Davis plays hard, and he gets in his opponents’ way. He doesn’t demand the ball on the offensive end, but when he gets it down low where the paint is crowded and bodies crash, he knows what to do—he finishes hard at the rim and lopes back the other way, ready to do more work.
After dropping 20 points for a season high against his former team—the Memphis Grizzlies—in a loss Jan. 2, Davis took the blame upon himself. He didn’t talk about his eight rebounds or blocking two shots, or shooting 7-of-9 from the field.
All he cared about was one missed free throw. The Lakers were down two points with 2.8 seconds left in regulation when the 6’10” power forward got fouled going for the dunk. He made one of two attempts from the stripe, and the Grizzlies prevailed for the win.
Said the 25-year-old after the game, per Lakers.com: “It definitely hurt me to miss that second one, against a team that, if I can have one win all year, it would definitely be against them. But it is what it is, gotta get back in the gym tomorrow.”
Davis won an NCAA title at North Carolina and was the No. 13 draft pick for the Toronto Raptors in 2010. He showed steady progress and seemed to be coming into his own during his third season in Toronto, but he was traded to the Grizzlies, where his minutes dipped dramatically.
According to Dave McMenamin for ESPN LA, Memphis offered Davis a $20 million extension last season, but he turned it down to become a free agent. He wound up in L.A. for a lot less money and something to prove.
The son of former NBA power forward Terry Davis, Ed began the season playing backup behind Carlos Boozer. But his penchant for blocking shots and playing with aggression impressed Lakers coach Byron Scott, who made a switch a week into December. Davis has started every game since.
Scott said recently after a practice, per Lakers.com:
He gives us a presence in the paint. He rebounds, he blocks shots, he guards on the defensive end. He’s pretty good in the pick-and-roll. From that standpoint, he’s done a real good job on the defensive end. I think his offensive game is starting to come even better. Like I said before, he knows who he is, he doesn’t try to shoot 17- or 18-footers.
The left-hander’s blue-collar methodology has remained a constant since moving into the starting lineup. He has the lowest usage rate of anyone on the team, and 96 percent of his field-goal attempts come from within 10 feet of the basket. Davis is also the team’s best rim protector, with 1.2 blocks per game.
His efficiency and self-determination to play within his own strengths are helping the Lakers now, but there is also a double-edged sword. The second year of Davis’ contract is a player’s option, and it’s ludicrous to think he won’t opt out to test free agency next summer—there will be plenty of teams willing to pay more than a million bucks.
With trade season in full swing, the Lakers have to decide whether to gamble on re-signing their paint specialist then or packaging him in a deal now while he’s such an attractive and undervalued chip.
Writing for Lakers Nation, Brian Kamenetzky observed that a less-is-more approach of low-post play will cultivate demand in the marketplace and that Davis is cognizant of the niche he is carving out: “I think it will hurt my value for a team that’s looking for a stretch four, but a team that’s looking for a roller to the rim? A guy like me, every team has one, every team needs one.”
There’s also the stockpiling of the frontcourt to consider. The Lakers recently claimed rookie power forward Tarik Black off waivers, while stretch 4 Ryan Kelly is back in action after hamstring injuries. Julius Randle will return to the lineup next year after breaking his leg in his NBA debut this season. And don’t forget about starting center Jordan Hill and backup center Robert Sacre. Or Boozer, who is playing his best basketball of the season since losing his starting position to Davis.
There is a team option on both Hill and Sacre at the end of the season, while Black and Boozer will be unrestricted free agents.
Scott is fond of juggling minutes and talking publicly about effort, or lack thereof, among his frontcourt players. But as the team moves forward in its rebuilding efforts, some consistency and purpose needs to be prioritized.
Management also has to be ready to pony up some extra cash for a player who has shown his willingness to toil in the trenches.
Davis has played for five head coaches now in as many seasons. And while his role and playing time have been all over the map, his self-motivated work ethic has been a constant.
That effort should be a blueprint for a team that has too often wandered off track in recent seasons.
Ed Davis is all about proving his worth through team-first actions, not words.
The Lakers, as an organization, should follow that example.