.2), and does so on quite solid 59.1% shooting from the field. Those “basic” stats are bolstered by advanced metrics that are even more impressive: a Win Shares/48 minutes of 0.182 (anything over .100 is good), Box Plus Minus of 0.8, and Real Plus Minus of 1.14. While such catch-all advanced stats aren’t perfect, each of them depicts Davis as a well-above-average NBA player. Many highly regarded players trail Davis in each of those statistics, and while that could be explained as a flaw in the metrics, it is also a mark of how underrated Ed is. But Davis’ real impact crystallizes not through his own numbers, but his effect on the rest of the team.
The Blazers have a team REB% of 51.4 (they collect 51.4% of available rebounds), a DREB% of 78.9, and an OREB% of 22.9. All those are strong numbers, certainly, expected due to their strong big man play and their large wings. When Ed Davis plays, the percentage of defensive rebounds obtained drops a bit, but the offensive rebound percentage soars to 26.7%. Davis’ presence on the court raises the entire team offensive rebounding rate by nearly 4%, which is a staggering figure when you think about all the offensive rebounding opportunities over the course of the season. That rate with Davis on the court would lead the Blazers (out of players who are actually in the rotation), and his REB% of 53.0 is tied for second on the team (behind Zach Collins, tied with Pat Connaughton). The Blazers are definitely a stronger rebounding team when Davis is around the basket.
That’s not all. The Blazers on the season have a defensive rating of 104.1, and a total net rating of 2.0. Those are numbers indicative of a good team; a playoff team, but not a contender. Ed Davis improves the Blazers’ defense slightly (defensive rating of 103.5), and boosts the offense substantially, giving the Blazers a net rating of 3.6 when he’s on the court. That’s still not Golden State territory, but is starting to approach that of a 50 win team or so. Davis doesn’t lead the Blazers in net rating (Zach Collins, once again), yet is 5th on the team, and is ahead of bigger names CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. Again, Davis is an underappreciated part of the Blazers’ success—they play at a higher level when he’s in the game.
Perhaps the most incredible numbers of all, though, are Ed Davis’ lineup data. I wrote a couple months ago about how the Blazers were struggling to find workable lineups that didn’t involve their best players all being out on the court at once. Since that time, Portland has surged in the standings, and a good chunk of that is due to their role players stepping up.
Even in January Davis was clearly a crucial support figure, appearing in a couple of the Blazers’ best lineups. Now, however, Davis’ potency is even more extreme: every single one of Ed’s top five lineups (in minutes played) is a net positive. And of those five, four are very strong positives indeed, with two bearing massive advantages over their opponents. The lineup Davis has appeared in most is one of those beastly configurations. When Collins, Connaughton, McCollum, and Shabazz Napier join Davis, they have a ridiculous 21.7 Net Rating, which makes it one of the most potent lineups in the entire NBA. One of the reasons behind this lineup’s dominance has to do with it containing three of the best rebounders on the team: The Blazers have a rebounding rate of 60.3% with that lineup, and an offensive rebounding rate of 31.8. That is absurd.
Ed Davis is really, really good. Few bench players can claim to be at his level of performance, both individually and unlocking some of his team’s best units. While Lou Williams has the NBA 6th Man of the Year award all but locked up, Davis definitely deserves down ballot recognition as one of the premier reserve players in the league.