Denton: Time for Big Baby to Shine


By John Denton
October 9, 2012

ORLANDO -- Stuck behind Kevin Garnett the first four years of his NBA career and surprisingly behind Ryan Anderson last season even after being lured to Orlando with a free-agent contract, Magic forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis finally has the kind of opportunities he’s waited on for years.

To be a full-time starter for the first time in his NBA career … To be looked at as a stable leader of a team … To be a go-to player who can be counted upon in crunch time.

It’s easy to talk about doing those things, but more difficult to actually be accountable and actually do them. With everything he’s wanted finally within reach, Davis has taken the proper steps to become a central figure this season for the Magic.

``The saying is that you had better be careful what you ask for,’’ Davis said, referring to his desires to be a starter and a leader. ``I’ve been asking for this all my life – this opportunity to start – and I’ll be ready for it. I’m looking forward to it.’’

Davis was in the starting lineup on Sunday when the Magic opened the preseason in Mexico City and he delivered in a big way. Even though he was giving away at least four inches to New Orleans’ center Robin Lopez, Davis battered the Hornets for 13 points, five rebounds and 10 free throw attempts in just 19 minutes on the floor.

Davis was so efficient with his play – other than an ill-advised first-quarter behind-the-back pass that went out of bounds – that the Magic were a plus-14 in scoring while he was on the floor.

``Glen was great. We’ve talked about him being a presence and he was a presence on both ends of the floor,’’ Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``His ability to defend pick-and-rolls really helps us, too. He just plays really, really hard. He rolled to the basket, he made free throws and did a lot of things well.’’

The Magic were back on the practice court on Tuesday after getting Monday off to recover from the preseason trip to Mexico City. Orlando hosts the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the preseason home opener at the Amway Center.

The Magic (0-1) fell 85-80 to the Hornets on Sunday, but at no fault of the starting five and Davis. Orlando jumped to a 10-0 lead in the first six minutes, led by 16 at halftime and had a 21-point bulge when four of the five starters went to the bench for good. The opening lineup of Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Hedo Turkoglu, Gustavo Ayon and Davis meshed well and kept the New Orleans defense on its heels with its attacking nature. The Magic got several looks at the rim by cutting hard, keeping the ball moving and running hard on the fastbreak.

Davis said that while much attention has been focused on the Magic losing Dwight Howard in the offseason, what has been forgotten is the solid core of the team still being in place. Davis feels that veteran core, which will eventually feature Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington and Ish Smith once they recover from injuries, will allow the Magic to surprise people this season and battle for a playoff spot.

``You think about the guys who were out there together (early in the game) – J.J. (Redick), Jameer (Nelson), (Hedo) Turkgolu and myself – we’ve all played together and that chemistry is still there with us,’’ Davis stressed. ``It’s a different system (under Vaughn), but we know how to play together. And a guy like Gustavo fits in well with us. The way we played (Sunday) showed that we have that chemistry and we’re only going to get better. I like what I saw from us in our first game.’’

Davis, 26, is talking more like a leader now for the Magic because he has morphed into one this offseason. In his sixth NBA season, he is no longer one of the younger players on the team. He is expected to lead both with his play and his words, and some of his more emotional, immature acts from the past can’t be tolerated, Davis said.

Also, Davis knows that he is being watched by rookie big men Nikola Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O’Quinn and Ayon, and the example that he sets could be important to their futures in the NBA.

Garnett paved the way for Davis in Boston, alternating between tough love and teaching to help the 289-pound power forward become a fixture in the NBA. Early in the Magic’s training camp Davis could be seen pulling Nicholson aside and showing him the dynamics of help defense in the NBA. He’s still somewhat shocked that he’s now the veteran instead of the impressionable young player that he used to be.

``It’s kind of crazy, but time flies in the NBA,’’ Davis said with a chuckle. ``You never know when it’s going to be your turn to teach, and I like doing things like that, especially with guys who are willing to learn.’’

Davis has found that it’s easier to be a leader when you are a starter in the NBA. That role is still somewhat new to him considering that he has started just 44 games in five NBA seasons. Thirteen of those starts came last season with the Magic, but only after Howard went down with a season-ending back injury. He responded well to the opportunity, playing well down the stretch and carrying the team for long stretches in the playoffs while averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds a game.

That strong finish motivated Davis to stay in the gym over the summer to work on his game. His goal, he said, was to keep his weight down and build his stamina to the point where he could play 35-38 minutes a game. Those are starter’s minutes, by the way.

``Accountability’’ has been a key word for Davis in this training camp, and he said he has to not only say the right things about evolving into a leader for the Magic, but also do it. So far he’s backed up his words with a great work ethic, Vaughn said.

``I’m learning about Glen every day and it’s a clean slate with him, but he’s really been good,’’ Vaughn said. ``I told him after a (training camp) scrimmage that I was proud of him because he didn’t have a shot in the first five minutes, but he got a guy open three times by screening and rolling to the rim. He tagged a cutter on defense and threw a nice bounce pass for another basket. Those are the things that matter right now. He’s been vocal, but the same time he’s followed it up with actions, which is more important to me.’’

Davis knows that his words will ring hollow if he doesn’t follow them up with actions. That’s why he’s been one of the Magic’s hardest workers in training camp and in the first game against the Hornets. He is fully aware that everything he’s ever wanted in the NBA – being a starter, being a dependable piece and being a leader – is within his reach now.

``You’ve got to (back up your words). You have to do it for the team, not just talking it, but also walking it too,’’ he said.

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at jdenton@orlandomagic.com or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.

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