Sunday, April 29, 2012

2012 NBA Playoffs: The Maturation of Big Baby

Has “Big Baby” grown up?

When Orlando Magic man-child Dwight Howard was shut down for the rest of the season, playoffs included, with a back injury a huge void was left in the post.

The minutes would go to Glen Davis, a six-foot-nine-inch, 289 pound forward who was often considered a soft jump shooter rather than a tough post presence.

But in the past month, Davis has been one of Orlando’s best and most consistent players.

In the Magic’s 81-77 victory over the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the first round of the NBA playoffs, Davis put up the numbers and did all the little things that go unnoticed in the box score that helped the Magic win the game.

Davis played 40 minutes against Indiana, scored 16 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked three shots.

Davis started at center and was forced to defend Pacers All-Star Roy Hibbert. Hibbert stands at seven-feet-two-inches, but Davis outperformed him in almost every facet of the game.

The former Georgetown standout did have nine blocks, but he only scored eight points (averaging 12.8 this season) and shot 3-11 from the field (down from his 50-percent shooting percentage this season), meaning Davis did a good job bodying him up on defense.

Hibbert did grab 13 rebounds, but that equals Davis’ output despite the five-inch height advantage.
Davis was also instrumental in key moments at the end of the game.

With about 27 seconds left in the game with Orlando ahead by only one, an unusually cold Ryan Anderson shot an ill-advised three-pointer that clanged off the rim. “Big Baby” was there to grab the rebound though, his sixth offensive rebound of the game.

Then with 10 second remaining in the game, the Pacers were inbounding the ball at half-court down by only three. The pass went to Indiana leading-scorer Danny Granger, who was confronted by Davis. Granger dribbled across the three point arc looking for a shot but Davis played good, tight defense on him and forced Granger to travel, giving Orlando back the ball and all but assuring the team victory.

It wasn’t just this one game where Davis has stepped up, however. He’s been great for the team the entire month.

For the season, Davis is averaging 23.4 minutes per game, 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and is shooting 42-percent from the field.

In the month of April, however, Davis has upped all those totals. In 12 regular season games during the month Davis has averaged 31.4 minutes per game, 16.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and is shooting 50-percent from the field. His free-throw shooting percentage has also improved, as he’s shooting 70-percent from the charity stripe this month compared to 68-percent this season; it’s also more reliable than the 49-percent Howard was shooting from the line.

In 13 starts Davis is averaging 15.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.

“He's playing great basketball. Glen has shut out all the distractions. He's not trying to do anything except play the game as well as he can possibly play it. That's it,” Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy told the media in the beginning of April.

Davis has said that he understands his role better now and Van Gundy has pointed out that the big man has become more of a team-oriented player rather than one worried about his own stats and agenda. A new attitude coupled with what looks like a forward in better shape than the beginning of the season has fans hopeful that the 26-year-old is starting to turn the corner.

Losing Howard was a huge blow to this team because everything they do on offense and defense revolves around the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. But with Davis hitting open shots, defending the rim and bodying up his opposing center it gives the team a legitimate low-post presence.

The Magic have had some rough games this season, especially without Howard in the game but as Davis blooms into a big-time contributor at the end of the season he also gives the team a real chance to do some good things in the playoffs this year.

Photo Credits.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

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