After a number of seasons chasing an NBA championship behind Dwight Howard, Orlando now finds itself in a position of stark contrast, and one that couldn't be further away from genuinely contending. Consequently, the Magic need to quickly identify which pieces on their roster are building blocks for the future and which are most valuable as trade chips.
Glen Davis is, without question, the most intriguing case in this situation in central Florida.
When Howard was forced to miss last season's playoffs, Davis quickly established himself as the focal point of his team, averaging 19.0 points and 9.2 rebounds in five games against the Indiana Pacers. Given that the team relied on inside-out basketball, it made sense to use "Big Baby's" skills in the pick-and-roll as the team's primary offensive option.
That scenario has carried itself forward to this season, where Davis is still the focal point in a vastly revamped roster. Although his efficiency has slipped from both the field and the foul line, Davis is still Orlando's go-to man, ranked 28th in the league in usage rate at 25.0 possessions per 40 minutes. That's streets ahead of Orlando's next highest-ranked player, J.J. Redick, currently sitting 76th.
With his overall game improving, Davis is showing that he's considerably more than just a backup power forward to be used as an "energy guy" off the bench. With each game and double-double that passes, Davis' stock rises.
This continual development places the Magic in a conundrum. Does Orlando mark "Big Baby" as a building block for future seasons? Or should the Magic cash in on his increasing worth by maximising his minutes and touches before the trade deadline in order to land a favorable deal?
The answer to that question is not so much tied to his current position as team leader, but rather to his overall potential as an NBA player.
Think about Davis' future in Orlando in the same manner NBA scouts evaluate the potential of college players. The term "ceiling" is consistently used, describing the degree of limitation to a player's overall and future potential.
While "Big Baby" is an integral part of the Magic's roster right now, averaging 15.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, the 26-year-old's ceiling isn't all that much higher than the level of his play so far this season. That play has shown that the big man is a solid pick-and-roll player on the offensive end, a capable mid-range shooter, a hard-working rebounder and a hustling defensive presence. Yet it's on an athletic level where his ceiling is lowered.
At 6'9" and 290 lbs., Davis lacks the size to play at center and the speed, athleticism and touch to be a dominant power forward. As the NBA becomes increasingly skewed towards the athletically gifted and insanely talented, Davis' limitations will undoubtedly prevent him from becoming one of the league's better players at his position.
If the Magic are looking for building blocks for a bright future, those players must be capable of being one of the NBA's best at their designated slot. It's clear Davis isn't one of those guys.
That, however, doesn't mean the beefy power forward can't be used as Orlando's best trade chip, given his improved play.
While he has bravely shouldered the load in a depleted Magic outfit, Davis could be a valuable addition to a team looking to take the next step in the playoff battle or a team looking to add experience and production to a struggling outfit. Milwaukee, Cleveland, Houston and Sacramento are all teams that could benefit from increased production at the power forward position. There are also a handful of other franchises that may want Davis to fill a short-term bench role on a contending team.
What those other teams may be willing to give up for Davis is a topic for another article, but it's unquestionable that the 26-year-old has increased his value so far this season. Do the Magic aim to acquire draft picks for his increasing worth? Or do they try to land young, promising players?
Whichever option Rob Hennigan and the Magic's hierarchy decide upon, Orlando would benefit from increasing Davis' role from now until February.
At one point this season, the power forward was ranked fourth in the league in usage rate and started the new campaign on a tear with 29 points and 10 rebounds against Denver before putting up 22 and eight against Phoenix. It's these performances that put Davis on the radar early in the season.
While it's clear that Jacque Vaughn is trying to spread minutes and touches on his team, the coach could easily increase the minutes of Davis without disrupting the development of his youngsters. Starting at power forward, Davis could slide to center when Nikola Vucevic leaves the game (given Gustavo Ayon's struggles), meaning the promising Andrew Nicholson wouldn't see a reduction in his playing time. This subtle shift would increase Davis' production, further lifting his trade value.
Although stripping the team of one of its best players seems misguided for Orlando, it's the right move going forward. A hard-working and productive NBA player, Davis will never be elite at his position, meaning he's not a viable building block for the Magic's future.
By maximising the production of their beefy power forward, the Magic could find themselves with a smart transaction for future gain. Given that that's where the Magic hopes lie, planning for exactly that, the future, would be Orlando's most insightful move in some time.
*All stats accurate as of Nov. 21.
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