Most NBA fans have a random player or two that they have an affection for. Rarely are the players in this category stars — maybe it’s an undersized combo guard or long and athletic big man who is built like a twig. There’s usually a hook that has you pining for your favorite team to acquire them.
For many Minnesota Timberwolves fans, one of those players over the last decade has been forward/center Ed Davis. Davis is entering his 11th NBA season and first with the Timberwolves, his seventh NBA team. His inability to find a long-term home in the league has often felt perplexing.
Davis was the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft by the Toronto Raptors. Memphis acquired him in the 2013 trade of Rudy Gay to Toronto. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies couldn’t find time for Davis in their rotation despite steady production.
Have Ball, Will Travel
After the Grizzlies let Davis hit free agency, the Lakers signed him to a $2 million, two-year deal. Davis has a mini-breakout season increasing his efficiency from the low 50s to 60.1 percent in 2015. He also averages 7.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game in just over 23 minutes per night.
In 275 games over the previous four seasons, Davis averaged 6.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.9 blocks per game. His 2015 seemed like a natural progression for a 25-year-old player averaging 20 minutes a night to 23. This was no fluke, Davis established that he was good and worthy of a long-term deal.
So, he opts out of the second year of his Lakers contract. The Portland Trail Blazers gave Davis a three-year, $20 million deal in the summer of 2015. I caught up with the Blazers in Minneapolis in November of that year. Before the game, I asked coach Terry Stotts about his early impressions of Davis:
“Ed’s been terrific. I don’t know what my expectations were when we signed him. I knew he was a good player, but he’s been better than I anticipated. He’s very active defensively, he’s good in pick ‘n’ rolls, he’s aggressive, going to the boards— he does all the dirty work inside. Just three games in he’s been an integral part of the rotation.”
Davis has made a decade-plus career based on doing these little things. He’s endeared himself to fan base after fan base this way and figures to do the same in Minnesota. When Davis arrived in Portland, he hoped that he would finish his career in red and black.
Though he did play out his contract with the Blazers, he left in 2018 for the Nets on a one-year deal. He played well in Portland, despite missing time with injuries in 2017, but the team still felt he wasn’t irreplaceable good.
It was the same story in Brooklyn in 2019 before signing with Utah, who had little use for him last season. As a member of the Jazz, Davis had his least-productive season while also playing the smallest role of his career.
A Long-Awaited Union
Now, at age 30, Davis finds himself as a Timberwolf. Davis is the type of get-your-hands-dirty big man this team has missed since Taj Gibson. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been hoping for this move since 2014 when Davis was in Memphis.
Timberwolves fans can primarily expect Davis to grab rebounds and play hard on the defensive end. You will be disappointed if you expect him to carry the offense for any amount of time.
Davis has had three seasons shooting 60 percent or better from the field, so he’s efficient, but his career usage rate is 14 percent— four points below league average. His turnover percentage has been rather high the last few years, so you don’t want the ball in his hands too often anyway. Again, this is fine because two-thirds of his career buckets have been assisted, so it’s not like he tries to create for himself often.
He won’t spread the floor, either, as 87 percent of his shot attempts have come within 10 feet of the rim. But that’s not a big deal when he converts 60 percent of his shots at the rim. 3-pointers are great but there are other ways to play efficiently. As long as Davis takes smart shots and makes good passes, the Timberwolves will be fine with number of scorers around him on the roster. If the team does need to rely on him offensively at any point this upcoming season, then something (or many things) have gone horribly wrong.
We can judge Davis in other ways, too. For starters, he demonstrated last season’s slippage was simply a matter of poor fit. If Davis can find 15-20 minutes and help stabilize the bench, that will be great. We can look at how the team uses his screens or how he helps push the ball up the floor on an opponent’s miss. Maybe he swats or alters a few shots. All of these are things the Timberwolves can use more of.
Overall, Ed Davis’ time in Minnesota should be judged by how well others perform with him on the floor, not just his game logs or box scores. Is Ed Davis a star? No. Davis will, however, make the team better in many smaller ways that make you glad he’s on your side. Despite his vagabond or journeyman status, Davis will hopefully show Timberwolves fan why he’s been a favorite at several stops throughout his career.
For a cap-strapped team like Minnesota, these are the types of minor moves the team should be making to improve the product on the floor as well as off it.