I‘m back to Glen “Big Baby” Davis. It’s hard to get away from him, really. Since our last visit, his Orlando Magic have gone 3-1 in spite of the fact that he received a technical foul for mooning an official. They’ve got the look of a great regular season team, with star player Dwight “Superman” Howard surrounded by some above-average spare parts (J.J. Redick, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Quentin “Q” Richardson) and a burgeoning second banana in sweet-shooting Cal alum Ryan J. Anderson. In other words, they’ve got what it takes to win 40-45 games and then lose in the first round of the playoffs. Davis’ role in all of this is…what, exactly? 8.4 points in 20 minutes? Replacement-level performances at the PF and C positions?
Granted, he’s already exceeded the expectations associated with players selected in the second round of the NBA Draft. He’s lasted a few years in the league, played well enough to receive a multi-year deal worth $26m, and now serves as a 6th/7th man on a decent team. He’s had a better career than comparable University of Michigan fatman Robert “Tractor” Traylor, who was a lottery pick. In fact, Magic GM Otis Smith valued Davis enough to trade Brandon Bass–another LSU forward, albeit a much fitter and more versatile one–to the Celtics to acquire him.
But why should you care? More to the point, why do I care? I suppose it’s because Davis has found gainful employment in a notoriously difficult-to-crack field. He’s an unspectacular performer, blessed with sufficient gifts–good size, considerable bulk, and a superhuman talent for drawing charges–to earn the NBA equivalent of tenure. Yet, for every Glen Davis occupying a spot on a team’s bench, aren’t there 5 or 6 Davises plying their trade in the D-League? Aren’t there 20 or 30 Davises in the NCAA (Josh Smith of UCLA springs immediately to mind)?
As I deal with rejection after rejection on the academic job market–understandable rejections, of course, because I’m dealing with a reasonably skilled pool of budding scholars who have developed reasonably impressive CVs–it’s the Davises of the world who bother me the most. Not because they’re bad, since they’re most assuredly not. Rather, it’s because they’re good enough, just good enough, to do what they’re doing. Whether you’re an NBA GM or some overworked professor tasked with hiring your academic department’s next non-rock star, how do you choose among the usual suspects? In other words, how is Glen Davis–who produced -.7 WARP last year–all that different from Brandon Bass, who produced 2.1? And, without resort to advanced statistics like these (or even with resort to them, truth be told), how does one select the “best fit,” the right “role player,” the individual who will “do the job, no questions asked?”
Mind you, not everyone could do what the Big Baby does. However, he’s a fungible good: there are other ballers out there who might be able to fill his size-16 shoes. Yet he’s riding the bench, drawing his salary, and they’re singing for their supper on month-to-month contracts in places like Omaha and Medicine Hat and Yakima. Life’s funny like that.