I kept waiting for one of the stat guys to write a post about this, but it hasn't happened, so I'll pick up the mantle.
I think it was after losing their opening games that Baron Davis said, "Ask me how I'm doing after 20 games not four," or something to that effect. Well, the Clips have played twenty games now, so how is Baron doing? Now, he may have been talking about the team as a whole and that's an easy review, they're 9 and 11, two games under .500. They've played well at times, they seem to play better when Eric Gordon plays, and they've played poorly... a lot. But they're on a pace for 36 wins this year, certainly better than last but not near the .500 level and not as good as any of us would like. But how has Baron faired personally?
Ignoring statistics for the moment, judging by the evidence of having simply watched the games, I've liked Baron's game this year. He's laying off the pull-up-jumper and laying off the three-ball in general. This is good. He seems to be often attacking the basket and getting into the lane, using his considerable size and strength to overpower smaller guards. He seems to be playing solid defense as well... playing excellent "man" defense on all but the quickest guards. His ballhandling, clock-management, and general surety at the point guard spot have been exemplary. He also seems to be the team leader we thought we were getting when he came here. And, perhaps most importantly, he seems to better understand and be more willing to play within Mike Dunleavy's system. This is, to my mind, a surprising and welcome improvement. Gone are the surly looks, the displeased expressions (at least from my limited, tv-watching point of view). Most importantly, Baron Davis seems to have regained his lost confidence. He seems to better understand and better accept his role.
Baron Davis is a complicated dude. Last year, it was hard to figure out what exactly was wrong with him. He reported out of shape, he played poorly, he jacked up awful shots and... he sulked. His enthusiasm and his confidence had vanished and he didn't seem to understand what his coach wanted. Disastrously both he and Mike Dunleavy showed their worst traits... they seem equally stubborn, equally sure that their way is the only way. This year, someone's changed. Is it Baron? Or has Dun changed as well? Has John Lucas helped secure a rapprochement between these two strong-willed men?
Physically, Baron's in far better shape than he was at anytime last year. He looks quicker, stronger, faster. He's gotten above the rim a number of times....
Finally, do the stats back up our eyeballs? (I'll leave the advanced stats (plus-minus, PER) to someone else, mostly because I don't understand them, but also because I can't find them). His points are up... he's at 16.0 this, 14.9 last year (against 16.9 career). His assists, I was surprised to find are down, 7.7 last year, 6.9 this. His FG percentage is up a hair over 40 percent vs. .37 last year. His 3pt shooting is actually down .302 to .330, though he's he's taken slightly less per game 4.9 per 36 minutes vs. 5.3 last year. Steals are slightly up, 1.9 to 1.7 and rebounds slightly down, 3.6 to 3.7. He's also played slightly fewer minutes this year, 33.3 to 34.6.
Wow... I'm very surprised that the stats don't really reflect the change I see on the court... which makes me wonder... am I only seeing what I want to see, and is Baron Davis anywhere near his former all star level? In order for the team to improve, does Baron have to further improve? Why don't the stats better reflect Baron's better play? More importantly, why doesn't the team's record better reflect that improvement?
I have a theory about this. It's simple. Baron's better, a lot better, but the rest of the team is lacking. Actually, they kinda suck. Kaman's been better, but he's streaky and his rebounding's dropped off. Lately, Camby's been awesome but Gordon's missed almost half the games. Butler's been a complete flop and Al Thornton has only recently seemed to discover his way. Blake Griffin, obviously hasn't played a minute. The bench has been... okay. Without a scoring, rebounding monster like Zach Randolph, the Clips have little sure offensive firepower. So, here it is: I believe, without Baron's improved play, the Clips wouldn't have anywhere near nine wins this year. And now, it's up to the other 14 guys to get better if this teams going anywhere this year... even if anywhere is only 40 wins.