The Los Angeles Lakers focused on improving their frontcourt this offseason, signing Jordan Hill to a lucrative contract, winning the amnesty auction for Carlos Boozer and selecting Julius Randle seventh overall in the draft.
But the quieter signing of Ed Davis may provide the biggest bang for the buck on the court in 2015.
Los Angeles outright stole Davis this summer, nabbing him on a minimum deal that will output maximum value.
The young big man has always been a solid rotation player, with a career PER of 15.9 after stints in Toronto and Memphis.
Davis brings athleticism to a Lakers front line that has long lacked in that department. He runs the floor hard and can be a devastating finisher in transition. His offensive repertoire is not as polished as some of the other bigs on the roster, but Davis plays smartly on that end of the floor, focusing on his strengths.
He did a good job making himself available around the basket last year, attempting 56 percent of his field goals in the restricted area (up significantly from the previous two seasons) and getting assisted on 70 percent of his buckets.
Davis' mid-range game is improving too. He has gotten more calculating about when to shoot mid-range jumpers, and the result last season was a career-best 44 percent accuracy on shots between 10 and 14 feet.
Where Davis will really make an impression though, is on the defensive side of the ball.
As presently constructed, the Lakers' roster other than Davis is bereft of anyone who offers even a hint of rim protection. In 2014, Davis ranked fourth in opponent's field goal percentage at the rim among all NBA players who played an appreciable amount of minutes and defended at least three such shots per game.
His frontcourt mates Hill, Boozer and Ryan Kelly finished 55th, 109th and 124th, respectively, out of the 128 total candidates. Randle didn't show a proclivity for protecting the paint in college either.
Davis himself recognizes his value as a paint patroller. As he stated in his introductory press conference, "I think that’s something that I can rely on every night is defense and protecting the rim, whether that might be hard fouls or just being there at the right time, taking the charge, getting blocks, altering shots and things like that."
When Davis was on the floor last season, the Grizzlies' venerable defense actually improved (subscription required) by nearly five points per 100 possessions. The same trend was apparent in 2013, when Davis' presence made the league's second-best defense even stingier.
Defensive-minded coach Byron Scott may turn to Davis more than anticipated in hopes of slowing down the inevitable torrent of points that will be scored against the Lakers this season.
Basketball Insiders' Jabari Davis has him on his list of breakout candidates for the 2014-15 campaign, saying "Davis may be far from a household name, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the young man cannot produce...Davis could find himself as a vital cog in Byron Scott’s rotation just so long as he defends and rebounds."
Jordan Hill's fragility could grant Davis extra minutes as well.
Hill has had a tough time staying on the court and has actually played fewer career games and minutes than Davis despite being in the league for an additional year. Should Hill be forced to miss time this season, Davis would likely take over as the starting center.
Though he is currently fourth in line for minutes in the Lakers' frontcourt, the combination of his unique skill set, the new head coach's tendencies and health concerns of those in front of him could lead to Davis having a surprisingly big impact for L.A. in 2015.
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