Strengths and Weaknesses
Ed Davis and Brandan Wright aren't exactly similar as players, but there are some intriguing similarities in their career arcs that make Davis a more interesting free agent candidate than his relatively low levels of production in the NBA would suggest. You rarely see a 24-year old former lottery pick become an unrestricted free agent, but Davis has been a victim of circumstance as much as anything else in his NBA career. As a result, he's the rare free agent in his mid 20s who offers plenty of upside and room to grow as a player.
Like Wright, Davis leveraged an intriguing combination of length, skill and athleticism (6'10, 225 with a 7'0 wingspan) to declare for the draft as an underclassman out of UNC, even though he could have used some more seasoning in school. He was taken at No. 13 in 2010 by a Toronto Raptors team that still featured Andrea Bargnani and was also developing Amir Johnson (a player with a roughly similar skill-set). Davis produced right away, but there were only so many minutes available for him in Toronto.
In his first two seasons with the Raptors, he averaged around seven points, seven rebounds and one block on 54 percent shooting, solid numbers for a third big man who didn't receive the ball much in the half-court. His numbers continued to shoot up in his third season, even though his minutes were capped at about 20-25 a night, before he was traded to Memphis as part of the Rudy Gay deal. That's where his career stalled, as he became a fourth big man behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph on a Grizzlies team that was loaded upfront.
After one-and-a-half seasons in Memphis, the Grizzlies declined his option, as they didn't have enough room in their budget to tender Davis an offer and stay under the luxury tax. He played only 15 minutes a night in Memphis last season, but his per-36 minute averages were remarkably solid -- 13 points, 10 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and one assist on 53 percent shooting. Davis is an athletic 24-year old big man with a career 16 PER -- he's produced wherever he's been, he just hasn't received a ton of opportunities.
Part of the reason he's underrated is that he isn't great at any one aspect of the game. He doesn't quite have the length and bulk of a traditional center and he's not all that effective playing more than 15+ feet from the basket. He isn't a great scorer, shooter, passer or defender, but he's more than adequate at each of those categories. Other than rebounding, Davis is a jack of all trades but master of none -- he's not a guy who consistently jumps off the screen when you watch him, but he does his job on a nightly basis.
Fit with the Mavericks
The acquisition of Tyson Chandler makes the Davis' fit with this more problematic, as the Mavs now have two big men with limited shooting range -- Wright and Chandler -- who will play big minutes in the rotation. If they want more of a stretch 4 to play behind Dirk Nowitzki, there doesn't appear to be much room for Davis in Dallas. However, given the injury histories of Chandler and Wright, Davis could be an intriguing insurance possibility as well as a nice medium-term play in terms of adding another asset to the roster.
And while Davis doesn't fit the mold of a traditional center, if you compare him to the three-headed monster that manned the position here last year, you can see how an inventive coach like Rick Carlisle can find some value out of him. Davis is a much better offensive player than Samuel Dalembert, a much better defensive player than DeJuan Blair and he's stronger and a better rebounder than Wright. He's a guy who can help you on both ends of the floor, which isn't all that common when you are talking about a 6'10 225 player.
Even if everyone stays healthy, given the age of Dirk and Chandler and the likely departure of Shawn Marion, I find it hard to believe the Mavs couldn't find a place for Davis in the rotation. He's certainly a better all-around player than Blair and he has far more upside down the road. If they strike out on their top targets in free agency and they are looking to fill out their roster, signing Davis to a 3-4 year deal at $5 million would make a lot of sense, as he's a player who can help them now and into the future.
Big men develop slower than guards and Davis is still a relative baby when it comes to his NBA career. I can guarantee you this much -- he's going to be better at 28 than he is at 24, which means he will be getting better over the next 3-4 seasons, which isn't something you can say for the vast majority of players on the Dallas roster. You can never have too much length, skill and athleticism on your roster and Davis, like Wright, is the type of guy who could really improve playing under Carlisle.