When the story first broke that Glen "Big Baby" Davis would be bought out of his contract with the Orlando Magic, the talk immediately turned to where he would land after he became a free agent. For me, there was never any doubt: knowing that Doc Rivers liked him from their days together in Boston, knowing the ongoing need of the Los Angeles Clippers for a third big, and knowing that no other team could offer Davis the same opportunities in playing time and winning, it was a foregone conclusion that Big Baby would wind up on the Clippers. So when that happened on Monday, it was already old news for me.
But lost in all of this is a very simple question that we've never really addressed here: does Davis actually help the team, and if so, how?
The short answer is yes, he helps. If only because almost anything is an upgrade over the motley crew of reserve bigs the Clippers have utilized this season.
DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin have started all 59 games for the Clippers this season (thank FSM for that) and have already logged over 2000 minutes each (2128 minutes is already a career high for a season for Jordan, with 23 games left). Five other players 6'8 or taller have played for the Clippers this season; Davis will be the sixth. Three of them are no longer with the team. Of the five, Ryan Hollins has played the most minutes, 439, and Hedo Turkoglu has the compiled the highest PER, 10.9. A PER of 15 is considered average.
Hollins' PER (an even 10) is actually higher than I would expect. He does a decent job of playing within himself; it certainly helps that he is making 74% of his field goal attempts, which are mostly pick and roll dunks, something he does relatively well when he actually catches the ball. He defends the pick and roll well and can reasonably be described as an "energy guy". But his shortcomings are myriad and significant. He is a TERRIBLE rebounder for a seven-footer -- after an uptick last season to 7.5 rebounds per 36, he's back down to 6.5 per 36 this season, which is right around his career average. He has TERRIBLE hands, and the only reason he doesn't average more than 2.3 turnovers per game is because (a) they don't throw him the ball much and (b) some of the turnovers must be getting assigned to the passer. He is a fouling machine at 6.4 per 36 minutes. And while the energy can be a good thing, he is also usually good for at least one bonehead play each time he steps on the floor -- a completely unnecessary foul (often 90 feet away from the basket), a moving screen (his particular specialty), a flagrant: something.
Bottom line on Hollins: he's a pretty good fifth big, a passable fourth big -- and a disaster as the first big off the bench on a playoff team.
Turkoglu has been surprisingly rejuvenated in his brief time with the Clippers. A small forward for most of his NBA career despite his 6'10 stature, he's been rebounding far above his career averages since arriving in LA and has been easily the best rebounder among the five players who've backed up Griffin and Jordan. For his career, Hedo averages 5.3 rebounds per 36 minutes: he's getting 9.1 per 36 as a Clipper. The help on the boards has been great -- but forgive me if I'm not convinced it will last. (Of course, he's never played exclusively power forward before either.) Turkoglu is still a great playmaker for a big and has an amazing feel for the game and after making four three pointers against the Pelicans on Monday night, you could almost mistake him for a real option as a stretch four. But it all feels more than a little fragile with Turkoglu -- as if the pixie dust will wear off at any moment and he'll once again look like a chain smoker in his mid-30s at the local YMCA.
Davis is no statistical monster himself. He has career averages just south of nine points and five rebounds per game, 13.9 and 7.5 per 36. His career PER is a mere 12.6, with a high for a season of 15 last year in Orlando. Offensively, he's something of a mid-range specialist, making him an exceedingly inefficient scorer for a big. His career true shooting percentage is below 50% and he hasn't shot better than 50% in TSP in five seasons. That's just brutal for a power forward.
But it's all still better than the alternative. Hollins' 70% TSP looks great on basketball-reference, but it's almost exclusively dunks; if Davis limited himself to gimmes, he'd be more efficient as well. Taking a bunch of mid-range jumpers kills his efficiency, but it's a decent option to have on a second unit that is often limited to Jamal Crawford making miracle shots or Darren Collison driving blindly into traffic. As a rebounder Davis has been significantly better over his career than any other option off the Clippers bench. As a defender, he's far from great, but at the same time somewhat surprising. He's better than you'd expect at using his girth to defend much taller centers; and likewise quicker than you'd expect defending the pick-and-roll. Plus, he's already familiar with Doc Rivers' defensive schemes, so he should integrate quickly.
And while playoff experience is probably somewhat overrated, you'd still rather have it than not have it. Davis has appeared in 69 career postseason games -- that is second on the team behind the other Orlando refugee Turkoglu. He has logged the third most playoff minutes, after Turkoglu and just behind Chris Paul. He started every playoff game for Rivers in the 08-09 postseason when Kevin Garnett was hurt and posted five 20 point games in two rounds. And he becomes they only player on the Clippers roster to have won a title, not to mention that he returned to the Finals two years later. He played 20 minutes in game seven of an NBA Final; it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what that's worth, but it's worth something.
On paper, there's little question that Davis is far and away the best reserve big the Clippers have had on the roster this season. He can play either the four or the five, he complements both Griffin and Jordan with a face up game, he helps bolster the Clippers anemic rebounding and he adds a scoring option, albeit a somewhat inefficient one, to a weak second unit.
The bad news is that the second unit the Clippers hope to take into the playoffs -- Collison, Crawford, Barnes/Dudley/Mystery Three, Turkoglu and Davis -- is still being assembled and won't be fully in place at least until J.J. Redick returns to the staring lineup allowing Crawford to return to the sixth man role. So we have no real clue how all of these pieces are going to fit together. The good news is that it's easily the most talented second unit the Clippers have projected these four months into the season. If Danny Granger or another buyout free agent joins the team on the wing, this starts looking like a very deep team.