Ed Davis isn’t a star. He’s not a household name. He doesn’t have crazy physical attributes, otherworldly athleticism or a robust skill set that strikes fear into his defenders. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a critical piece for Kenny Atkinson and the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets were one of the most surprising teams this season. After accumulating a 42-40 record, they drew a matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. They trail 3-1 ahead of Tuesday’s Game 5. Regardless, D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie have turned heads with their improvement. Russell’s in the running for Most Improved Player while Dinwiddie has made an outstanding case to be the Sixth Man of the Year.
Then there’s Joe Harris, the three-point shootout champion who is arguably the best marksman in the league. Caris LeVert has been excellent as well in the wake of that ghastly lower leg injury he suffered earlier this season.
Lurking in the shadows, however, is Davis. Ed Davis spent the previous three seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers. He came to Brooklyn last summer on a one-year deal worth $4.4 million. A larger payday is coming. Through 81 regular season games, Davis cemented himself as one of the NBA’s most prolific rebounders. With a per game average of 8.6 rebounds, Davis appears to be modest on the glass. However, he only gets about 18 minutes per game. If we were to extrapolate that to per 36 minutes, his mark rises to 17.3 which is second to Hassan Whiteside among players who have accumulated 500 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.
His rebound percentages are just as impressive. Davis may not see much time, but he makes the most of it. He boasts a rebounding percentage of 25.2. In other words, Davis grabs a quarter of all available rebounds. These boards aren’t easy to grasp, either. Davis’ activity on the glass projected to be a huge factor in Brooklyn’s series against Philadelphia.
Despite being a bit undersized, Davis has the intangibles necessary to give the Nets a fighting shot against the Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic. After the first game, those predictions seemed to come true. In 25 minutes, Davis hauled in 16 rebounds and gave Embiid fits on the defensive end. Unfortunately, an ankle injury has since hampered him. Davis played about 16 minutes total in Games 2 and 3 and missed Game 4. His status for Game 5 is uncertain.
Even so, none of this washes away what he did during the regular season. Brooklyn is an above-average rebounding team. But they had a difficult time keeping opponents off the glass. The Nets allowed 46.2 total rebounds a night. Of those, 11 were offensive. Davis kept the latter number from inflating, but it’s a tremendous amount of work. According to NBA.com, Davis, on average, comes down with 3.6 contested rebounds per game. That’s the highest number among players averaging 20 minutes or fewer. He works his tail off to protect the paint. It’s a role he’s embraced. Ed Davis’ tenacity and instincts translate to the offensive end as well. For the year, he hauled in 216 offensive boards.
It’s remarkable. His total was the league’s 15th-highest, but remember his lack of minutes. Of the 23 guys who have at least 150 offensive rebounds, Davis averages the fewest minutes. He, Jakob Poeltl and Kevon Looney are the only players on that leaderboard who’s per game average is less than 20. As a result, Davis is one of the leaders in offensive rebound percentage. At 15.7, he trails only Whiteside and Andre Drummond.
The way Davis plays isn’t glamorous. It’s gritty. He occupies a role that every team needs: a blue collar guy who does all of the dirty work. Brooklyn doesn’t run the offense through Davis, nor does he expect them too. Most of his points come on put backs. The rest come on cuts or in the pick-and-roll, which is excellent because the Nets have a slew of shot creators who don’t need to worry about getting Davis involved. If the ball comes his way, he’ll convert. If it doesn’t, he’ll attack the glass. Consequently, he has more energy to expend on defense.
Atkinson has Davis as the full-time backup center, a position where he’s a bit undersized. Davis stands 6-foot-10 but weighs 225 pounds. Regardless, he’s highly intelligent and always in the right place at the right time, two attributes that offset his inability to create turnovers. When Davis is on the court, the Nets boast a defensive rating of 101.3. When he sits, it tanks, plummeting to 110.1. The decrease is because of Davis’ versatility. He’s athletic enough to hold his ground on the perimeter while also altering shots around the basket. He may not be elite in that regard, but the intangibles help make up for it. The concoction results in a balanced defender who boasts the league’s second-highest DRPM.
Ed Davis isn’t going to win any awards. He won’t land on any All-NBA teams. There will be chatter about him this summer, but nothing more than average. And that’s OK. Davis is an outstanding role player. He impacts the game just as much as D’Angelo Russell or Spencer Dinwiddie, and, because of his help, the Brooklyn Nets have reached a level few expected.