Are you guilty too?
Enduring through a major rehabilitation for a torn Achilles tendon, there were a lot of Indiana analysts and fans alike in the De’Ron Davis doubters camp coming into the 2018-19 Indiana basketball season.
The narrative for doubting Davis wasn’t unreasonable.
Already not known for his quickness or athleticism, the 6-foot-10 255 pound forward was attempting to come back from what many told him was one of the toughest injuries to recover from. And it would be doubly difficult on that big frame.
Moreover, Indiana (and basketball as a whole really), seems to be moving away from a half court game to a more up-tempo style that emphasizes the stamina to sprint regularly and for big men to have a perimeter element to their game. Most would agree that Davis doesn’t fit nicely into either of those descriptions.
But as the season and Davis have progressed, realities are starting to become apparent. Those things you think you want to do — like get out in transition — guess what? Good, well coached teams know how to get back on defense and force you to score in the half court. We see this time and again when tough minded teams like Louisville or Butler appear on the schedule, and when Big Ten play begins.
While Indiana put up some gaudy offensive numbers against the likes of Chicago State and Montana State, the realities of that more disciplined competition are here.
And Davis? He is getting closer and closer to full strength. And his timing couldn’t be better.
Davis said on Monday that prior to the Achilles tear, the worst injury he had previously suffered was a dislocated finger. Dealing with something so significant for the first time no doubt caused mental and emotional pain as well. But he’s almost there.
What we seemingly forgot about Davis is how efficient he is scoring the ball in the post — and he’s taken that to a new level so far this season.
The reality is that Big Ten basketball is largely a half court game, and with that, you need a “go to” option when things get sideways in possessions, and otherwise in the flow of the game. As you can see in the video above, Davis has been that guy lately.
The Colorado native ended a more than five minute scoring drought at Penn State to get IU on the board. Against Louisville, he hit two shots when IU had fallen behind by seven. As a career 55% shooter from the field, Davis has always been a reliable scoring option, but this year he is hitting two of every three shots thus far. He also has improved his free throw percentage by nearly ten percentage points.
Despite only playing 12 minutes a game thus far, Davis is averaging 5.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and .7 blocks per game. He won’t ever play this much, but if you extrapolate those numbers out to 36 minutes per contest, he would be at nearly 18 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks per game.
Obviously he is producing at a high level when opportunities present themselves. And he is still recovering.
On Monday, Archie Miller indicated that Davis is “heading towards January as we hoped he would be in the leanest, fastest condition that he can be.”
That’s good news, because he is going to be needed, and it won’t just be on the offensive end of the floor.
While Davis may not play 36 minutes a game, his minutes are bound to ramp up going forward. There are several big men in the Big Ten that Davis will match up against better than anyone else on the IU roster. Here are a few that come to mind:
- Jon Teske, Michigan, 7-foot-1, 255 pounds
- Matthew Haarms, Purdue, 7-foot-3, 249 pounds
- Eric Curry, Minnesota, 6-foot-9, 240 pounds
- Ethan Happ, Wisconsin, 6-foot-10, 237 pounds
- Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State, 6-foot-9, 270 pounds
There are surely others. The value that Davis can bring is more than just scoring the ball or defending when the ball enters the post. It can go unnoticed, but it takes a guy with Davis’ physical attributes to help prevent the ball from ever getting into the post. That was big part of the strategy against Louisville, and Davis was able to execute well, contributing to the team’s efforts that limited Steven Enoch to just three shots.
Between now and when Big Ten play resumes the Hoosier big man will need to put the finishing touches on his conditioning so he can work to get in better position on defense rather than reaching and getting in foul trouble when he has to help off his man.
The aforementioned opposing bigs will present matchup nightmares if Davis is riding the bench with fouls. No, Indiana is going to need Davis on the floor — and more than most of us thought at the beginning of the season.
Miller said on Monday night that Davis “ran more distance today than any practice all season long.”
To survive the gauntlet that is the ultra deep, physical, and competitive Big Ten this year, Indiana is going to need Davis to start running the distance in games come January.
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