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They’ve Got Numbers: Deyonta Davis

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Analyzing Deyonta Davis’ rim protection through numbers & film

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

On the night of the 2016 NBA Draft, the Grizzlies traded their 2018 1st round pick to the Boston Celtics to get back into the 2nd round, the 31st pick in particular.

The Grizzlies then used that pick on Deyonta Davis, a player projected to be a lottery pick for much of the season. Actual lottery picks would have a lot more pressure to play and produce right away, but this time a lottery talent fell to a playoff-caliber, veteran team. What Davis lost in playing time and access to the limelight, he gained in veteran tutelage and a long leash.

Davis is a very long, rangy athlete. He’s 6’11” and 237 lbs, with a 7’3” wingspan. That’s an intimidating physical profile for opposing players driving to the rim. Not only is Deyonta a big body, but he’s quick too, able to recover and pick up drivers as they blow past their defender. Rim protecting is more than just blocking shots; it’s about contesting shots or forcing players to pass out of them.

Because of Deyonta Davis’ rim protection (and some timely opportunities, like all bench players), he’s able to get playing time on a playoff team as a 2nd rounder, an accomplishment in itself in a sport where rookies are quickly dismissed by coaches.

Deyonta Davis’ Defense < 6 Feet

DFGM DFGA DFG%
DFGM DFGA DFG%
0.6 1.5 0.389

These are numbers from NBA.com’s Player Tracking. It attributes a field goal as a Defensive Field Goal to the defender closest to the shooter. This shows very valuable rim protection from Deyonta Davis. The league average for shots within 6 feet is 56.7% and Davis allows well below that mark.

But those Player Tracking numbers aren’t perfect. If, for example, Tony Allen tried to compensate for Mike Conley losing his man on the 3-point line, he would immediately close out on the shooter and become the closest defender, “allowing” the shot on paper. But if the shot goes in, it affects Tony Allen’s DFG%, not Mike Conley’s, even though it would’ve been Conley’s fault in that scenario.

Rim protection is a different story however. For a player like Davis, his defensive role keeps him in a central location for most of his time on the floor. When he’s the closest defender for shots within 6 feet, it most likely means the player is coming towards him as they barrel to the rim.

And what happens when a player does drive toward Deyonta Davis? He flat out blocks shots.

He averages 2.7 blocks-per-36 minutes, and his BLK% is 7.2%, which would be tops in the entire NBA if he had played enough minutes to qualify as a league leader. For some context, Marc Gasol and Brandan Wright (who has played similar minutes to Deyonta Davis) are tied for 2nd on the team in BLK% with 3.7%.

You get the picture? Rim protection is more than blocking shots. Rim protection is more than blocking shots. Rim protecti-

Even though Davis accumulates a lot of blocks, there’s not really a correlation for rim protection. Hassan Whiteside is 4th in BPG and BLK%, but he allows over 50% shooting within 6 feet. Does it matter if you’re getting blocks if it’s because you let defenders blow past you easily?

Deyonta Davis doesn’t do that. He may not be perfect defensively, but he has good positioning and reaction skills and it leads to the best rim protection.

This is some of Deyonta’s best work. First, he cuts off Cory Joseph’s drive to the basket and forces a pass, half the battle towards strong rim protection. Next, he immediately meets Kyle Lowry at the basket during his drive and effectively alters the shot. Lowry throws up a hail-mary of a layup and it results in a miss. Stellar rim protection from Davis here.

In the same quarter of that game, Davis has a play where he dominates the paint defensively. Mike Conley gets beat off the bounce by Kyle Lowry, and he drives to the rim. Davis completely seals off the restricted area and Lowry is forced to take a pull-up jumper inside the paint. Davis STILL is able to get a hand on the ball and record a block because of those long arms. Another showcase of his defensive potential.

And repeating again just because I said I will (say it with me: rim protection is more than blocks), here is a very unspectacular, but important play from Davis. He keeps himself close to his man and also the baseline, making sure he’s in good position for backdoor cuts. Malik Beasley drives to the rim and Davis meets him immediately and vertically. This forces Beasley to pass out to Johnny O’Bryant, who was fouled by Davis as he went up on incidental contact. Davis gets called for a foul, but he did all he could especially with contesting the initial shot.

I’m not sure, if I’ve mentioned this before, but RIM PROTECTION IS MORE THAN BLOCKS, and Deyonta Davis exemplifies that.

Rim protection is just as much about reputation as it is verticality. Davis is a rookie with just over 300 minutes of relevant basketball under his belt. He doesn’t have the reputation (yet), but if he keeps up his play and technique, he’ll soon earn it. But players are starting to learn not to shoot around Davis in the paint. Players will learn to pass out, or be forced to shoot a lower-percentage shot, risking Davis using those long arms to block it out of sight.

If you can defend, you’ll always have a role in the NBA. Deyonta Davis is only 20 years old and he’s shown in the admittedly limited time he’s played that he can do that. Protecting the rim is a vital part to all NBA defenses, even with the higher emphasis on the 3-point arc. Deyonta Davis has time to become a staunch defender on the perimeter, but his numbers and his play have proven his interior defense is a viable commodity.


Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com and nba.com

Video courtesy of 3ball.io

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