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Los Angeles Lakers Must Develop Hidden Gem Ed Davis for the Future

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 11, 2014

Oct 29, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Ed Davis (21) against the Phoenix Suns during the home opener at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Lakers 119-99. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

As bleak as the present looks for the Los Angeles Lakers, their future doesn't seem much brighter.

The cupboards are nearly barren, as a franchise that spent so much time living for today never needed to worry about tomorrow. There are barely any prospects in the picture, and reinforcements could be hard to find with the Lakers possibly on the hook for two of their next three first-round picks.

L.A.'s hopes rest on the shoulders of 19-year-old Julius Randle, whose rookie season likely ended the same night it started. Beyond the lottery pick, the Lakers are banking on their ability to attract several front-line free agents over the coming summers.

So much of this rebuilding project is going to be guesswork. Breakout candidate Ed Davis could be a welcome supply of certitude. Just starting to scratch the surface of his full potential, he has already given the Lakers reasons to consider keeping him around for the long haul.

"He is 25 and could be part of the Lakers' future," ESPN.com's Arash Markazi wrote of Davis. "... In a season that doesn't have many silver linings, developing Davis may actually be one of them."

It's a stretch to say that Davis' emergence comes as a complete surprise. After all, he was the 13th overall pick in 2010 and the assumed centerpiece of the package the Memphis Grizzlies received in exchange for career 18.3 points-per-game scorer Rudy Gay.

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The basketball world has always been intrigued by Davis. Considering the physical gifts he brings to the table—7'0" wingspan and 36-inch max vertical, per DraftExpress—it isn't hard to see why scouts would like the lanky, springy, high-motor big man.

That said, the Lakers didn't exactly know what they were getting when they lured Davis in on a bargain two-year, $2 million contract this summer. The economic value seemed terrific, though that was more a reflection of what he might become instead of who he actually was at the time.

During his first four NBA seasons, Davis struggled to find consistent action. He saw 24.6 minutes a night as a rookie with the Toronto Raptors, then watched that number fall over each of the next three seasons. The Grizzlies, who already had Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol manning the middle, had an even smaller role available for Davis.

By the time he arrived in L.A., Davis' career numbers looked more forgettable than anything else: 6.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 20.8 minutes per game. His player efficiency rating of 15.9 had him pegged as an almost perfectly average NBA player.

Even when stretched out on a per-36-minute scale, his stats appeared solid, not special: 11.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Those weren't jaw-dropping figures by any stretch, nor were they guaranteed to hold up if his workload expanded.

Despite external pleas for more minutes, Davis' playing time really hasn't taken off. However, that's about the only area of his stat sheet that has not exploded.

Ed Davis: Before and After His Hollywood Arrival
PeriodPTSFG%REBBLKSTLPER
First 4 Seasons6.954.25.90.90.515.9
2014-1510.371.16.81.31.023.6
Basketball-Reference.com

As unsustainable as his shooting percentage looks, it isn't likely to come crashing down. He won't be a 71 percent shooter all season, but a 60-plus-percent conversion rate is not out of the question.

He understands both his own limitations and what this team needs from him at the offensive end. Namely, the Lakers ask him to mix it up in the middle.

Whether cleaning the offensive glass, exploding out of screens or providing a safety valve near the rim, Davis rarely strays outside of the paint. He has attempted 38 shots on the season, 25 of which have come from within three feet of the basket. The other 13 attempts have all originated less than 10 feet away from the goal.

As Forum Blue and Gold's Darius Soriano observed, there is plenty to be said for Davis staying in his lane and making the most of his offensive chances:

Davis may never be a big-time scorer—though he is on pace for a career-high 16.4 points per 36 minutes—but he is someone who can positively impact the game without getting touches.

Some players' effectiveness can be tied to their level of involvement in the game plan. Davis is different. He makes things happen no matter how often his number is called.

"I just play hard every time out there, whether it be 10 minutes or 20 minutes out there," Davis said, per Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News. "I bring the energy on defense and hustle. I think the coaching staff knows what I can do, bring to the table and help the team."

At his core, Davis is an energy guy. In some respects, the Lakers already have an effective one of those in Jordan Hill, who received a two-year, $18 million deal to stay in L.A. this offseason.

But Davis brings a different kind of motor. His impact reaches both ends of the floor, which helps set him apart from the rest of this roster, as Medina noted:

The Lakers are a bad team. They have been outscored by 11.1 points per 100 possessions, or nearly twice as many as last season's 27-win squad (6).

Bad as they are, they get considerably worse when Davis steps off the floor. With him, the Lakers have almost played their competition to a draw (minus-1.3 net rating). Without him, they haven't even looked like they're in the same league as their opponents (minus-19.5).

Despite the two-way production and obvious impact, Davis has not yet forced his way into Byron Scott's starting lineup. According to Bill Oram of the Orange County Register, it could take some time for Davis to have a realistic shot at that promotion:

But even if that call hasn't been made, a verdict should already be in on Davis' future with the franchise.

For a team so short on building blocks, the Lakers struck gold in the free-agent bargain bin. At a minimum-level cost, they found a promising piece for whatever type of puzzle they put together.

All Davis needed was a chance. He didn't stumble into this type of ability, he has had it all along. He just needed a shot to showcase his skills, per Lakers Nation's Serena Winters:

The secret is out on Davis. It's hard to say why better offers didn't come his way this past summer, but they should be readily available if he declines his player option for next season.

The Lakers have to give him every incentive to stick around. They'll need him far more than he will need them.

So, the recruitment needs to start now. That means giving Davis as many minutes as he can handle, a process that should have started a while ago given that the uninspiring Carlos Boozer is somehow standing in Davis' way.

Then, it's about finding offensive and defensive schemes that help complement Davis' strengths. He can fit his talents into a number of different roles, but the Lakers need to see which ones suit him best. After all, he's on a very short list of players worth keeping around.

The success of the franchise's rebuild will depend heavily on its external additions. But the more players it can bring along in-house, the better off it will be.

The Lakers do not have many paths to internal growth, but Davis' development is a low-risk, high-reward avenue worth pursuing.

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