The signing of free agent center Ed Davis wasn’t the sexiest move of the offseason, but for the Brooklyn Nets, it might just be the most important one.
Ed Davis joined the Brooklyn Nets, officially, on July 23, signing a one-year, $4.4 million deal that represents the Nets’ biannual exception.
Davis agreed to the deal within the first hour teams and free agents were able to negotiate on July 1 after playing out a three-year, $20 million deal he signed with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2015.
The signing of Davis certainly isn’t the biggest move of the offseason in the NBA, not even the biggest deal of the offseason for the Nets, but it might turn out to be the most important.
There are three reasons this is true.
1. Ed Davis is a legitimate NBA defender
The emergence last season of rookie Jarrett Allen in the second half of the season stablilized part of Brooklyn’s Achilles heel last season — interior defense.
But Allen only averaged 20 minutes per game last season, a figure that increased to just 23.8 minutes — roughly half a game — in his 31 starts to close out the year.
And that was part of the problem, as only three NBA teams last season surrendered more points in the paint per game than Brooklyn’s 47.8, per stats.nba.com.
The Nets were also 28th among the 30 NBA teams in surrendering 13.5 second-chance points per game.
Those stats were the case, even as Brooklyn allowed opponents to shoot 61.1 percent in the restricted area, which was the sixth-best mark in the NBA.
The problem was that teams could get the ball into that range against the Nets seemingly at will.
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Allen did what he could, averaging 1.7 blocks per game once he became the starter, but his lack of bulk made it tough for him to keep opposing bigs off the offensive glass, as he averaged 4.0 defensive boards per game.
Before Allen grabbed the starting job, Timofey Mozgov held the position at the beginning of last season. That lasted 13 games. Next up was Tyler Zeller, who started 33 times before he was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks at the deadline.
That opened the door for Allen, but the backup minutes were still a problem. There was Jahlil Okafor, the former No. 3 overall pick whose defense can be almost offensive. Mozgov wasn’t used the second half of the season, so he wasn’t part of the problem or the solution.
The Nets tried several players in the middle over the second half of the year, including Quincy Acy (small), Dante Cunningham (smaller) and — out of sheer desperation as much as anything — DeMarre Carroll (smallest).
Enter Ed Davis.
Davis has the length at 6-foot-10 and, more importantly, the size at 240 pounds to effectively defend the interior and has done so for eight NBA seasons.
He averaged 7.4 rebounds per game for Portland last season in just 18.9 minutes per game, including five a night on the defensive glass, while also averaging 0.7 blocks a game.
Allen was better than the average Nets defender in the restricted area, allowing opponents to shoot 59.7 percent. That compares to Cunningham’s 65.6 percent mark, Okafor’s 60.7 percent clip and Zeller’s unsightly 63.4 percent effort.
Davis, meanwhile, allowed opponents to shoot just 55 percent in the restricted area and 42.7 percent in the paint overall. Allen’s paint defense was actually better at 40.8 percent, as his lack of bulk wasn’t as much of a hindrance further from the bucket.
So this season, when the Nets make a change in the middle, the defense won’t suffer as a consequence.