Big Baby Now Big-Time Glen?

Glen Davis entered the NBA as a basically flawed player. The big problem was that several of those flaws were not reversible—short for a power forward, short arms making him play even shorter, and an almost negligible vertical gave him the hat trick of undersized. On the other hand his girth was anything but small. This last, at least, he could work on; and he has firmed up his still ample width. Can someone six feet and seven inches tall be stubby? If so Davis was the poster boy and the sight of him screamed left tackle not basketball player.

Yet Glen Davis has surprised us every season. As a rookie he negotiated a 2-year deal; and unusual for Danny Ainge at the time it was without team options for additional years. At first look it appeared two years wasn’t even long enough for a body makeover like Perkins accomplished to transform the pudgy youth into a professional athlete. However as a serviceable body on a paper thin bench (remember the cupboard was swept clean to acquire Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett), Big Baby parlayed his great hands, surprisingly nimble feet, hustle into splitting (with Leon Powe) the backup minutes for big men. With Pollard permanently injured and some 33 minutes to cover (trying to limit Garnett to 35 and with Perkins’ six fouls only good for around 28), Powe and Davis held the fort until P.J. Brown was brought in at midseason. Contributor on a Championship team, rather impressive for a short, stocky 2nd-rounder that can’t jump.

The next year was already a contract year for Davis, and the team’s need for help in the front line was even more dire. Patrick O’Bryant “replaced” Pollard (neither provided much more coverage than the Emperor’s clothes), Mikki Moore was the mid-season pickup, and the (all-too-thinkable) unthinkable happened when Kevin Garnett went out for the 2nd half of the season. Up steps Davis, breaking out
a serviceable mid-range jump-shot; tenacious, if “grounded,” defense that used position-denial and drawing the charge to make the lane unfriendly in a rather different manner than Perk or Kevin; a left hand to vary his attack around the basket; and a knack for knocking down the clutch shot. The results? Quick, everyone raise their hand that thought the Celtics would advance to the Conference Semi-Finals’ seventh game without Garnett.

Last season, even the presence of Davis was a surprise. He had played out his contract, tested the waters, and found little interest and certainly no lucrative offers. Glen resigns for two years with the Celtics and returns to partially compensate for the sub-par Garnett who is the source of pity from long-time admirers as he struggles to regain his form after knee surgery but lacks the movement and explosion that made him dominant. That year’s new big man was Rasheed Wallace--disinterested during the regular season and mostly drifting from 3-point-line to 3-point-line with only occasional forays into the pivot where he showed he could be devastating . . . but just didn’t feel like bothering. Strangely Sheed may have helped bring out the best in Big Baby although Glen probably felt like it was his most challenging season. Wallace’s indifference often seemed to suck the energy and focus out of the Celtics and his lackadaisical play forced Davis to move inside or out to try to complement the uneven play of his teammate. Garnett too was off his game and his reluctance to initiate the offense in the pivot and lack of mobility had an effect on Big Baby’s positioning and approach. Big Baby wavered from role to role but usually brought energy and commitment. Results? The utility player in a frontline of the limited Garnett, up-and-down Wallace, and the steady but offensively limited Perkins; Glen Davis was an integral part of a run that fell just short in the seventh game of the Championship Series. Davis almost certainly tried to do too much—often forcing his jump shot, still trying to get up shots inside against multiple defenders, and leading the league in percentage of his shot attempts blocked (ouch). Still we saw a new fall-away to open space inside; more whirls around defenders; and using his body to clear space to get his shot off whether initiating contact to prevent the jump, bulling into the defense to draw the foul before even attempting the shot, or just positioning his bulk to make the defender reach across. His midrange jumper also became more dependable and his range extended a couple of feet.

Now the current campaign where Davis has been a significant contributor most nights. The number of his shots blocked has dropped significantly, probably due to several factors. This season Big Baby has seldom forced the issue inside against multiple defenders; he is getting his shot up quickly or pinning the defender with contact; his jumper has much better arch, range, and consistency; and he is playing “smarter.” His anticipation allows him to establish position to either draw the charge or to force the shooter to alter his approach and shot. Glen pays attention to the “automatic-charge” arc under the basket the way most diva shooters eye the 3-point-line. I would bet a smaller percentage of his blocking fouls are due having a foot on or in the arc than anybody in the league with more than two charges drawn. He is kicking the ball out (or across) more and more quickly this year, which both helps the flow of the offense and cuts down on his turnovers. There has been an amazing turnaround from his “potentially problematic” preseason comments about not knowing what his role is, to embracing Ainge’s answer that his strength was his flexibility. It’s actually the ideal orientation for any effective employee, see what is needed and fill the need.

He’s still too short. His arms still barely reach to the end of his fingers. He still struggles to finish over the rim. But he has expanded his skill set, compensated for his physical limitations, and has minimized his tactical flaws. As the big man corps has become seemingly permanent fixtures in the trainer’s room, this year’s need has been acute. Lost in the resurgence of Garnett, relative rejuvenation of Shaq, and unexpected contributions of the Turkish rookie, has been the steady play, solid defense, infusion of energy, and effective and timely offense of the Pugnacious Papoose. I just wish they would let him wear a helmet—it seems those large bodies crashing in to him are increasingly including a blow to the head whether by elbow, arm, or floor.