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Is Glen Davis a Good Player?

 

Immediate caveat: We’re in the middle of the playoffs, and my attention is on the Bulls-Celtics series, so this is not meant as The Definitive Glen Davis Post.

You may have seen that David Berri’s wins produced formula ranks Glen Davis among the 45 least productive players in the NBA this season. (For an explanation of the WP formula, go here). By net wins produced, only eight players in the league were worse than Davis; when broken down by minutes played (the WP/48 column in Berri’s post), 32 players on the list of 45 rank worse than Davis–he’s penalized in the net WP category because he played more minutes than most of the guys on this list.

No one reading this site thinks Glen Davis is a star. But to be told he’s one of the least valuable players in the league is surprising, if only because fans naturally develop an affection for players they watch a lot.

But is Baby really this bad? My quick reaction is that he scores badly here (and in PER) for two reasons: 1) He’s a bad defensive rebounder, and both metrics value rebounding highly; and 2) He was awful on offense until around mid-January. Let’s take these one at a time.

Offense

I want to start here, because I think net statistics miss the broader narrative we’ve seen unfold during Davis’ second season in the league.

To say Glen Davis has become a different offensive player this season is an understatement. Few NBA players change their offensive games from one season to the next as dramatically as Glen Davis did. In his rookie year, 29 percent of Baby’s shots were jumpers; 67 percent came from in close. This year, he nearly reversed those percentages–60 percent of his attempts were jump shots, and just 36 percent came from in close, according to 82games. I wonder how many players adjust their offensive games to this extent through their entire careers.

Let’s look at this in graph form, since graphs are fun and have colors. First, here’s Baby’s NBA hot spot chart from last season:

Glen Davis took 37 jump shots last year. Thirty-seven jumpers. All season.

Now, here’s the same chart for this season:

Glen Davis took more jumpers from the left baseline this season than he took from all over the court combined in 07-08. (Yes, Baby played 8 more minutes per game this season, but that doesn’t disprove the larger point). It’s a jarring change when you look at it this way.

And it started horribly. On January 12, Kelly Dwyer wrote the following on BDL: “Davis is killing the Celtics. Destroying this team. His PER on the season is around 8, which puts him amongst the worst rotation players in the NBA, and PER doesn’t account for his defensive attributes. Which are awful. Ruddy awful.”

(I love that Kelly Dwyer uses the word “ruddy” on a regular basis. He is awesome).

And Kelly was right. Davis’ PER was under 8, which is really, really hard to do if you’re playing real minutes in the league, if only because you’re not good enough to play real minutes. On Jan. 19 on my old blog, I pointed out that, on that date, Glen Davis was shooting 28 percent on jump shots for the season. I criticized the shot selection (and the connected decline in FTAs) and implored Baby to go to the hoop more.

The guys at Red’s Army, on the other hand, took a longer view. In posts I can’t find right now (Red’s is re-designing, it appears), Red’s called for Davis to keep shooting, arguing that he could help the team most by developing a jump shot.

Red’s was right, and I was wrong, and Glen Davis developed a jump shot. So what happened? Davis’ PER for the season is now around 11, and his shooting percentage on jump shots is up to 37 percent. Neither of those numbers are good (an average PER is around 15), but considering Davis had a 7.5 PER and a 28 percent mark on jumpers after 50 games, they show considerable development. Since late January, Glen Davis has compiled about a league average PER.

Rebounding and Defense, after the jump.

Glen Davis is not a good defensive rebounder. And if there’s one thing that makes people uncomfortable with Wins Produced and PER (note: I said “people,” not “me”), it’s that both systems give huge weight to rebounding. (Please note: Berri’s system makes adjustments for the fact that big guys get more rebounds than guards, and the numbers he ends up with rank players relative to those who play the same position/s).

Davis’s defensive rebounding rate is 12.8, meaning he grabs 12.8 percent of available defensive rebounds. This is terrible for a power forward. Of 81 forwards (SFs and PFs) who played enough to be eligible for the scoring title, only eight had lower DRB rates than Davis. In order from “best” to “worst”: Hilton Armstrong, Brandon Rush, Darius Songalia, Nicolas Batum, Thaddeus Young, Al Thornton, Steve Novak, Bruce Bowen and Jason Kapono.

Not good company for a burly power forward. (Celtics trivia: Pierce is 53rd; Powe 29th).

To his credit, Davis’ 9.4 percent offensive rebounding rate ranks him 22nd among these 81 players. That type of ORB-DRB rate gap seems unusual; the same players (other than Armstrong) populate the basement of both lists. (Celtic trivia: Leon Powe is #2 in the entire NBA in this category, trailing only Kevin Love. Get well, Leon).

I’m not sure why Davis is so bad at rebounding on one end and decent at the other, and we’re nearing the 900-word mark, so I’m not going to speculate now (though I have e-mailed a couple of NBA experts to weigh in).

As for defense, opposing power forwards put up a solid 18 PER against Baby, and the C’s defense gives up five more points per 100 possessions with Baby on the floor. The new Basketball Prospectus stats show he’s cut his opponents production by about seven percent, but that he’s typically matched up against bad players.

I’ll leave the full defensive analysis of Baby for another post. My goal here was to provide some explanation for why he fares so poorly in some of the most prominent player value metrics we have (including Hollinger’s new Wins Added, where Baby ranks 288th in the league, having “added” -0.6 wins to the Celtics total this season).

I’d be very curious to see how the New Baby–the post-Jan. 15 Baby–would finish in these metrics over the course of a full season. I wonder how much the Celtics are willing to pay to find out?

  • http://seanthekorean.blogspot.com Sean

    First, I just want to say that I love the blog.

    Second, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm rooting for the Bulls. I grew up in southern Illinois, but by default (and from watching Jordan growing up) that's kinda what happens. I'm still an avid Bulls fan, especially after living in Chicago for 4 years and watching that team play. Greatness it isn't, but it sure as hell is fun to watch.

    Third, this blog is way better than its reader participation. I've read every word of the first 3 pages, and I'm shocked that you're only getting 1-3 comments per post. It's up-to-the-minute, insightful, well-written, and best of all, it's a fun read. Good stuff, and kudos to the writers.

    That being said, I'm a little disappointed in the readership. My favorite blog is probably vivaelbirdos, a St. Louis Cardinals sportsnation blog. Remember, I grew up in southern Illinois, <100 miles from St. Louis and 300+ from Chicago. Anywho, the writers there are superb, but they've got nothing on you guys… yet for some reason they get 200+ comments/post even during the offseason, while you all are doing comparable work (in both quality and quantity) with very little response.

    Anyway, as a Bulls fan, I just wanted to congratulate you on a job well done and let you know that it's not going unappreciated. Good luck the rest of this series! I just hope we get 5 more epic games like the first 2, and please don't take it the wrong way when I say I really hope your team comes out on the losing end. If it's any consolation, I think you've got a championship-quality blog here.

    Respectfully,

    A Chicagoan by way of St. Louis now living in South Korea,

    Sean

  • LucasX

    I think he has improved offensively, but on dfense he is not blocking out anyone. The C's ae giving up a lot of second chance tip-ins and this isn't just Glenn's problem. Perkins has no clue where his man is most of the time and with KG out, they are getting penetrated by guys who have never been inside the free-throw line. I like Davis, but he still doesn't look like he can get off the floor and he has been eating leather on some inside drives. You give up leaping ability for the ability to block out antire team if you set a screen. At which he does better than Perkins and Mikey. They haven't got that "In position" thing figured out yet.

  • Casperian

    First, I have to agree with Sean. It`s a really good blog, keep it up and the rest will follow.

    Second, I want to thank you for this article. I`ve been saying all season that Baby is a better player than the numbers tell, but I`m way too lazy to research any numbers.

    At first, people picked on his bad shooting percentages, without acknowledging that he was asked to change his offensive game almost completely over one summer.

    Then they said he`s a bad rebounder, although that was almost the sole reason why he played in his rookie year. He had several excellent offensive rebounding games that year, IIRC.

    My personal theory as to why his DR numbers are much worse than his OR numbers is pretty simple: He´s not asked to do it.

    OR´s are much harder to come by than DR´s, imo. Most DR´s are just a matter of positioning, it is expected that you get the DR.

    Now look at his teammates:

    KG, for many years the best Rebounder in the league.

    Perkins, a physical beast and another very good Rebounder.

    Rondo, arguably the best Rebounding PG in the league.

    Pierce, an excellent Rebounder at the SF position.

    And Ray Allen, one of the smartest players in the league and another good Rebounder for his position (Yes, smarts are important to get a Rebound. If you´ve followed the games this year, Ray may not get a lot of Rebounds, but he often gets the crucial ones)

    Oh, and Powe, #2 of all Forwards in offensive Rebounding rate.

    Add the fact that the Celtics WANT their guards (especially Rondo) to get the DR to quickstart their offense, and there´s just not much to do for Davis. He´s playing on arguably the best Rebounding team in the league (and no, total numbers don´t tell the whole story).

    (I apologize for any grammatical errors, but english is not my mothertongue, and the comment became bigger than expected)

  • PJ (slam)

    I agree – great writing on this site. Gives me another great celtics site to check into a few times a day (in addition to celticsblog.com). Keep up the great work.

  • Paul

    Just like to say this is my first visit to this blog (via Celticsblog link) and I'd like to echo the comments above. Nice article, I will be visiting this blog again soon.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    Thanks to all for the nice comments. We're a young blog–part of the new ESPN/TrueHoop Network of blogs–so it's a slow build. If you like it, keep coming back and commenting. It's much appreciated.

    As for Davis, I thought about the impact that playing with KG–one of the great defensive rebounders ever–might have had on his numbers, but his DRB rate is actually worse this season, when KG missed so many games.

    I'll try and pay closer attention to his blocking out, though.

  • Jaylor

    From playing, I can say that when matched up on someone who is physically more gifted, you can use effort and your body to keep them off the offensive glass. But that means staying with them and not running down the rebound yourself. Otherwise, a quicker guy who can jump higher than you will beat you to it as soon as you take your body off of him. My guess is that Rondo is getting double-digit boards not just because he is a great athlete, but because big baby is holding the other team's big men off the boards. Sometimes stats can miss contributions. For offensive rebounds, the dynamic is different because you don't have an absolute responsibility to block out and can go after the ball.

  • KOD

    Stats are fun to keep track of and provide good fodder for debate, but they never seem to tell the whole story.

    Case in point related to the Celtics: is there a stat to measure all that KG brings to the table in terms of his sheer intensity, ridiculous competetiveness, basketball IQ, swagger/intimidation factor, and his presence on the court making each of his teammates better? Best example of this was KG's first game back from injury in March when the Celts beat the Spurs in San Antonio. If you recall, KG only actually played about 14 mins in that game (and sat the whole 4th quarter in a close game on the road against a high-quality opponent), but the impact of him being back in the line-up far transcended the actual stats he posted in those 14 mins. Any Celtics fan watching that game could see that Kevin Garnett's presence paid immediate dividends and transformed the Celtics back into an elite team.

    Which brings me to my (albeit in a roundabout way) point about Big Baby and stats: sometimes the good old-fashioned eyeball test is the best barometer for measuring a player's true impact on a game, not solely his quantifiable stats. Now obviously Big Baby's been thrust into a bigger role in KG's absence, but my eyes tell me he's done an increasingly better job at becoming a more consistent all-around player for the Celtics. He still gives you every ounce of his energy when he's on the floor, diving for loose balls and battling for those offensive rebounds – but he also now has a more complete game on the offensive end with a 15 footer opponents now have to respect, and the ability to points on the board if Pierce or Allen don't have it going at times. Is he still frustrating on the defensive end at times? Absolutely. Do I wish he could draw the charge or rebound like Leon Powe? Yes and yes. But overall Big Baby has been doing the job for the Celts, even though no one can truly come close to filling the extra-large Addidas shoes vacated by #5. And his stats are coming along, as evidenced by the 26 points (on 12 for 21 shooting), 9 rebounds, team high +20, 1 block, 1 steal effort he submitted in Game 2 against the Bulls on Monday night.

    Keep up the great work, read the Hub every day. Good stuff.

  • Jeff C.

    I've got chime in here too. I was on ESPN website and ended up on Celticshub through their link. That was 4 days ago, and I have been on here everyday since. I've forwarded the link to the 4 other Celtic fans in Fresno, CA. There is excellent info here, and I need it when I walk into the sportsbar full of Laker fans. There is nothing like silencing the Faker fans with stats and info.

    Good job!

  • tenaciousT

    Nice attempt at getting your arms around Big Baby.

    The only thing you didn't do is show Baby's stats since from just February forward, which will be far better.

    Regarding his poor defensive rebounding…

    When Glen is playing KG's position – Celtic bigs have to 'show hard' at the top of the key on ball handlers trying to go around their primary defenders, and then get back quickly to their man, unless the ball handler immediately shoots or continues to drive.

    KG is one of the best in the league at doing that. Glen has a lot of ground to cover and doesn't always get back quickly enough.

    When Glen was coming off the bench, he often played center, and was a bit closer to the basket because of it, I would say.

    The other reason is that Glen does not block out or position very well on the defensive end. He is far more active on the offensive end.

    In truth, he has been asked to work on other things to greater emphasis. But somewhat better rebounding should be in his future.

    Davis will always have an unpredictability to his game, but will become a pretty darn good player.

    peace,

    T

  • alex

    A major flaw in the system that ranks the players is that backups for superstars will always be on the list. Because Glen Davis is the backup for Kevin Garnett, he usually plays when Kevin is not on the floor. Other examples that I was able to easily notice in the bottom 45 are Robin Lopez backing up Amare and Staudimire and Nazr Mohammed backing up Emeka Okafor. Whenever the backups are playing, the team is lacking a superstar so they cannot possibly play on the same level.

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  • http://slamonline.com/ Ryne Nelson

    Great breakdown. I wonder if Big Baby himself was reading this before the game in Chicago. He showed why he's a valuable player for the defending champs.

  • burnt chicken

    I had a chance to watch quite a bit of Davis's college career. At that level he was able to do a lot down low with his sheer size, but he can play. His jump shot has potential. In college he had the confidence to make big plays in crunch time, take big shots, etc.

    All of this is to say that if there's an "it factor" out there, Davis has some of it.

    Normally I dislike this kind of vague analysis, but I have a lot of confidence that Glen Davis will be a solid rotation player in the NBA for years to come.

    Regarding his rebounding, you can't look at things in isolation. Everybody they put on the floor can rebound pretty well. Speculation: because the Celtics are a good defensive team, they force more jump shots. These lead to longer rebounds, and fewer rebound opportunities for bigs.

    Just trying to fine some evidence to back up the intuition that his value is not showing up in the stats like it should.

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