Big Ben's Little Bro'

Carolina's Davis has big-time potential as defender, shot-blocker

Ed Davis' father, Terry, helped Ben Wallace learn the ropes his first few seasons. Now Ed wants to learn under Big Ben.
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Editor’s note: continues its series of draft profiles with a look at North Carolina’s Ed Davis, one of the players who could be under consideration when the Pistons pick at No. 7 in the June 24 draft. Next: Wesley Johnson, Syracuse.

Forgive Ed Davis if he’s a little baffled by conventional wisdom. As a freshman on a stacked North Carolina roster that would produce Roy Williams’ second NCAA championship, Davis came off the bench behind Tyler Hansbrough and averaged 6.7 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. There was buzz that he’d be a top-five NBA pick should he declare for the draft.

But conventional wisdom suggested that Davis return to Chapel Hill and prove to scouts what he could do as the lead dog for a Tar Heels team losing not only Hansbrough, but Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green to the NBA.

So Davis decided on another year in college, saw his numbers go up across the board – and somehow saw his draft stock slip to the point where most consider it likely that he’ll be available to the Pistons when they pick at No. 7.

Did Davis somehow get worse despite seeing his scoring and rebounding increase more than commensurately with his playing time – in 27 minutes a game, up from 19 as a frosh, Davis averaged 12.9 points and 9.2 rebounds – while also showing improvement as a shooter (his field-goal accuracy went from .518 to .578, free throws from .573 to .659)?

“We struggled as a team,” Davis said last month at the Chicago draft combine. “That tends to hurt your stock. Then I got hurt. People didn’t know how my wrist was. But it is what it is. I got better. If you look at my statistics, it showed that I improved in every category. But I can’t do anything about it now. It’s over.”

Well, not quite. After breaking his wrist and losing the final third of his season at Carolina, Davis was cleared to return to full-contact basketball about a month ago and has been training in Santa Monica, Calif., ever since. He’ll have a good chance in the three weeks between now and the draft to re-establish his status during individual workouts for teams, presumably including the Pistons, who have a clear need for Davis’ defensive potential and shot-blocking presence.

More on Ed Davis

College: North Carolina
Size: 6-foot-9¾, 226 pounds
Age: 21 on draft night

The good: Davis tested very well in speed and agility drills at the Chicago draft combine, suggesting he has the tools to be an upper-end defensive big man in the NBA. … Grew up around the NBA – his father, Terry Davis, had a long career – and has been playing against NBA competition for years. Should at least be an effective rebounder and shot-blocker early in his career with room to grow from there.

The bad: There’s not much evidence that Davis can ever be more than a so-so offensive player. He hasn’t displayed shooting range and he has no go-to post move. … He’s got good springs, but at a little shy of 6-foot-10 and without the benefit of long arms, he might not have what it takes to be a dominant defender.

The skinny: Joe Dumars is going to want to find a big man this summer via any means possible who can have an impact at one end of the court or the other. Davis’ offensive shortcomings aside, his ability to jump, move laterally and block shots gives Davis a real chance to be an instant impact defender and a legitimate possibility to go at No. 7.

Davis has a long way to go offensively, getting most of his points at Carolina off of put-backs, lobs and transition baskets, and he’s a good enough athlete that much of that should translate to the NBA. But as far as playing with his back to the basket and representing a scoring threat? Not yet. And some question whether that will ever be a part of his arsenal. Even Davis’ biggest fans, it seems, wonder if he could ever be more than a mediocre offensive player.

But Ben Wallace never rose to that level and became not only a four-time Defensive Player of the Year but the bedrock of Pistons teams that won one NBA title and challenged for several others. Davis knows full well of Wallace’s impact. His father, Terry Davis, shares an alma mater (Virgina Union) with Wallace, was a teammate of his with the Washington Wizards when Wallace broke into the NBA and lives near him in Virginia. Ed Davis, in fact, grew up calling Wallace “uncle” and Wallace calling him “little bro’ ” and was a regular at Wallace’s summer camps in Virginia.

“Ben’s like family to me,” Davis said. “We work out all summer. He’s from where my dad went. We spend time together in the summertime all the time. … If he was to come back and I would be drafted by them, it would just be great. It would be a fun thing.”

But can Davis even approach Wallace as a defensive dominator? He appears to have the length, athleticism and instincts to be a shot-blocker, averaging 2.7 a game. Davis measured at 6-foot-9¾ (weighing 226 pounds) in Chicago, though his wing span (7-foot-0) and standing reach (9-foot-0) were a little on the disappointing side. His 36-inch vertical leap is outstanding for a big man, exceeding even that of Derrick Favors, and his speed and agility testing was also in the upper end.

He will need to add strength, though, and at least initially figures to be a much more effective help defender than a one-on-one post stopper.

Scouts also might be selling Davis’ potential as an offensive player a little short, in part because he really didn’t get the opportunity to show much at Carolina, which started the season with six frontcourt players with NBA aspirations but shoddy backcourt play that limited the effectiveness of their big men.

Against some of Carolina’s toughest competition, Davis alternately could give scouts reasons to believe he was a top-five pick or not worthy of the lottery – but, again, how much of that was due to poor guard play that undermined the Tar Heels’ season? He put up 22 and six in a December win over Michigan State and 21 and nine in a narrow loss to Texas. In the upset loss to College of Charleston, Davis was superb with 19 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks.

In his last full game before suffering his wrist injury, Davis blocked six shots against Duke but scored just four points and attempted only four shots when Duke pressure suffocated Carolina’s guards. Figuring out what Davis could do while surrounded by NBA talent, and projecting how far his athletic ability will carry him at both ends of the floor, hold the key to how high he can climb in the 2010 draft – and whether the Pistons will grab him if he’s still available when their turn to draft comes up.