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Why the Memphis Grizzlies Must Sign Ed Davis This Summer

The 13th pick in the 2010 NBA draft is one of the best defenders at the rim according to analytics.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Drafted 13th in the 2010 NBA Draft, Ed Davis, the Memphis Grizzlies back-up power forward, is in his last year of his rookie contract. He’s making a respectable $ 3.15 million this season. Given his potential, the Memphis Grizzlies need to sign Davis on a long term deal. Here’s why.

We don’t know his full potential.

Davis is only 25 years old. As Robert Greene alludes to in his book “Mastery,” the 20s are a time for apprenticeship. Davis is still working on those 10,000 hours towards becoming a starting power forward in this league. Davis began his career on the right track as he started 50 games for the Toronto Raptors over his first two and a half seasons. However, since joining the Memphis Grizzlies, he has only started eight games and roughly averages 15 minutes per game. That’s not why the Grizzlies management traded for Davis in the winter of 2013. Before the trade, Davis averaged 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in December 2012. The next month he increased his performance to 13.9 points per game and 8.1 rebounds. Former Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins kept Davis in the dog house as he was known to do to new and younger players. Additionally, the improved play of Jon Leur and Kosta Koufos has severely limited Davis’s minutes. Ideally, the Grizzlies have one of the best five-big-men rotations in the league. Gasol, Koufos, Randolph, Davis, and Leur is a diverse bunch of scoring, shooting, blocking, and defense. Unless someone is moved, it will be hard for Davis to shine.

Z-Bo makes a lot of dough.

Zach Randolph is a star for the Memphis Grizzlies. Since arriving in Bluff City in the 2009-2010 NBA season, Randolph has lead the Grizzlies to three consecutive playoffs appearances. However, due to age and injuries, Randolph’s production has dipped significantly. As his statistically dip has happened, his NBA salary has risen. In roughly 34 minutes per game, Randolph is averaging a respectable 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Randolph is being paid $17.8 million this season—rightfully so. Next season, he has a player option for $16.5 million. Randolph only played 28 games in the 2011-2012 season due to injuries. Although he has bounced back nicely, he is turning 33 this summer. Banking on Z-Bo’s continued productivity is a huge gamble for a small market team like the Grizzlies. Reasonably, Z-Bo could continue his outstanding play for another season or two, but the Grizzlies must be future-minded.

The basketball analysts say he’s a good player.

Memphis Grizzlies Vice President of Basketball Operations John Hollinger said “It’s a pretty simple concept, but one that has largely escaped most NBA front offices: the idea that what a player does on a per-minute basis is far more important that his per-game stats. The latter tend to be influenced more by playing time than by quality of play, yet remain the most common metric of player performance.”

Ed Davis doesn’t get enough playing time in Memphis. But according to statistics, Davis is one of the most prolific power forwards in the league based on his per-minute statistics. Per-36 minutes, Davis is averaging 13.5 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Wow. According to NBA.com, Davis is holding his opponents to 39.9 percent shooting at the rim—better than defensive stalwarts Anthony Davis, Joakim Noah and Serge Ibaka.

Free agency doesn’t like the Grizzlies.

The Grizzlies did a great job last off-season of signing free agent Mike Miller. But the Grizzlies success rate of signing prominent free agents is few and far between. Zach Randolph has an option to opt out of his deal. The Grizzlies have a team option to exercise on Kosta Koufos. Mike Miller, James Johnson, Nick Calathes, Beno Udrih are all free agents. According to writer and salary cap expert Larry Coon, the proposed NBA salary cap is $62.9 million for next season. If the Grizzlies let Miller, Johnson, Calathes and Udrih go while offering Ed Davis the $4.36 million and Koufos the $3 million option (assuming Randolph will opt in), the Grizzlies would be over the salary cap by roughly $1 million. The 2014 free agency period offers the following power forwards: Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Andrea Bargnani (if he opts out), DeJuan Blair, Andray Blatche (if he opts out), Josh McRoberts (if he opts out), and Amare Stoudemire (via early termination option). The top power forwards in this league (Bosh, Nowitzki, Duncan, and Gasol) are not looking at Memphis as a desired destination.

Thus, the Memphis Grizzlies must be more like the San Antonio Spurs and continue to groom the talent they have. Ed Davis proved in Toronto that he could put up good numbers in only 24 minutes of play per game. He deserves the opportunity to learn from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, two of the best big men in the league. At a reasonable salary ($4.3 million to $5 million a year), Davis’s potential outweighs the risk of letting him go for nothing.