Glen Davis' emergence as a go-to offensive weapon for the Orlando Magic has proven to be one of the few upshots of the season-ending back injury to All-Star center Dwight Howard. Since the Magic shut Howard down for good, Davis has averaged 15.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game at the center spot, shooting 52.9 percent from the floor. On their own, those are great numbers, but they're especially noteworthy for a big-man who shot 37.8 percent from the floor before the All-Star break. From an offensive standpoint, Davis has developed from a liability to an asset, and it's not such a shock that he's playing the best ball of his career with Howard sidelined.
Put simply, Davis is miscast at power forward alongside Howard, as he lacks both three-point range to draw defenses away from Orlando's franchise cornerstone and a reliable mid-range game to make him an effective safety valve when the offense breaks down. As hoops analyst Kirk Goldsberry has noted, the mid-range shooting stroke is what separates Davis from Brandon Bass, for whom the Boston Celtics traded Davis before training camp.
The numbers tell an interesting story: in the 644 minutes Davis has played alongside Howard during the 2011/12 season, Davis has shot a woeful 35.9 percent from the floor, according to NBA.com's stats tool. His overwhelming reliance on the mid-range shot contributes to that frigid figure: 55.8 percent of Davis' shot attempts with Howard on the floor come from mid-range, but he connects on a mere 30.4 percent of them. Even when he ventures inside with Howard on the floor, success eludes him, as he shoots just 46.6 percent on attempts inside the restricted circle when paired on the floor with Howard.
But Howard's injury has forced Davis to play center, which in turn has put him closer to the basket, where he's much more effective despite not having a great post-up game. With Howard on the bench, NBA.com says, Davis takes 44.6 percent of his shots inside the restricted circle, and an additional 16.5 percent in the painted area but outside the restricted circle. Davis' conversion rate on those attempts? 61 percent and 37 percent, respectively. The sharp improvement in his conversion rate in the immediate basket area without Howard suggests he's better suited to serve as the team's primary inside threat, rather than being its number-two, where he has to deal with his man and possibly Howard's bothering his shot.
This isn't exactly rocket science: moving a player with limited shooting range closer to the basket will up his percentages, but it's interesting to see that Davis has managed to simultaneously increase his efficiency and his usage, as players typically suffer a drop-off in efficiency once their role expands. Plus, the idea that the Magic would be better served to keep Howard and Davis apart has been around for a while. In February, ESPN scribe John Hollinger noted that Davis' skill-set is such that he's a poor fit alongside Howard, as Davis doesn't shoot the three-ball, doesn't have much of a handle, and can't create his own shot.
Davis' play of late should put to rest the idea that Orlando could remain competitive if it lets Ryan Anderson leave via free agency and slotted Davis into Anderson's starting power forward role. Within Orlando's system, he's much better suited to play as Howard's backup, and spend as few minutes as possible sharing the floor with Superman. There's no reason he can't maintain this productivity in such a role next season, with Howard healthy and back in the lineup.