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Sixers Free Agency: Ed Davis should be a target

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The Sixers will need to find themselves a backup center this offseason if they decide not to retain Amir Johnson.

NBA: New York Knicks at Portland Trail Blazers Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

As the Sixers sort through Woodergate and the ramifications of the scandal, offseason team building is quickly approaching. The NBA Draft is June 21st and the free agency period officially begins on July 1st (although, as many NBA fans know, deals are agreed upon before that date).

It is tough to speculate which players the Sixers could pursue this offseason. We have no idea who will be leading the discussion regarding free agency, with Bryan Colangelo’s position with the franchise in question.

However, we know the holes the Sixers should try to fill: they desperately need wing depth, some distance shooters at the 2 wouldn’t hurt and the backup center position will certainly be of need.

This past season, Amir Johnson usually filled in aptly when Joel Embiid left the floor (or was injured). But there were times Amir struggled. He’s battled ankle injuries over the last few years of his career, and at times this season, he seemed to be again hampered by those nagging injuries. (“Old Man Amir”, he’s been dubbed.) So if the Sixers were to bring Johnson back, it would provide the team a capable backup center. The team, though, might want to go with someone who has less miles on the odometer.

Ed Davis, who played the 2017-2018 campaign with the Portland Trail Blazers, is an unrestricted free agent this summer who the Sixers should consider for the backup big role. (While Davis is only two years younger than Amir Johnson, Amir entered the league 5 years prior to Davis.) Standing 6’10” with a 7’ wingspan, Davis can play both the 4 — although, I’m not sure you want Davis and another big on the floor — and the 5 defensively, protecting the rim and gobbling up rebounds. Within a Brett Brown offense (and in the modern NBA in general), he’d struggle playing anywhere but the 5.

Over the ‘17-’18 season, Davis’ per game averages were 5.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.1 stocks (per 36: 10.1 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.1 stocks) with an eFG% of .582. That eFG% ranked 22nd amongst centers who played in more than 50 games; not what you’d call elite, but acceptable out of your backup.

Davis is no offensive juggernaut, and you wouldn’t attempt to run a 2nd unit offense through him. He’s got very limited range, with just 2 3PA in his entire career. Davis has found his niche on offense, though, by playing as a rim-runner and taking almost all of his attempts within the paint.

Portland used Davis mostly as a roll man, setting screens for C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard and finishing their lobs or bounce passes. Davis is an effective screener, and does so frequently. To quantify, Davis finished 9th in the league in screen assists per 36 minutes, with 4.6. Outside of scenarios in which he was a roller, Davis got his points cleaning up loose garbage and tapping in putbacks. Davis averaged 1.07 points per play as a roll man and 1.25 points per play on putbacks.

The defensive side of the ball is where Davis brings a lot of his value. He’s not necessarily a shot-blocker, as he averaged less than a block per game. However, he remains an effective rim protector by utilizing an impressive spatial awareness and a high defensive IQ. Davis allowed just 0.70 points per play defending the roll man in PnR and 0.83 PPP when defending post ups. To further backup his reputation as a solid defender, he’s had a defensive RPM of at least 2.50 in 2 of the last 3 years. (The only year he didn’t? The ‘16-’17 season, an injury-plagued season for Davis in which he played just 46 games.) And as fellow LB’er Tom West pointed out to me, the Trail Blazers ranked 1st this season in opponent FG% within 5 feet. The credit there shouldn’t be given solely to Davis; but at nearly 19 MPG at center, he certainly takes some responsibility.

Defending may not even be Davis’ strongest attribute. Rebounding is a particularly impressive strength of Davis’ (as previously noted, he averaged 14.1 rebs per 36 in ‘17-’18), especially offensive rebounding. Amongst players with at least 40 games played, Davis’ 13.9% OReb rate ranked 5th behind only Enes Kanter, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams and DeAndre Jordan. And while his defensive rebounding rate wasn’t in elite territory, it was still an impressive 28.5%. He uses his rebounding for 2nd chance points, cleaning up his teammates’ misses:

It’s clear Davis would make a suitable backup and occasional starter behind Joel Embiid. Davis is a limited offensive player, but knows his strengths and plays to them. He is, plainly, a good defender. And I’d place him amongst the elite in rebounding. He checks all the boxes you want from a backup center.

But is it actually a feasible signing for the Sixers? I reached out to cap expert Jeff Siegel (@jgsiegel) to gauge Davis’ value. Siegel responded:

A solid but uninspiring backup center, I’d think something in line with the mini mid-level would make sense for this market, maybe a touch more than that if another team really likes him and there’s a bit of a bidding war. 3/$20 [$20 million over 3 years] is the contract he just finished and I think that pretty much fits his value. If I were Portland, I’d first look to re-sign Davis before going after Nurkic; he’s cheaper and brings a lot of the same things to the table.

If the Sixers are to make a big splash this offseason, filling out the roster could prove to be tough. And as Siegel and our own Jackson Frank (a Portland native) have noted, the Trail Blazers may highly value Davis, maybe even over Jusuf Nurkic (a Portland center who could also hit free agency). The Sixers might not have the cash to get into a bidding war. But if Davis can be had for 3 years, $20 million, it’s something the Sixers should seriously consider. On a valuable contract, they could obtain one of the best backup centers in the league.