Brooklyn Nets

Nobody does the dirty work like Ed Davis

Ed Davis, renaissance rebounder for the surging Brooklyn Nets, isn’t content to just jump over or box out opposing players to grab that board.

Davis wants to get rebounds by showing up first where the ball is going to be, because he knows before the shot even goes up.

“If you look at the court it’s got spots where like 88 percent of the time, the ball lands in a certain spot,” Davis said, standing in front of his locker prior to Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks. “So I try to stand in the hot spots and that helps out a lot. I’m always thinking about my position instead of other things while I’m out there. So my mind is always offense, rebound, offense, rebound.”

It’s a recipe that’s led to a career season so far for Davis, who was signed by the efficiency-minded Nets for those two purposes and have already gotten more than they hoped for on a one-year, $4.4 million deal.

Davis has always excelled on the boards — grabbing of 18.3 percent of all available rebounds in his career, including 12.9 percent on the offensive glass. But those numbers jumped to 21.3 and 13.7 last year, and this season reached 25.4 and 19.1 — good for second in the NBA in total rebounding percentage and first on the offensive boards, surrounded by big names like Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside.

Davis isn’t close to the most physically imposing player — 6-foot-10, so he lacks the top height of many in the 4/5 bucket, and he’s a toned but understated 225 pounds. He spent the summer back in Chapel Hill, NC, where he went to school, working out with Jonas Sahratian.

“We were real aggressive from day one,” Davis said of those summer workouts. “So I feel great while I’m out there. I’m moving well and that helped out a lot. I’ve always been a very good rebounder. So I think that definitely helped me out a lot, just being able to move and with my second jump. Especially where I’m at in my career, being 29 years old, it felt like I’m at the peak of my strength.”

That second jump is manifesting itself in another level of efficiency as well. Davis is shooting 59.8 percent from the field, around his career norm, but on offensive rebound putbacks, he’s second in the NBA in points per possession at 1.34 — just ahead of Anthony David and Joel Embiid. It’s an enormous part of his game, too, representing 39.1 percent of his total possessions. Of the 19 players with at least 50 such possessions, no one else even cracks 30 percent. For reference, it’s 10.4 percent of Davis’ possessions, 6.5 percent of Embiid.

So clearly, he’s a specialist. And he’s thought a lot about how to continue to be one. Davis is more convinced than ever that rebounding is a mental game, not a physical one.

“It doesn’t matter if you got the guy who jumps the highest in the world,” Davis said. “If I can hold him off like this, the ball can fall right in my lap. So it doesn’t have to do with athletic ability. It’s more [that] I’m in the right spot the right time.”

That is true in more ways than one, really. He’s playing for a Nets team that has won six straight, knocking on the door of a top-ten NBA offense—eleventh overall, and during their past six games, third in the league.

In head coach Kenny Atkinson’s mind, some of this is due to both Davis’ work itself, and the knock-on effects it leads to for his teammates.

“What his offensive rebounding does, it punishes—I think everybody’s switching now, so when they switch a guard on Ed Davis, now Ed Davis cleans up the offensive rebound,” Atkinson explained on Sunday. “So I think if I’m a coach scheming against Ed, you gotta be a little careful switching with Ed out there because he’s going to punish us on the boards. It’s been a big help for our offense.”

Davis also understands what he isn’t. He’s taken two shots from outside of ten feet, and both were end of quarter desperation heaves. Atkinson jokingly ascribed this shot breakdown to “every time in training camp or practice he shot a mid-range shot, we shocked him with a cattle prod”, but it has everything to do with Davis understanding what the Nets value and emphasizing it in his own game.

In a macro sense, then, Davis is simply positioning himself where he can be all by himself in the league’s talent pool, no different than the game he plays on each individual possession. The smaller centers, like Markieff Morris, Davis said he can best with his size and strength. But when Atlanta throws out Alex Len at him, Davis relies on his quickness.

He said he’s under no illusions about his 3-point shot — he’s never made one at the NBA level, and attempted just four since entering the league in 2010-11 — so the stretch-4 is not where Ed Davis is heading.

Instead, he’s carved out a niche that he thinks will keep him employed for years to come.

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“Anybody with a brain, you have to keep up with how the league is going,” Davis said. “For me it’s like if you can’t shoot the 3, you have to be a hell of a rebounder, a hell of pick-and-roll player, you have to play your ass off on defense. Those are my main focus. I want to be the best defensive player on the team, I want to be top rebounder and want to be able to defend the pick-and-roll and I want to be able to play in the pick-and-roll offense and get my guys open.”

He doesn’t resent it. Ed Davis revels in it.

“So that’s my role and I take pride in it,” Davis said. “You got a lot of guys that don’t take pride in it and they end up out of the league. You get guys that are way more talented than me who short their careers and short their career earnings just because they don’t want to adapt to a role that they were given or play the way coach wants you to play.”

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