Los Angeles Lakers Can't Afford to Make Ed Davis the Odd Man out

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2014

EL SEGUNDO, CA - JULY 23: Ed Davis #21 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks to the media during a press conference on July 23, 2014 at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE  (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Someone is going to be disappointed on the Los Angeles Lakers frontcourt.

With the athletic Ed Davis, the scrappy Jordan Hill, the seasoned Carlos Boozer, the bruising building block Julius Randle, the sharp-shooting Ryan Kelly and the sideline-celebrating Robert Sacre all hungry for playing time, someone is going to be left starving.

The Lakers cannot let that someone be Davis, the 25-year-old who has often appeared an opportunity away from breaking through since being selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

With intriguing physical tools (6'10" with a 7'0" wingspan, via DraftExpress) and promising small-scale production (career 11.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes), he looks like a potential building block for a franchise in need of young talent.

The fact that he came by way of a clearance-rate, two-year, $2 million deal (player option for the second) solidified his standing as one of the summer's best signings:

"Ed is a versatile, young frontcourt player who, if he continues to work hard, will be a valuable contributor," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in a team release. "We look forward to him furthering his development with the Lakers and are excited by what we think he can offer our team."

Judging by the executive's words, the Lakers will not—and certainly should not—earmark major minutes for the former lottery pick. As promising as his past appears, his resume reads free of any guarantees.

Davis needs to earn his spot, and the Lakers must figure out why he hasn't before.

"A guy that talented—who can score at the basket, rebound outside his area and turn away shots effectively—shouldn't have spent his career looking for a way to crack a rotation," wrote Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes. "Make no mistake, there's some mystery surrounding Davis."

Davis is something of an oxymoron: a multimillionaire professional athlete who can't quite seem to catch a break. He's fortunate enough to live out his dream, only that dream life hasn't really started yet.

NEW YORK - JUNE 24:  Ed Davis stands with NBA Commisioner David Stern after being drafted thirteenth by The Toronto Raptors at Madison Square Garden on June 24, 2010 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
Al Bello/Getty Images

He made 65 appearances for the Toronto Raptors as a rookie in 2010-11, averaging respectable per-game marks of 7.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and one block in 24.6 minutes a night. Throw in a stellar 57.6 field-goal percentage and above-average 15.8 player efficiency rating, and he seemed on the fast track to something quite solid or perhaps even special.

But his numbers haven't moved a lot since, and the changes that have taken place haven't always been positive.

Whether struggling to progress on the Raptors' second team or getting buried behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph with the Memphis Grizzlies, Davis has had a hard time finding the momentum needed to spring his career forward.

By-The-Numbers Look at Ed Davis' Sluggish Start
SeasonPTSFG%REBBLKMINPER
2010-117.757.67.11.024.615.8
2011-126.351.36.61.023.214.2
2012-137.753.95.71.020.117.8
2013-145.753.44.10.715.215.9
Basketball-Reference.com

While his decrease in minutes shouldn't be completely overlooked, the important thing for his new team is that he has retained his efficiency through his ups and downs.

Over the last two seasons, he is one of only seven players to average at least 13 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes while shooting at least 53 percent from the field. Davis' 17.1 PER during that stretch ranks ahead of two players on that list, including Marcin Gortat (16.7), who signed a five-year, $60 million pact to stick with the Washington Wizards this summer.

Given Davis' age (25), athleticism, upside and track record, there are reasons to believe in his chance at upward mobilityif the Lakers give him the type of opportunity he's never had before.

EL SEGUNDO, CA - JULY 23: Ed Davis #21 and Mitch Kupchak of the Los Angeles Lakers pose for a photo during a press conference on July 23, 2014 at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

He seems to think that vacancy exists, and he even cited it during an interview with Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy as one of the biggest things that led him to L.A.:

I just wanted to find the perfect situation for this upcoming season and for the future. I didn’t want to take a deal just because it was more money and it might look better – I really wanted to go somewhere that had a need for me and wanted me rather than just joining a team to fill out the roster. For me, it was really just waiting it out and seeing which team had the most interest and seeing where I could go to really help the team and get a chance to play.

They just told me that the opportunity is going to be there. They weren’t going to promise me anything or any type of minutes, but all you can ask for as a player is a fair opportunity to be able to go out there and compete for a job and minutes, either as a starter or off the bench. I felt that of all the teams that had interest in me, this would be the best fit for me.

Whether Davis will get that fair chance he's after remains to be seen.

New Lakers coach Byron Scott told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News he already has ideas for four of his five starters: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Boozer and Hill.

The only job currently up for grabs is small forward, where Wesley Johnson, Nick Young and Xavier Henry will likely lock horns for the final spot during camp.

That would put Davis on the pine before he's even had a chance to fight for a starting gig:

Davis' fate should not be predetermined.

Not for a team coming off an abysmal 27-win season. Not to make room an aging Boozer, coming off the least efficient season of his 12-year career (14.4 PER), or a "prospect" like the 27-year-old Hill, whose resume has as many question marks as Davis'.

And certainly not with Scott declaring at his introductory press conference that "The main thing I have to do right away is establish ourselves as a defensive basketball team."

Davis has a history of being a deterrent. He has a higher career block percentage (3.6) and lower career defensive rating (104) than Hill (3.1 and 107, respectively).

Boozer made the Chicago Bulls defense three points worse per 100 possessions when he was on the floor (99.2) than when he was off it (96.2), a staggering statistic considering Boozer spent 71.7 percent of his minutes alongside the Defensive Player of the Year, Joakim Noah.

If the Lakers want defense, then Davis deserves a look.

According to 82games.com, he held opposing 4s (13.8) and 5s (14.8) to below-average PERs last season. Considering the Lakers finished the campaign 25th in field-goal percentage allowed, 28th in defensive efficiency and 30th in rebounding percentage, they need help all over that end of the floor.

Davis could provide a lift at the opposite side as well.

There's a chance his offensive game is limited, but even that is hard to tell due to his small sample size.

What can be gleaned from his stat sheet, though, is that he stays within himself (career 54.2 field-goal percentage) and does damage as a pick-and-roll screener. His 1.26 points per possession on those plays was the sixth-best in the business, via Synergy Sports (subscription required).

All of his production seems, at worst, sustainable in an expanded role. There's always the chance his numbers could improve with more playing time as well.

The Lakers need to find out exactly what they found in the NBA bargain bin this offseason: a cheap part-time contributor, a steady force for a reserve role or perhaps a pivotal piece of their rebuilding project.

That doesn't mean he should be handed a starting spot, but he shouldn't enter camp with a cap on his role, either. He deserves a chance to showcase his ability, and the Lakers stand to gain as much as him if he maximizes his potential.

Boozer's best days are behind him, Hill's might have a short shelf life and Randle's could be a couple of years down the road. Davis has a shot to be the bridge that brings everything together, and the Lakers have little to lose by seeing if he's up for the challenge.

There won't be enough minutes to keep every Lakers big man happy, but the only thing dictating Davis' floor time should be his performance. If he's hurting for action again, he should have only himself to blame.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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