Ed Davis Has Arrived

On Tuesday, ESPN unveiled its second annual NBA 25 Under 25 Rankings, listing the young players they feel are the best 25 under the age of 25 (for this year’s ranking, players had to be born on or after January 22, 1988). When I first saw that the new list was up, my immediate reaction was to check if Jonas Valanciunas made the cut. He didn’t, though I’m confident he’ll be on it by this time next year.

To my surprise though, a Raptor not named Valanciunas did make the list, and that Raptor was Ed Davis. One of nine new entrants to the rankings, Davis comes it at No. 24, sandwiched between DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe.

In the brief writeup that comes with the ranking, David Thorpe writes about how Davis’ smarts lead to efficient offence and mentions his effective rebounding, while Kevin Pelton writes about Davis stealing the starting power forward spot in Toronto and mentions that “he might not give up that role for years.” Ed’s thin frame and the subsequent disadvantage that leaves him with in trying to defend the post are also mentioned, but if you’ve watched Davis evolve over the last few months, then you should know not to doubt the emerging young big man’s ability to improve.

While Davis showing up in an arbitrary ESPN ranking doesn’t necessarily mean anything, it is yet another example of how his potential was overlooked by a lot of Raptors fans over the last year. With his somewhat disappointing sophomore season last year and the addition of Jonas Valanciunas – not to mention the presence of more fan-favourites like DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross because of their highlight reel ability – Davis had sort of become the forgotten one in Toronto, and I wrote about that very idea a few times, including my fear that Ed would become the latest in a long line of Raptors “who got away,” only to blossom elsewhere.

For now, those fears have been put to bed as Davis has earned his starting spot for the foreseeable future while rendering Andrea Bargnani as obsolete as ever, and has forced himself into the minds of Raptors fans everywhere.

In looking at his advanced metrics, it’s also easy to see that his current level of play is certainly sustainable, as for the most part, for lack of a better phrase, he’s just continued to do what he does. As an example, his rebound rate of 16.7 per cent is identical to his rate from last season. His block percentage is actually down slightly (from 3.2 as a rookie to 3.4 last season and now 2.6 this season) and his steal percentage has fluctuated by just 0.1% (between 1.3 and 1.4) over his three seasons. The noticeable differences are in his true shooting percentage (up from .544 last season to .574 this season) and his effective field goal percentage (.513 to .551), but even those numbers are still below his rookie percentages, so again, his superb efficiency this season seems to be more of an indication about his offensive game than his slipping efficiency last season was.

In addition, his assist percentage is up from 6.5 to 8.8 and his turnover percentage is down from 14.9 to 10.6 despite the fact that his usage rate has shot up to a career-high of 18.3 per cent after a couple of seasons of usage rates below 14 per cent.

Basically, Davis has shown steady improvements in his offensive game – but not unsustainable inflated improvements – while continuing to be a well above average rebounder and defender. Yes, he’ll have to bulk up to get to the next level in his defensive evolution, but right now, the Raptors look like they have one of the breakout players (especially among big men) of 2012-13, and his name isn’t DeRozan, Bargnani, Ross or even Valanciunas.

And speaking of Valanciunas, while I still believe Jonas has the higher ceiling of the two, Davis has moved up the totem pole to sit right behind JV in my personal rankings of who I’d least like the team to trade. As I wrote last week, if the rare opportunity to acquire a bonafide franchise changing star presents itself, then all bets are off as they should be, but if not, Ed should be held on to in order to pair him with Valanciunas in what could be one of the league’s most fundamentally sound and brightest frontcourts of the future.

Pair the on-court development and promise with his subtle “Boss” swagger and his professed love for the city, and it’s no wonder why Toronto is falling for Ed Davis. An appearance on ESPN’s Top 25 Under 25 is merely the icing on the cake.

All stats courtesy of basketball reference