It’s an age-old debate rife with controversy, a taboo topic conversation piece alongside politics, religion, and your wife’s sister. What makes us who we are? To what can we attribute our successes or blame our failures? It’s obvious to most that they aren’t mutually exclusive. In some cases nature takes the lead, while in others nurture is predominant.
Where does the NBA rookie fit into this discussion?* It goes without saying that they’re all immensely talented. But talent alone doesn’t translate into professional success in The L. It’s under this lens that I was thinking about Ed Davis.
* We’ll avoid the racial and environmental considerations that come into play – that’s a whole different article.
I know that just 3 games in to his NBA career, any conclusions are irresponsibly speculative. You wouldn’t predict whether a girl would be a good mother on the third date. I think we can all agree there’s something enticing about his energy and habits, his “nose for the ball” when he steps on the court. But as we know, for every lottery pick that puts it together, there’s five shooting 43% in the D-League. I don’t think Ed will be one of them. In fact, I think he’s in an opportunistic position to become a man with a capital M, a beast, a rebounding vacuum with a touch around the rim. And this success is a result of both his unique “nature” and “nuture” situations.
Nature: Like many rookies, Davis comes into the league classified as “raw*”. While this is true, his learning curve will be quicker than most. After all, he’s been facing NBA-level talent since day 1. You’ve heard of the saying, ‘like father, like son?’ Ed’s father is former NBA bully Terry Davis. A 10 season vet with a reputation for hard-nose defence and rebounding, Terry was a true banger during the ultra-physical early 90’s, when battles for the boards were about as safe as locking a Blood and a Crip inside a phone booth (remember those?). Watching Ed play, you can see that learning from his father has led to some positive tendencies. He’s always in the paint, right in the mix for loose balls. He’s tenacious around the rim. Some must learn to be comfortable with the physical demands of an NBA big man (see Bargnani, Andrea), but this is where Ed likes to be. Rebounding doesn’t require thought – it’s literally bred into him, infused into his human and basketball DNA.
*I’ve got issues with what “raw” has come to represent: a way for front offices to qualify drafting a player who isn’t ready to contribute to an NBA team yet. It allows them to celebrate their genius should said player evolve, yet minimize their exposure in the event the “rawness” never goes away.
Nurture: Ed joins a team as the third PF on the roster. In some situations, there would be concern that the resource surplus could dwarf his progression. Young Ed wasn’t the #1 pick, but he hit the jackpot. It’s the right team at the right time, thanks to Reggie and Amir. First off, there’s the mentorship angle. Amir had the good fortune to learn from Ben Wallace in Detroit during his reign as the NBA’s BMF. Though Reggie was born to grab rebounds, he did have vets Elden Campbell and Calvin Booth in his rookie year and K-Mart and Camby a few years after. They learned how to be the players they needed to be by watching and practicing with those mentors. Reggie and Amir are perfectly suited for this role in Davis’ development. They are what he needs to be. Hustle. Rebounding. Vocal leadership. In-paint presence. This season, it seems every time Reggie and Amir step on the court, they have one thing on their mind: Own The Paint. That’s got to rub off on a guy who’s already wired that way.
Secondly, there’s the good fortune to join a team during a season where there’s a competition at the PF position. Reggie’s out to show what he can do following his injury-shortened first campaign. Amir’s eager to prove he deserved the big payday. Both are capable of starting. And they know it, evidenced by Devlin calling out Amir for screaming “Reggie who?” following a dunk in Sunday’s game. One thing you can count on, Raptors practices are a bloodbath. And Ed Davis is stuck in the middle, having to guard both as they dig into their bag of legal and semi-legal tricks to get that block, board, or bucket. They bring their best, every sequence ending with a “see what I did there?” glance at the coaching staff. While he’s not getting the big “in-game” minutes, he’s getting tons of high-competition reps in during practice against two of the NBA’s most tenacious big men this season. This cannot be undervalued or overstated, in my opinion. Practice will be hell, but it will make him better. Reggie and Amir will both end up with career years come April, but Davis is the true benefactor of their battle.
It may take until the end of next season. We may have to move one of the two senior PF’s to open up some minutes. But Ed Davis has everything going in his favour to get there, to become the perfect front court compliment to Andrea Bargnani and surpass the accomplishments of the three men who will groom him to stardom.