I’ll be up front: Before the season, I was calling for Davis to play at least 20 minutes a game, and I’ve already written that (in my view) this is a non-debate—of course Big Baby should jump past Shelden in the big man rotation! A few commenters have taken issue with that, arguing that I’m overrating Baby’s chief asset (his jump shot) and his ability to finish in the lane.
So I decided to answer a question: Exactly how good did Baby’s jump shot get by the end of last season?
According to 82games, Baby’s overall field goal percentage on jump shots last season was 36.9—a pretty poor mark that isn’t much better than the sub-35% marks Shelden has put up on jumpers throughout his career. But that percentage is misleading, since the Big Baby Jumper Experiment of ’08-09 (which nearly killed a small child) started horribly and finished well. (Right?)
So what was Baby’s field goal percentage on jump shots in, say, the last 30 games of 2009 and the playoffs? I went through game-by-game shot charts on ESPN.com to find out how accurate Baby’s J was by the end of last season. The answer?
Not as accurate as I had thought. From Game 50 of the regular season through the end of the playoffs, Baby made 91 of 234 jump shots—38.9 percent.
We can further break that down like this:
• Regular season games before KG’s injury (six games): 8-of-23 (34.7 percent)
• Regular season games after KG’s injury (21 games): 44-of-105 (41.9 percent)
• Bulls series (seven games): 18-of-52 (34.6 percent)
• Magic series (seven games): 13-of-31 (41.9 percent)
Again, not as accurate as I had thought. I probably would have guessed that Baby upped his jumper accuracy to something like 42 or even 43 percent.
So, where does a 39 percent accuracy rate on jump shots rank among big forwards who shoot a lot of two-point jump shots? Here are some comparisons across the skill spectrum, using FG% numbers on jump shots from last season (via 82games):
• Antonio McDyess: 47 percent
• Pau Gasol: 46 percent
• KG: 45 percent
• Brandon Bass: 44.5 percent
• Chris Bosh: 43.4 percent
• Tim Duncan: 43.4 percent
• Luis Scola: 43 percent
• Udonis Haslem: 42 percent
• David West: 41.6 percent
• LaMarcus Aldridge: 41.6 percent
• Elton Brand: 41.5 percent
• Tony Battie: 41 percent
• Carlos Boozer: 38.7 percent
• Kenyon Martin: 37 percent
• Jason Thompson: 36.7 percent
• Andray Blatche: 35.6 percent
• Tyrus Thomas: 35 percent
There are two ways to look at this:
1) Glen Davis did not become as good a jump-shooter as our collective memory makes him out to be;
2) Glen Davis made considerable progress, and if he can up his jump shot accuracy from 39 percent to 41 percent or 42 percent, he ascends into a group of power forwards generally considered threats from 15 to 20 feet.
But I noticed something interesting as I was going through Big Baby’s shot charts. Take a look at a couple of them.
Game 2 against Chicago:
Game 5 against Orlando:
What struck me about these two games (and a bunch others): In our Big Baby Jump Shot Mania, we have (or I have, at least) almost forgotten that Big Baby is a power forward capable of making some nifty shots inside. All of those dots in the first shot chart add up to a 7-of-8 shooting game in the paint; in the second game featured here, Baby was 5-of-7 in the painted area.
Overall in the playoffs, Baby shot 47-of-86 (54.6 percent) in the paint and 31-of-83 (37 percent) on jump shots.
Now, 54.6 percent isn’t an outstanding conversation rate on shots in the paint; KG made nearly 65 percent of his shots from in close last season, and David West (to pick a random jump-shooting forward who plays below the rim) converted 59 percent of his close attempts, according to 82games.
Still, 54.6 percent is decent, and it’s a better accuracy rate than Shelden Williams has posted in any of his three seasons (Last season, Shelden converted 45.7 percent of his in-close shots during his brief time in Minnesota and 50.0 percent during his longer stint with the Kings, according to 82games).
Not only that, but Davis was taking those shots in volumes unprecedented for both he and Williams. Those 86 attempts in the playoffs work out to about six per game; over his career, Shelden has averaged just 3.8 field-goal attempts per game in limited minutes. (In fairness, Williams’ shot attempts/36 minutes approach Baby’s numbers, but Shelden took a lot of those shots in short blasts during meaningless games).
I mean, we’ve all seen this with our eyes. Baby has a soft touch and a weird knack for creating tiny spaces and getting shots up in traffic—and knocking those shots down. Shelden just doesn’t have that sort of touch or offensive creativity around the rim.
This is not meant to criticize Shelden Williams. Right now, he’s a better defensive player than Davis and a very good offensive rebounder—and the Celtics need a capable offensive rebounder badly.
But all the numbers we have suggest that Davis is already a better, more polished offensive player than Shelden Williams.
Even if Baby isn’t quite as good as we might have thought.