Below is the eighth in a series previewing the story lines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2014-15 season. This post focuses on Lakers forward Ed Davis.
1. Where will Ed Davis fit in the Lakers’ frontcourt? Following the health of Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, the second biggest storyline coming out of Lakers’ training camp will entail positional battles. Though Lakers coach Byron Scott said every starting spot outside of Bryant’s position will become up for grabs, it appears the forward spot seems the most unpredictable because of the number of possible candidates.
Carlos Boozer is considered the favorite because of his experience, while rookie Julius Randle is expected to have chances to develop as a highly touted rookie. So where does that leave Davis? Will his strong defensive credentials overshadow Boozer’s defensive concerns? Will Davis’ relative experience over Randle still give him an advantage?
2. Can Davis overcome potentially inconsistent playing time? Scott has stressed that his players will have to earn their playing time. But it’s still fair to point out that Davis’ success could hinge on how many minutes he plays. Consider the difference between Davis posting a career-high 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in 24.9 minutes per game in the 2012-13 season and finishing last season averaging only 5.7 points and 4.1 rebounds in 15.2 minutes.
Of course, output usually increases with more opportunities. But as Bleacher Report recently noted, Davis has represented one of seven players to average at least 13 points on 53 percent shooting, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes.
Simply put, plenty of Davis’ struggles simply points to a lack of opportunity, including playing in Memphis behind a loaded frontcourt that included Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Davis could encounter similar issues considering the Lakers have a frontcourt featuring Boozer, Randle, Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly. This situation puts the onus both on Davis to establish a niche despite possibly limited opportunities and for Scott to put Davis in a position to succeed.
3. Davis could become a critical part of the Lakers’ defense. One of the biggest variables that could determine both Davis’ worth and playing time will involve how much he can shore up the team’s defense. The Lakers need all the help they can get. After finishing 29th in points allowed (109.2), 24th in defensive field goal percentage (46.8) and 30th in fast-break points conceded (16.7), the Lakers do not have many defensively elite players. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are aging. Boozer is a season removed from playing limited minutes in Chicago because of his defensive deficiencies. Hill is a season removed from having bursts of defensive energy wane once fatigue hit him. Wesley Johnson’s flashes of defensive brilliance was overshadowed with plenty of disappearing acts.
Meanwhile, Davis limited opponents last season to 40.1 percent shooting at attempts near the rim. He has drawn plenty of praise for his athleticism, length and explosiveness. Even during limited playing time, it does not appear that affected Davis’ defensive strengths. The Lakers will need more defensive support beyond Davis’ presence. But it is a start, at least enough for Davis to establish a role.
4. Will Davis develop as an offensive player? Yet, the biggest knock on Davis entails his limited offensive skills. His shot charts from every season of his five-year career (including last season) shows one unchanging trend. Davis can finish at the rim, but he sure cannot convert consistently anywhere outside of it. It seems like the odds are stacked against Davis in reversing this weakness.
The Lakers will rely on plenty of Kobe Bryant and Nick Young to create their own shots. Boozer and Randle could produce consistently more on offense. Still, with Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin running the show at point guard, Davis should receive plenty of open looks off pick-and-rolls where he can dive toward the basket.
5. How will Davis handle his player option? The Lakers made a huge steal in signing Davis to a two-year deal priced at around $2 million. But will the Lakers see Davis stick around for the second act? If Davis has a successful season, he could opt out for a more lucrative offer, which would decrease the Lakers’ financial flexibility to chase the top stars of the 2015 free agent class. Or Davis may not want to stay if the size of the Lakers’ loaded frontcourt hurts his opportunities to grow.