It was January 25, 2010. Glen Davis, then a member of the Boston Celtics, declared that he wanted to distance himself from the "Big Baby" nickname. After almost three seasons as the Celtics' ridiculed punching bag, the beefy forward with questionable maturity, decided it was time to grow up, time to "put his big boy pants on" as Kobe Bryant might say.
For a player that had endured a series of misdemeanors, it was a turning point, a boy-becomes-man moment. Since that day, Davis has grown as a player and a leader. He may still be "big," but he's no longer "baby."
Traded to Orlando in exchange for Brandon Bass in December 2011, Davis' time to shine came when he was forced to play as the Magic's undersized center in Dwight Howard's absence in last season's playoffs. In those five games, Davis was a star, averaging 19.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per game as the makeshift focal point of Orlando's game plan.
That performance paved way for the prominent role he now has with the Magic, where he is a leader on a team looking to rebuild following Howard's departure to Los Angeles.
To the surprise of many, Davis has blossomed in that role, winning the admiration of new head coach Jacque Vaughn, who had this to say about the 26-year-old after Orlando's win over Phoenix on November 4.
He was so focused tonight. It was great to see his energy, his passion. I think everyone got a glimpse of that tonight, and his leadership. And it’s not always, for him not through words, a lot of times his actions, and how hard he wants to defend. How aggressively he tried to play in the post defensively. He was trying to will us a lot of possessions. And he did a great job of providing passion for us tonight.
Those comments are a far cry from the sort of remarks leveled at Davis during his time in Boston. After complaining about his role with the Celtics in September 2010, Doc Rivers had this to say about the then-maligned power forward.
No, I'm not even worried about Glen Davis. I think he's living up to [his Big Baby nickname].......Let me put it like this: If Baby doesn't know his role by now, he's going to be sitting down a lot.
For those of you that need a little memory refresher, this is the sort of behavior that Davis was routinely criticized for.
Fast-forward two years and those days are now well behind him. Quite simply, the 6'9" big man has taken his game to a new level. Statistically, Davis has made huge strides forward in nearly every aspect of his play. Once a hustle guy used as an energy impetus off the bench, Davis is proving he can hold his own as a legitimate NBA starter. The following chart shows the overall improvement in the power forward's play, as well as the significant upward trend he is currently on.
With an increase in court time, Davis is posting the highest scoring, rebound and assist numbers of his six-year career. Yet, while it would be easy to say those increases are merely a product of greater playing time, there are other pieces of evidence that prove Davis is being far more influential than he used to be, when on the floor. The following chart shows the extent of his increased performance and overall effectiveness.
The leader of the Magic has seen his usage rate hit a career high, highlighting his dominant role in Orlando's play this season. Yet despite the increase in touches, the beefy forward has seen his turnover ratio hit a career low, close to half the number posted three seasons prior. Additionally, he's currently at a career high in rebound rate this season, meaning he's pulling down a greater percentage of missed shots when he's on the floor. This shows an improvement in rebounding performance, which is completely independent from rebound numbers based on playing time.
All these improvements have resulted in the highest player efficiency rating (PER) of his career, the statistic that is considered the gold standard in measurement of overall performance. Consequently, LeBron James and Kevin Durant rank one and two this season in PER.
Unquestionably, Davis' significant increase in PER has a high correlation with his improved shot selection. Criticized openly by Doc Rivers in Boston for regular bouts of poor judgement, Davis is now playing to his strengths instead of trying to (unsuccessfully) adopt the repertoire of Karl Malone.
The following graphic depicts Davis' shot attempts from the different parts of the court. With the dark red areas representing locations of high shot attempts, it's clear that Davis is reducing his percentage of outside hoists. For a man that hasn't been blessed with the prettiest of strokes, it's a positive alteration.
When compared with the chart on the left (Davis' last season in Boston), it's easy to see by looking at the chart on the right, that the power forward isn't settling for jump shots as often as he once did. By eliminating the right wing and left baseline areas from his "hotspots," Davis is focusing his energy mainly at the rim in 2012-13.
This new focus on attacking the rim is seeing Davis be a far more effective scorer in Orlando than he was in the early part of his career in Boston. While he'll always be battling against opponents that own more size, he does possess the weight and bulk to force his way to the rim in many instances. With his increasing confidence, this is the sort of play we are beginning to see more regularly from the 26-year-old.
Much of this aforementioned improvement can be attributed to his increasing maturity and the immense work he put into his game during the offseason. Yet despite this, it has become clear that Davis has also improved his athleticism quite substantially. Although he'll never take to the skies like Blake Griffin, there has been a noticeable improvement in the speed and athleticism of his play.
Examine the following clip, showing the extent of Davis' athletic ability while in Boston.
Now, to highlight just how far he's come, compare that footage to this play that occurred during Orlando's season opener against Denver on November 2.
Not quite satisfied? Just last week he ran the floor to deny a true seven footer at the rim with this block.
The difference in Davis' jumping ability and overall athleticism in the last two clips is quite profound when compared to that of the first video. It's abundantly clear that while he's put in a great deal of work to improve his overall skill level and decision making, he's also been working far harder in the weight room than ever before, attempting to squeeze every possible ounce of athletic ability out of his 290-lb frame.
The combined development of all these aspects in Davis' game has made the once maligned forward a bona fide NBA starter. To add to that, the growth of Davis has undoubtedly helped the Magic in the aftermath of Howard's bolt to greener pastures, with Orlando (given the circumstances) owning a surprisingly respectable 7-11 record.
Regardless of the fact that his long-term future in Orlando is far from assured, with the franchise's rebuilding process in mind, Davis has positioned himself nicely to embark on a successful NBA career.
Although it has been a process that has spanned half a decade, Davis has finally gotten his wish—he's distanced himself from a hard-to-shake nickname.
By maintaining the "big" but losing the "baby," you can just picture Davis standing alongside Madison Avenue singing this classic.
"Don't call me......."
*All stats accurate as of Nov. 6.