SALT LAKE CITY — Ed Davis has learned to appreciate life’s little victories.
The victory on Tuesday: A two-hour practice.
“Being an older guy, you appreciate the little things,” the veteran big man said following his first official training session as a member of the Utah Jazz.
Davis has carved out a long NBA career by doing the little things. He’s one of the best rebounders in the league, he happily sets screens to get open looks for his teammates and is fine taking on reserve roles.
Other players can have the glamorous stats, he’ll do the dirty work. If you’re looking for scoring, Davis will point somewhere else. But if you want a relentless defender and rebounder, he’s your man.
“First of all, I love his toughness,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. “He’s relentless, he doesn’t stop. He likes to win. He’s a competitor. When you have a guy like that on your team, it’s only a positive thing.”
Davis was brought in to back up Gobert. In that sense, he’ll replace Derrick Favors and give the team a defensive-minded center for when the two-time Defensive Player of the Year heads to the bench. Last season with Brooklyn, teams shot 3.8% fewer shots at the rim when Davis was in the game (second in the league only to Gobert). And he was one of the best rebounders in the NBA, averaging 8.6 boards per game in just 17.9 minutes.
“He just wants it,” Gobert said of Davis’s rebounding. “Of course, you gotta be tall, you gotta be strong, but you got it to want it more and he just wants it. It doesn't matter if you box him out, he is going to try to tip it in or tip it out. He’s always hustling for the ball.”
He checks all the boxes the Jazz want in a reserve center — he’s tough, he cares about defense and he knows his role.
“I’m not the most skilled player, but I say I'm one of the toughest players in the league,” Davis said.
So there’s no surprise that even with training camp just beginning, he’s already drawn praise from his teammates and coaches. When asked what he has liked from Davis in their short time together, Jazz coach Quin Snyder answered back: “What have I not liked?”
Snyder talked about Davis' presence on the court, his focus and his work ethic as something that everyone on the team should want to emulate.
“Someone that plays that way can lead by example, but he also has a voice,” Snyder said.
The Jazz coach mentioned an article that was written about Davis mentoring Zach Collins when they were both in Portland. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what article Snyder was referring to since a quick Google search displays numerous ones on the subject, but Collins did give an interview with Yahoo Sports last week where he talked about Davis.
“Obviously, in practice he was always talking to me, but on the road he would come to my hotel room, talk to me and see how I was doing,” Collins said. “He let me ask him any questions. During certain points of the season where the team was maybe tired or we’d lose a couple games, and he would come to check on me, so that was cool.
“And he was just really fun to play with. He made it a lot easier for me, especially on the court, and he gave me some tips off the court as well, so he was definitely big for me my first year. Strictly from a basketball standpoint, he does a lot of the dirty work and makes the game easier for his teammates, so he’s a good dude.”
He’s already trying to make things easier for his teammates in Utah. Davis said he told Donovan Mitchell that when they run a pick-and-roll together that Mitchell should look for his own shot first and Davis second. He wants the screen to create an open shot, but not for himself.
And even with a veteran team around him, Davis still wants to teach — and still wants to learn. He understands that he is now playing behind the best defensive big man in the NBA. Why not take some things from him? And why not see if he can make Gobert a little better too?
“Whenever you can play with a guy of that caliber, I can learn a lot of things from him,” Davis said. “I can teach him some things, too, so it’s just going to be fun. They brought me here to be his backup. So hopefully, I can hold it down when he steps off the floor.”