The venom was instant the moment the trade was officially announced.
It smacked of a desperate move of a team just doing somebody a favor. At most, it felt like a step to the side, and not a step forward. And when you trade an expiring contract for a step to the side, and then commit to him for four years while the franchise was entering a season where it needed to do enough to convince its superstar player to stay, you are putting a lot of pressure on him to deliver.
Early on, Glen Davis did not deliver.
As the season closes, Davis is. Maybe in a way Bass could, maybe not. But with Dwight Howard out of the lineup for the remainder of the season and Playoffs and the team playing solely on its own determination and grit, no player may mean more than Glen Davis.
There were big questions about what the Magic were going to do when Dwight Howard got hurt. The defense, as we have seen these last eight or so games, has completely changed. The offense has become much more guard oriented, involving a lot more pick and rolls and fewer post ups as Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post noted a few days ago.
Davis has been a key part of this as that pick and roll man. Even though he is not featured in the offense the same way as Howard, Davis has stepped up his raw production to meet the gap Howard left.
To understand the turnaround Davis has made on the floor, you have to remember how much he struggled early on.
When Davis agreed to the sign and trade deal that sent him to Orlando, he undoubtedly had visions of starting at power forward alongside Dwight Howard. When he arrived and it became clear that Ryan Anderson was not only the incumbent but in line for a breakout season, Davis struggled to fit into his new role.
Already undersized — he is listed at 6-foot-9 — Davis became Orlando’s backup center. No matter which post position he played though, he seemed to struggle. His shot was flat and he was clanging jumpers at an alarming rate.
That was not what the Magic signed him up for.
Before the All-Star Break, Davis averaged 7.3 points per game, 4.6 rebounds per game and shot 37.8 percent from the floor. Per 36 minutes, Davis averaged 12.0 points and 7.5 rebounds. After the All-Star Break, Davis is averaging 11.5 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game and is shooting 45.9 percent from the floor. Per 36 minutes, that is 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds.
It marks a 41 percent increase in his per 36 minutes point production and a 27 percent increase in his rebounding numbers per 36 minutes.
This is only partially a case of Davis getting more minutes of late — Davis is averaging only about two more minutes per game after the All-Star Break. But the extra minutes have not hurt.
In April, where Howard only played two games, Davis is averaging 18.2 points per game, 9.9 rebounds per game and is shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. He is playing 31.9 minutes per game to reach those number. But in only one other month did Davis shoot better than 40 percent.
This is quite a jump.
How did Davis make this turnaround?
Back in early February, Davis was shooting 36.5 percent from the floor. It brought up questions of whether the move was a good one and seemed to serve as a further indictment of Otis Smith‘s struggles these last few years. Davis now has brought his shooting up to 41.9 percent. Think of that, in the matter of a month and a half or so, Davis has brought his shooting percentage up more than five percent.
That takes a big change.
A lot of it has to do with Davis becoming more comfortable in his role. Davis admitted disappointment that he was not starting at the beginning of the year and felt like he had to press to make himself feel worth it with Brandon Bass performing well in Boston. Magic fans booing Davis for his lackluster play earlier in the season did not do much to inspire confidence.
But slowly, as many newcomers to Stan Van Gundy‘s Magic teams do, Davis began to “get it.” He started playing within himself more — setting good screens, getting to the offensive glass and playing good defense — and fulfilling his role.
This has led to his renewed success.
Is Davis the perfect player? No.
He struggles around the basket — he is shooting 60.5 percent from the floor at the rim and a chillingly cold 38.1 percent from 3-9 feet — and he cannot do much to protect the rim on defense. He favors his jumper more than he should as he is still shooting well below 40 percent mid-range jumpshots including the icy 29.7 percent from 16-23 feet.
But Davis is becoming worth his contract (to some extent) and the faith the Magic put in him more and more.
With Howard now out, Davis’ value is becoming more realized. He has an experience playing with those Celtics teams to develop into a locker room leader. You could hear it in the way he talked about the team’s progress playing without key players after the loss to Boston. He recognizes that this is still a dangerous team on a night-to-night basis if they continue to buy in and play with the same energy and effort.
Davis obviously has to continue this torrid pace with Howard out. No player might be more important for the Magic as the Playoffs draw near and the team dreams of an upset.