Kevin Garnett’s Injury: An Opportunity in Disguise

Celtics fans, breathe easy: Kevin Garnett did not re-injure his right knee Wednesday night in Detroit. X-rays on Wednesday showed no sign of fracture, and an MRI on Thursday revealed no ligament damage to the knee. The news isn’t all good however: Garnett strained his right calf muscle and will likely miss two weeks (or around 10 games). While a team never wants to lose a player who’s averaging a double-double in December (discounting the shortened Pistons game), this could all have been much, much worse. And there’s a potential silver lining to this injury in the form of Glen Davis, who may prove a more able replacement than Celtics fans realize.

Garnett vs. Davis

Statistically, Davis and Garnett have more similarities than differences, especially recently. Garnett has averaged 14.4 points per game since December 1. Davis is just a half-point behind at 13.9. And Davis’ minutes have incrementally increased each month, from 28.7 in October to 29.6 in November to 30.2 in December, to the point that Davis is producing nearly as many points in nearly as many minutes as Garnett (30.0 in December). What’s surprising is that Davis is scoring so well despite poor shooting. He’s a .477 shooter, whereas Garnett is a .539 shooter. Davis still misses more than he makes, but accuracy is a product of repetition. The more playing time he gets, the more shots he takes. The more shots he takes, the more shots he makes. The more shots he makes, the more his confidence builds. The more his confidence builds, the more shots he makes. We’re already seeing this in Davis’ last two months, where his accuracy jumped from .439 to .471 from November to December.

Davis’ offensive production should not be a concern for Celtics fans fearing a Garnett-less team. But the difference in rebounding should be a concern. Garnett averages over nine boards a game. Davis doesn’t even get six. This is a problem for a team that already doesn’t rebound well (27th in the league in rebounds per game).

A lot of his rebounding problems may stem from his size. Davis is 6 feet 9 inches, while Garnett is 6 feet 11 inches. Davis also outweighs Garnett by 36 pounds. Davis’ odd size makes it difficult to position him. He doesn’t quite have the speed to post up like a classic power forward, but he lacks the height to be a classic center. The result is a combination power forward who has to drive inside and center who has to box out very carefully. But because he doesn’t fit a mold, teams don’t always take him seriously, and that makes him dangerous. Time and again we’ve seen Davis come from nowhere and snatch an offensive rebound, then barrel his way in for an easy layup or dunk.

Defensively, Garnett is better at stealing and blocking, but Davis has the unique ability to draw charges. This again comes from teams not quite understanding how to play him. He’s quicker than people expect, so he gets into the lane before the shooter gets there, and he’s strong enough to absorb contact without hurting himself. Garnett is better at getting his hands out and deflecting passes, but Davis has no fear, and can kill scoring opportunities in the blink of an eye.

The Opportunity to Excel

For Davis to become the player he wants to be, he must seize the opportunity that has been handed to him. Sometimes players increase their skills gradually, getting a little better and a little better until they become starters, All-Stars, MVPs or whatever the upper threshold of their talent might be. But other times players go through a gauntlet that permanently transforms them. Rajon Rondo experienced this in the 2009 playoff series against the Chicago Bulls. Before that series he averaged 11.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 8.2 assists. But in those seven games he averaged 19.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 11.6 assists. Rondo took his game to a new level in April 2009, and he never looked back.

Before that series, Celtics fans knew Rondo was good. Great, even. Definitely a starter on a team of future Hall-of-Famers. But a superstar? An assist machine that, were it not for injuries, would possibly break the all time record for assists in a season? Possibly the best overall point guard in the game? No, there was no sign of that, not even in the 2008 NBA Finals. But after the Chicago series, oh year, fans could see all of that.

These next two weeks will be Davis’ playoff series with the Bulls. If he wants to, these next 10 games could open doors he could never dream of. A starting spot when Garnett retires. All-Star honors. Max contracts. Everything Davis wants is right there for the taking in these next 10 days. All he has to do is seize his moment.

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