The evolution of Baby from inside banger to jump-shooting forward and back again to inside banger has been fascinating to watch. It’s unclear now if Baby’s second evolution—back to being an inside player on offense this season—is an accident related to his pre-season hand injury or an intentional step by the team to make up for the new lack of offensive rebounding and foul-drawing among Boston’s big men (i.e. the loss of Leon Powe and the introduction of Sheed).
But the change in Baby’s game is stark. Check out his shot selection numbers, courtesy of Hoopdata.com:
At rim < 10 feet * 16-23 feet
2008 (941 mins) 73-134 16-37 14-38
2009 (1633 mins) 89-150 19-57 81-197
2010 (458 mins) 35-71 12-19 5-21
*Does not include shots at the rim
Some dramatic changes, huh? But are they the right changes for Davis and the team?
The trends are obvious: Last season, Baby migrated away from the rim and became a decent jump-shooter.
This season? So far, he’s barely shooting jumpers and is back to scoring from the post and on screen/rolls in the paint.
But Davis is also a far less efficient scorer at the rim today. The average power forward hits about 62 percent of his shots at the rim, according to Hoopdata. Big Baby, as you can see, is under 49 percent.
And that, my friends, is godawful. According to Hoopdata, there are 66 power forwards averaging more than 10 minutes per game. Big Baby’s percentage on shots at the rim ranks him 63rd in that group. The three players behind him? One was recently called up from the D-League (Chris Richard). The other two (Darrell Arthur and Shavlik Randolph) have appeared in 9 games combined.
Big Baby ranks below every other power forward—even Yi Jianlian, Jared Jeffries and Eddy Najera, three of the least competent offensive players on Earth.
Davis has always been a below average at-the-rim finisher (54 percent as a rookie, a much better 59 percent last season), but what’s happening now is unacceptable.
But we have to look at more than inside shooting percentage to decide if this New/Old Baby is helping the club.
For instance: If he maintains his current pace, Glen Davis could finish the season as one of the top-five offensive rebounders in the NBA. After Thursday’s game, Baby is grabbing about 15.7 percent of available offensive rebounds. (Basically, this means that if the C’s miss 100 shots with Baby on the court, Davis will rebound about 16 of those misses).
Right now, only two guys who have played at least 500 minutes top that mark, according to Basketball Reference: Jon Brockman (a Rodman-ian 19.0 percent) and Greg Oden (15.9). Only a couple of others crack 15 percent—Kevin Love (15.5) and DeJuan Blair (15.4).
People forget this, but Davis was a monster offensive rebounder in his rookie season; he grabbed nearly 13 percent of available ORBs in ’08, a mark that usually ranks between 10th and 15th in the league.
Last year? He dropped down to about 9.4 percent, a still-solid mark that ranked 22nd among 81 forward who qualified for the scoring title.
Of course, it’s hard to quantify how many of Baby’s offensive boards come when he rebounds his own (plentiful) misses. But offensive rebounding, even if you’re just grabbing your own bricks, produces other benefits.
Example: Davis is also back to drawing fouls at the same rate this season as he did during his rookie year after a drop-off in ’09:
2008: 5.7 free throw attempts per 36 minutes
2009: 3.9 free throw attempts per 36 minutes
2010: 5.2 free throw attempts per 36 minutes
His game is clearly evolving or de-volving, depending on how you look at it. This could all be an accident linked to his pre-season hand injury. Baby couldn’t work on his jumper during his recovery, and instead worked on becoming a polished finisher with his left hand. His jumper is rusty as a result.
But this re-re-invention of Big Baby might also be an intentional adjustment to the team’s new personnel. You could argue that last season, the team needed Davis to become a perimeter threat, especially once KG went down. Thanks largely to Davis and Leon Powe, the C’s were already a good offensive rebounding team (#8 in the league) and already drew a lot of fouls (#7 in the league in free throw attempts per field goal attempt).
But the bench lacked a reliable jump-shooter outside of Eddie House, and the starting front line suddenly had the same hole once KG’s knee gave out in Utah in mid-February. Suddenly, Baby’s jump shot was a badly-needed commodity.
Now? KG is back (knocks on several wood or wood-like surfaces), Powe’s gone, the team ranks 28th in offensive rebounding and the second-unit has a big guy (Sheed) who can stretch the floor with his jump-shooting.
By grabbing offensive boards and migrating back to the paint, Baby may be giving the 2010 C’s exactly what they need most. If Davis has realized this and changed his game—again—to fit the team’s needs, he deserves enormous credit for doing so. (And he deserves credit even if he’s doing this under the orders of the coaching staff).
Of course, this could all be an injury-related coincidence. And he may not be helping the team at all if he can’t finish around the rim.
Readers: What kind of player should Baby be?