TORONTO — For the sake of this hypothetical query, pretend Ed Davis was a swingman — a small forward rather than a power forward, with the skill set for that position and with production similar to what he has provided the Toronto Raptors so far.
If that were the reality, how often would Davis be playing?
It is impossible to answer that question, since it only exists in the reality of an alternate dimension. It is certain, though, that he would be earning more floor time than he is now. Davis is playing just 13:30 per night, including a combined nine minutes in Toronto’s last two games.
Head coach Dwane Casey would say the amount Davis plays is entirely up to him.
“I asked him a while ago: I said, ‘Has anybody seen Ed Davis?’ He played well [last Sunday against] Minnesota. He was a big-time factor, he and Amir [Johnson],” Casey said. “He changed the game against Minnesota. Since then, I don’t know. He hasn’t been the same.”
That might be what Casey has seen, but it does not seem entirely fair to Davis. The main reason Davis has struggled to find minutes is because of the Raptors’ roster composition.
Andrea Bargnani is one of the few Raptors capable of scoring in bulk. Jonas Valanciunas is one of the Raptors’ great hopes, a potential rebounding and defensive demon. Johnson is the team’s best interior defender, a particularly good match for Bargnani when factoring in the latter’s defensive and rebounding shortcomings. So no matter how well Davis has played — and, frankly, the sample size is too small to come to a meaningful conclusion — he will always be less of a priority for Casey than the other three players.
This is a problem with Bryan Colangelo’s “stacking principle” — the practice of gathering talented players who play the same position. Certainly, you want to collect the most talented players possible. But if one of those players ends up losing playing time in a minutes crunch, he becomes less valuable as an asset.
When you get in the game, you’ve got to make your minutes count and not count your minutes
The fact that the league is generally heading in a smaller direction makes it tougher for the Raptors to have the glut up front.
The Raptors’ opponent on Monday, the Utah Jazz, are in a similar position: They have established big men Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap to go along with prospects Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.
Kanter, the third-overall pick in the 2011 draft, is in the same position in Utah as Davis is in Toronto: Through seven games, he is playing fewer than 15 minutes per night.
“I’ve just got to play better when I’m out there,” said Davis, who is averaging 4.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in his limited minutes.
“When you get in the game,” Casey said, “you’ve got to make your minutes count and not count your minutes.”
Of course, with injuries to Landry Fields and Alan Anderson, the Raptors, with six losses in their first seven games, would give Davis a long leash if he were a small forward. But in an area where they have depth, Davis does not get the benefit of the doubt.
It is just another factor in the Raptors’ slow start: Even the injuries are happening to the wrong guys.