Enjoy the first installment of the new Overrated, Underrated series. Leading off are Glen Davis, Zach Randolph, and Joe Johnson.
Glen Davis, Boston Celtics
After leading LSU to the Final Four as a sophomore in 2006, Davis saw a tremendous rise in his draft stock. But unlike teammate Tyrus Thomas, who bolted for the NBA and was taken 4th overall, Davis returned for his junior season. Despite Davis posting near-identical numbers, the Tigers finished just 17-15 that year and missed the NCAA tournament. Davis decided to turn pro anyway, and fell to Seattle in the second round of the ’07 Draft, 35th overall. He was immediately shipped to Boston as part of the Ray Allen trade and quickly became an afterthought amidst the talk of the new Big Three.
But over the past several seasons, Davis has been an integral part of the Celtics’ bench, particularly during the playoffs. He stepped up for the C’s when Kevin Garnett went down in the 2009 playoffs and had some big moments in last year’s Finals (particularly Game 4, where he notched 18 points and four offensive rebounds and dominated the fourth quarter). This year, Big Baby is having the best season of his career while playing multiple roles for Boston. He began the year as the leader of the second-unit, a banger that could muscle his way to the rim, but performed admirably after being forced to step into the starting lineup for nine games in place of an injured KG.
Davis is averaging career-highs in all major categories this season, and has played more minutes than all but two Celtics this season. At just under 31 minutes per game, Davis is far more than an average bench player, and his production (13 PPG, 5 RPG) backs that up. In addition, Davis is always willing to put his body on the line for the team- if the NBA kept track of charges drawn, Davis’ name would certainly be near the top. [Editor's Note: I found numbers for last year, and Davis finished 54th overall, but he did have the most of all players who logged less than 1000 minutes.] Jamal Crawford and Jason Terry may be the big names in the Sixth Man of the Year Award race, but Davis has proved this season that he belongs right there with them.
Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies
Randolph garnered much attention last season for a quality season in Memphis, but has been largely out of the spotlight in 2010-11 even though he’s continued to play at a very high level. Though 19-23 Memphis sits in the basement of the Southwest Division, the Grizzlies are just three-and-a-half games out of a playoff spot, and have quality wins over the Lakers and Mavericks (twice each) and the Heat. The Southwest is also loaded this year, with two of the NBA’s elite teams in the Spurs and the Mavericks, a surprising Hornets team, and a Rockets team that’s had to deal with injuries and a tough schedule.
Critical to the Grizzlies’ playoff hopes is the play of Randolph, who is the NBA’s top rebounder not named Love or Howard (13 boards per game), while averaging over 20 points per game on 49% shooting. In particular, Randolph has been oppressive on the offensive glass, leading the league with a 14.5% offensive rebounding percentage. Add it all up, and you see that the only difference from last year to now is that Randolph is averaging a board-and-a-half more this season. Yet he hasn’t received nearly the respect he deserves.
This may be due to the fact that Randolph’s well-documented off-court troubles seem to plague him wherever he goes. While it will take several years for Randolph to fully redeem himself, he appears to be on his way, earning the NBA’s Community Assist Award for December. Randolph dressed up as “Z-Bo Claus” and handed out gifts to Memphis-area kids during the holiday season. Randolph is at the point in his career where another misstep would not be a surprise to anyone and teams should (rightfully) handle him with care, so don’t hold your breath on him. With that said, it’s nice to see that even though he’s made bad decisions in the past, he is still capable of making good ones.
Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks
There was an expectation this summer (well, at least I hope there was an expectation) within the Hawks organization that when they paid Joe Johnson franchise money (six years, $119 million) that he’d perform like a franchise player. Now I understand that Atlanta may have had to overspend a little to keep Johnson, but there is a line between overpaying and grossly overpaying, and the Hawks crossed it about $20 million ago. Most knowledgeable observers of the NBA knew that if, by age 29, Johnson hadn’t asserted himself as a franchise player, it probably wasn’t ever going to happen. What most didn’t expect was for Johnson to suffer through his worse season as a Hawk, but with no new contract to play for, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Johnson is normally a great shooter, but his shot has been off this season, as he’s shooting just 43% from the field (second-worst for his career) and a career-worst 29% from deep. In most other areas, Johnson has been pretty consistent, but when your game is build around shooting and your shot’s not falling, you’re going to have a bad year.
Atlanta simply isn’t deep enough for Johnson to be its top player, and the Hawks may end up getting left behind this season after all the other Eastern contenders made moves to improve themselves. Good luck getting out of the first round facing Chicago or Orlando (if the playoffs began today, the Hawks would face the Magic). Atlanta’s best hope this season is to try really hard for the #3 seed and hope that they can take down a lesser team such as the Knicks for their third consecutive second round appearance. They don’t really have a realistic shot of making the Eastern Finals, and Hawks fans are probably beginning to get tired of a team that’s beginning to look like a perennial fringe contender. If the braintrust in Atlanta has any hope of contending with this group, something has to change before Johnson suffers any further decline.