When Glen Davis was introduced to Magic a few weeks ago, he was flying all over the place. Literally.
Davis' energy was key to a preseason victory over the Heat. His wild diving play on an and-one make endeared him to Magic fans and made people forget about the shot and incident in Game Four of the 2009 Playoffs. This was the Davis the Magic envisioned acquiring -- someone who could create energy, score in key spots and defend. Maybe even a little bit more intangibly.
Through seven games, the Magic have not seen that Glen Davis. Not anywhere close.
Boston fans might have been able to tell Orlando fans about all the struggles Davis had on a day-to-day basis. We saw Davis at his best on the national stage -- diving on the floor and making hustle plays. We saw Brandon Bass on a day-to-day basis, thrust into a starting role, able to hit the 18-foot jumper but lacking many other offensive skills and struggling to grasp Stan Van Gundy's defensive concepts.
Davis, so you would think, had the same type of shooting skills (just not as consistent) and a better understanding of defense. Davis has not displayed these skills and been the player the Magic envisioned when they acquired him.
He showed a flash of it Friday in a strong, energetic effort against the Bulls. Davis still struggled to shoot, going 2 for 8 from the floor and scoring eight points. But he scored a lot of hustle points on a night where it seemed the Magic were getting beat to the glass on every shot -- Chicago posted a 33.3 percent offensive rebound rate. Davis had 10 rebounds in the game and did a nice job on the glass.
On the year, Davis is averaging 7.0 points per game while shooting a 32.4 percent from the field and 7.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. Those numbers are not career lows, but his 5.3 PER is and it is the little things Davis is not doing that has the Magic concerned.
Friday was an encouraging effort that came after Stan Van Gundy and Glen Davis had a discussion Thursday to clarify Davis' role and what Van Gundy expects from the free agent acquisition. Everyone seems to believe Davis will eventually "get it" and be a contributor on the Magic. It is just getting there and going through the growing pains of playing with a new team that has Davis and Magic fans frustrated so far.
Van Gundy said he told Davis to focus on doing those little things -- taking charges, setting hard screens and scrapping out rebounds -- that made him successful in Boston. That is what Davis seemed to be doing more of in Friday's loss to the Bulls.
"What we talked about was just Glen doing the things that have made him a very good and, more importantly, a winning NBA player," Van Gundy said Thursday. "And I think he's sort of been sidetracked into -- maybe because he hasn't been shooting the ball well -- getting concerned about numbers and things like that.
"That's hard for guys like him in this league because there are other guys who will get great attention because of the numbers they put up. A lot of what Glen does, he can certainly get numbers, but a lot of what he does will never show up on a stat sheet."
Davis admitted that he wanted to come in and make a good impression with his new teammates and his new team. It seemed like he fell into the trap of believing the Magic offense was all about putting up shots and not about ball movement or attacking off the closeouts coming late from the post. It is true Van Gundy encourages all his player to shoot when the shot is open, and that is not going to change.
But smart shots within a player's ability is more important. And Davis is nowhere near as efficient as Bass.
Davis can hit that midrange 16-23 foot jumper. But that is no where his most effective, as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel noted before Friday's game as well.
Up until this year, Davis was averaging 2.3 shots per game from between 16 and 23 feet according to HoopData. He took a career high 355 field goal attempts from 16-23 feet last year, making 35 percent of those shots. Fast forward to this year and he already has 33 attempts from 16-23 feet accounting for 4.3 shots per game. That is a 91 percent increase in shot attempts per game from 16-23 feet. Worse still, Davis is hitting only 31 percent of those shots.
It is not a huge actual number increase (two to four), but that is not where Davis is most effective throughout his career.
Davis did a lot of his work in Boston around the rim and within nine feet. Last year, he took 241 shots at the rim and 103 from 3-9 feet. He made 63.1 percent at the rim last year and 46.3 percent from 3-9 feet. Those two areas accounted for 42.9 percent of his shot attempts in 2011, while the 16-23 foot shot accounted for 44.3 percent of his shots.
This year, Davis has taken only 15 shots in eight games at the rim and has missed all seven of his shots from 3-9 feet. Those 22 shots account for 31.0 percent of his shot attempts this year. The 16-23 footer is accounting for 49.3 percent of all of Davis' shots.
The long two-pointer is a critical part of his game. That is not going to go away any time soon. Nor should it. But teams also need to respect Davis' ability to drive, his ability to post up and his ability to hit those closer shots. That will enable him to have more time on those long jumpers (theoretically enabling him to make more of them).
What does this all mean?
Yes, it means Stan Van Gundy may have to find ways to put Davis in postitions where he can score. It is clear the four spot is still designed for a player like Brandon Bass who can hit that long jumper at a consistent rate. Van Gundy has not given Davis the same kind of post up looks he was getting in Boston, as Nate Drexler of MagicBasketball.net pointed out earlier this week.
But it also means Davis has to do the dirty work like he did Friday. He has to crash the boards hard and try to get offensive rebounds and put backs. He has to be calm and patient in the post. And he has to let the offense come to him rather than press to score.
In other words, Davis has to focus on why the Magic brough him in. It was not to be a scorer. It was to be a grinder.