Illinois Summer Basketball School: Senior Forward Mike Davis, Part III

In Part III of the Illinois Summer Basketball Series on Mike Davis, Writing Illini provides a scouting report on the senior forward, compares his junior statistics with his first two seasons, notes 5 areas of improvement and projects his last season in an Illinois uniform.

Check out Parts I and II on Davis.

While Davis had a junior year that provided plenty of room for observations and suggestions on how to better his game, let it be known that this kid has been one of the more pleasant success stories during the Bruce Weber era, especially when considering his very late commitment to Illinois.

With that said, here’s hoping that Davis can play with much better activity and focus as a senior, and have a little more fun than he did during a tight junior year that didn’t truly reflect his abilities.

The Mike Davis Scouting Report

At 6’9’’ and 221 pounds, Illinois senior Mike Davis has never evoked traditional images of a bruising power forward but has certainly produced like someone much bigger during his three seasons in an Illini uniform

In the last two seasons, the long and lanky Davis has compiled 24 combined double-doubles, leading the Big Ten as a sophomore with 9 games with double-digit points and rebounds.

As a junior, Davis was second in the Big Ten to only Evan Turner with 15 double doubles, a figure that was a bit amazing especially when considering that Davis had a roller-coaster third year with the Illini.

Let’s start with his rebounding.

While Davis is a player whose overall effort and activity are not always the greatest (more on that below), he is still someone whose contributions on the glass can go unnoticed and unappreciated if not playing close enough attention, that is until taking a final look at the box score.

After averaging 8 rebounds per game as a sophomore, Davis had 8 or more rebounds in 25 of his 36 games    played as a junior.

While he certainly had a fair share of rebounding stinkers last season (2 games with 4 rebounds, 3 games with only 2 rebounds), Davis certainly knows how to clear the glass, an aspect of his game that is especially crucial for an Illini team that lacks the traditional low-post girth.

With minimal to average effort, Davis is long and athletic enough to grab a handful of rebounds each game. However, when Davis is really active, he can be a terror on the boards and a difference maker.

Last season, Davis had 10 games with 12 or more rebounds and 4 games with 15 or more rebounds, quite impressive statistics for a kid who really doesn’t have the upper body to bang with the big boys but makes up for this deficiency with his opportunistic length and pogo-stick jumping ability.

Davis’ transcendent ability to sky high and come down with the ball at its apex was especially apparent during last year’s Gonzaga game, when he soared above the crowd for a loose rebound off a missed Demetri McCamey  three, grabbed the ball, and extended an Illini possession resulting in a game-tying Dominique Keller three that forced overtime.

When combining his incredible athleticism and advantageous length with an underutilized tenacity and competitive spirit on such types of plays, Davis is hard to stop and perhaps Illinois’ most difficult player on the court.

The problem with Davis is that he does not always bring the greatest effort, or at least appears so on the court. And as is the case with fellow Illinois big man Mike Tisdale on offense, Davis also spends too much time on the perimeter at times, which lends him to become inactive and prohibits him from having an even greater impact on the glass.

It’s interesting to note that Davis had a combined 6 rebounds in two games last season against Michigan State (arguably the nation’s best rebounding team in the last 12 years and clearly the most physical team in the conference).

The point with the Michigan State reference is that Davis needs to make it a point on every possession to crash the glass and play with much more overall hunger, toughness and urgency down low in his final season.

When Davis has been able to do so in the past, the results have been inspirational (see his 13-point and 18-rebound performance in the Big Ten Semifinals against Ohio State) and ultimately cast the Illini as a much more dangerous team to deal with.

When actually establishing himself in the post, Davis is an interesting player to watch on both ends of the court.

With the ball in his hands and his back to the basket as a sophomore, Davis often relied on a nice shoulder fake/jab move to set up a two-handed fade-away/turnaround jumper that was highly effective.

In the same spot as a junior, Davis typically went with a one-handed, turnaround push shot that was effective in stretches but also rushed in many situations, particularly on offensive rebounds, leading to a lower shooting percentage last season.

As an upperclassman, Davis seemed to abandon getting both hands on his post shots, preferring to throw/push up the ball with his right hand before any contact came his way.

It would be nice to see Davis play with a little more patience with the ball on the interior, as he has the fundamentals and skill set to be a crafty and effective finesse scorer in the post.

Down low on the defensive end, Davis naturally struggles to root out and hold his position against stronger opponents. His lack of upper body strength makes it quite easy for such players to back him down and go right through his body for layups.

With that in mind, Davis would be well-served to rely more on his athleticism in the lane (i.e. combining his incredible leaping ability with a keen eye to time and block shots) as a counter to bulkier opposition.

In spurts, Davis has displayed great help defense, coming over to swat away opponent shots (a massive block or Robbie Hummel at Purdue especially stands out from the 2009-2010 season).

Unfortunately, Davis oftentimes loses his concentration and falls asleep on playing off-the-ball defense, and is thus a bit slow to react on the help side, rendering him a step late and diminishing his ability to block/alter shots with his length.

More court awareness and anticipation as opposed to slower reactions would serve Davis well as an off-ball defender.

Out on the perimeter, Davis is a versatile defender who generally does a solid/competent job of sliding his feet and containing the dribble, though he can struggle against 4-guard lineups such as what Ohio State employed in 2010. When closing out with some passion, Davis is an invaluable defensive weapon for the Illinois and a nuisance to jump shooters.

Davis’ length is also especially valuable when hedging screens and trapping. In some regards, Davis’ activity levels seem to pick up when he’s allowed to play with a bit more freedom and roam the court.

When Illinois extended out its defense last year and even brought some pressure, Davis was often the point man in terms of the trap, causing problems for the opponent with his length, deflecting numerous passes and often spurring and sometimes finishing ensuing Illini breaks.

Last season, the Illini were a strong team at making comebacks in large part due to Davis’ ability to be a disruptive influence and force turnovers when picking up the defense. With that said, the Illini were also a team that needed to make a lot of comebacks because they felt like they could turn the energy on and off when they wanted to at times, with Davis guilty of this as much as any of his teammates.

While Illinois is not going to be a full-court pressing team under head coach Bruce Weber, extending the defense out to the three-point line produced a noticeable difference in the energy level and effectiveness of Davis’ and the team’s defense last year.

Going back to the perimeter on the offensive end, Davis is typically a very effective mid-range shooter, even if he relied on the jumper a bit too much as a junior.

Early in the 2009-2010 season, Davis shot the ball with a great rhythm and was thus hitting at a very efficient level. For most of the rest of the season, he struggled with his shooting, sometimes as a result of rushing his shot and other times due to being a bit too mechanical and off-balance.

When Davis is able to step into rhythm jumpers and get his shot off all in one motion and with tremendous lift, he’s usually money.

As a junior, Davis began to use the bounce more on the perimeter, oftentimes taking one dribble to get into his shot. This point of Davis’ game is still a work in progress, as he often faded to the side on his jumper as opposed to going straight up.

In some situations, Davis didn’t look comfortable dribbling into his shot, throwing up several air balls on wide open looks during the season. However, when occasionally using his dribble to go at the basket, often leading to a one-handed floater (see late in the Ohio State game in the Big Ten Tournament), Davis was effective and hard to contest.

Two areas of Davis’ game that are not talked about enough are his passing skills and ability to stay on the court.

Often going unnoticed, Davis is the key Illini in terms of getting the ball in the middle of the zone, an excellent flasher and distributor of the ball.

With that said, as good as Davis can be moving the ball in the middle of the zone, he is a bit sloppy with his passing at times when reversing the ball from the top of the key to the wing against the man-to-man. Of course, such sloppiness typically comes down to Davis’ struggles to focus.

Even though he doesn’t always make the most out of his minutes and lacks the frame for 40 minutes of physical play (thus giving the impression that he is exhausted on the court), Davis logged heavy time for the Illini last year, particularly when Tisdale was in foul trouble. Amazingly, Davis did not foul out of a game as a junior.

Now if Davis could figure out a way to make the most out of his time on the court, things would be golden for him personally and the Illini collectively.

Ultimately, when describing the highly talented yet enigmatic Mike Davis, one word comes to mind: energy.

When playing with tremendous energy, Davis is arguably Illinois’ best player in spurts; when playing with so-so energy, he can be the team’s most frustrating and underachieving player for long periods of time.

Unfortunately, there is no telling from game-to-game and even possession-to-possession how active Davis is going to play.

With one year left in college, now’s the time for Davis to figure out how to be more consistent.

Breaking Down Davis’ Numbers as a Junior

These numbers certainly reflect Davis’ up-and-down junior season compared to his outstanding sophomore campaign.

In 2009-2010, Davis saw increases in his minutes, field goal attempts, free throw attempts and rebounds.

Yet he decreased in points per game, shooting percentage, shots per point, free throw percentage, assists, steals and fouls.

He was even in turnovers.

Note: Davis’ freshman numbers really don’t have much bearing here as he only played 355 minutes on the 2007-2008 season, but are still listed for comparison’s sake.

● 32.3 minutes per game (↑ from 30.7 as a sophomore and 10.4 as a freshman)

● 10.7 points per game (↓ from 11.3 as a sophomore; ↑ from 2.6 as a freshman)

● 364 field goal attempts (↑ from 321 as a sophomore and 82 as a freshman)

● 47% from the field (↓ from 53% as a sophomore; ↑ from 44% as a freshman)

● 1.06 points per shot (↓ from 1.19 as a sophomore and ↔ with 1.06 as a freshman)

● 65 free throw attempts (↑ from 60 as a sophomore and 32 as a freshman)

● 63% free throw percentage (↓ from 68% as a sophomore; ↑ from 47% as a frosh)

● 9.2 boards per game (↑ from 8.1 as a sophomore and 1.8 as a freshman)

● 0.9 assists per game (↓ from 2.0 as a sophomore; ↑ from 0.3 as a freshman)

● 0.5 steals per game (↓ from 0.7 as a sophomore; ↑from 0.1 as a freshman)

● 1.88 fouls per game (↓ from 2.08 as a sophomore; ↑ from 0.88 as a freshman)

● 1.5 turnovers per game (↔ with 1.5 as a sophomore but ↑ from 0.4 as a frosh).

5 Areas of Improvement for Davis’ Senior Season

1. Activity

A lot of Davis’ problems as a junior can be attributed to him not making himself a factor on the court, even if the offense was going away from him on that night.

Quite simply, Davis is too good of a player to grab just 2 rebounds as he did in 23 minutes of a loss at Northwestern.

Even if Davis is not getting touches, he can have a huge impact for the Illini, as he did during a 10-point, 10-rebound victory against Wisconsin during the Big Ten Tournament.

For Davis, this means banging more with the big boys, or at least using his incredible athleticism and length to counteract the physical play.

During his senior season, it starts and ends with Davis, who typically takes himself out of games as opposed to the opponent doing so.

As stated earlier, when Davis is playing with energy, he is one of the most exciting and enjoyable Illini to watch.

As a senior, Davis needs to be an energizer for an Illinois team that was way too content and nonchalant last season.

2. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

Illinois can’t afford for Davis to go inconspicuously missing as he did at Northwestern after going for 17 and 15 against Purdue, or during the entire first half of a home game at Indiana.

Davis has played too much in the last 2 seasons to continue to be so erratic in effort and impact, as was the case during 8 of Illinois’ first 10 Big Ten games last year.

While the Illini may not have always had the options or gone to other players on the bench when Davis was inconsistent last year, players like Tyler Griffey, Myers Leonard and even Jereme Richmond will be chomping at the bit for more minutes if Davis is not getting the job done.

3. Make the Most Out of His Opportunities

In some regards Davis probably got overextended at times last year, with Tisdale in foul trouble and Illinois head coach Bruce Weber reluctant to play Griffey early in the season and not confident in senior Dominique Keller as conference play progressed.

At 32.3 minutes per game, Davis was second on the Illini in minutes to fellow junior Demetri McCamey.  He definitely shouldered a heavy load, one that was probably too much and not necessarily fair for him.

With Illinois as deep as it’s ever been, Davis’ playing time would ideally be in the 25-28 minute range each game. As Weber has said this summer, the question is whether Davis can produce at a double-double clip in fewer minutes?

In other words, can he make the most out of every minute on the court instead of going from one stretch to another where is a huge factor and then nowhere to be found?

Especially interesting with Davis is his number of field goal attempts during his junior and sophomore seasons. Davis had 43 more shot attempts last season (364) compared to his sophomore campaign (321) but only made one more field goal (172 vs. 171).

He also only got to the free throw line 5 more times as a junior despite 41 field goal attempts, and finished with the exact same number of made free throws (41) both years.

Looking at these statistics, it’s clear to see that Davis was not as efficient as he needed to be last year.

In large part, this was a result of having poor energy, rushing things (Davis had 5 games with 4 or more turnovers) and playing a bit tight at times, which takes us to the next point.

4. Play Loose and Have Some Fun

When going from a freshman who got spot minutes to not only a starter but one of Illinois’ go-to-guys as a sophomore, Davis seemed to take his progression in stride, playing loose and having fun during a pleasantly surprising 2008-2009 season both personally and collectively.

Last season, Davis seemed to lose his confidence, especially during most of the conference season. He even sent Weber a text message during the middle of the season, saying that he had let the team down and would play better, which he did.

Entering his last year, Davis needs to let all hang loose and go out there and play as if there is no tomorrow, all the while enjoying the unique opportunities that come with being a student athlete and representative of a university.

For a player who signed with Illinois just weeks before school started, Davis should be commended for his overall growth in three seasons. He quickly went from a rough-around-the-edges player with potential to one who was dropping 28 points against Clemson early as a sophomore.

Davis has shown that he can play in the Big Ten. He just needs to go out there and do it, without letting the pressure get to him. In other words, return to being Mike Davis, which he did towards the end of Big Ten season and post-season play.

During this summer, Davis has said all the right things, indicating that the legacy of this senior class is on the line and that he wants to be remembered as having an impact on the program.

It’s good to hear Davis recognize this; with that said, it’s not all on him.

This is a team effort here, from the coaches to the deep roster.

Davis and his fellow seniors (McCamey, Tisdale and Bill Cole) would be well-served to look at how the opinions of Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock changed after they all had great senior seasons in terms of production and more importantly leadership.

5.  Quit the Yapping and Just Play

This point is meant for not only Davis but the entire Illini team.

Too often last year, Illinois was a team that turned to the officials when things didn’t go its way.

There should be no excuses this season for Davis, who can get caught up in too much trash talking and even some showboating, or anyone else for that matter.

After missing the NCAA Tournament 2 out of the last 3 seasons, it’s time for Davis and the Illini to let their play do the talking.

Projecting Davis’ Senior Season

Davis is expected to start at the power forward spot for the third straight season.

While Davis merits starting given his talent and experience, Weber should not hesitate to put him on the bench if he struggles early with consistency.

In some regards, Davis seems better as a high-energy player off the bench, a role that Brandon Paul and he could flourish in next year.

And when considering that the Illini tended to play sharp early in games with Griffey in the starting lineup last season, Weber should not rule out this possibility.

With that said, expect Davis to be at the starting four spot when it all begins this season.

If Davis plays up to his talent and experience, he’ll be there all year, as was the case during his sophomore year, when he started all 34 games.

In the ideal world, Davis will have his minutes cut from 32.2 per game to 25-28 each contest, though he would likely be more in the 27-28 range.

With less of a load and more help off the bench, Davis should benefit and be able to pick up his game after having to log some excessive minutes as a junior.

While Davis has typically set personal goals between each season with his father, he has said that this will not be the case this year. In other words, he said it’s all about the team and nothing else in 2010-2011 (a great thing to hear especially after declaring and withdrawing from the NBA Draft).

With that in mind, don’t worry too much about Davis’ statistics next year. He should be close to the double-double range as has been the case the last two seasons.

Don’t be surprised if Davis is around 9-10 points per game. It will be interesting to see if he can get to over 10 boards a game (in my opinion that stat will be a better reflection of his activity as a senior).

It would be great to see Davis have more of an impact as a help-side shot blocker, getting his average to 1 to 1.5 blocks per game.

With all this considered, I’m looking for Davis to do one thing next season: bring consistent activity and focus.

If he does this, he’ll be more than fine and the Illini will have one less thing to worry about. While the Illini may not be the Elite Eight team that Davis has predicted, they will have a realistic shot to get back to the NCAA Tournament and advance to the second weekend if Davis plays up to his abilities. From Davis’ perspective, this will increase his prospects with NBA personnel, though I currently believe he will have a long professional career overseas as opposed to in the United States.

If he doesn’t, Davis could find himself on the bench and replaced by Griffey, whom I think needs to get at least 15-17 minutes a game regardless next year, and the Illini could very well be a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team.

The good news is that it appears that Davis and his fellow seniors have recognized the fine line between these different scenarios, and are thus preparing harder than ever to set things right in 2010-2011.


That does it for the Illinois Basketball Summer School Series on Mike Davis.

The next player to be featured will be senior forward Bill Cole, hopefully sometime next week.

Until then.

Tags: Bill Cole Brandon Paul Bruce Weber Chester Frazier Demetri McCamey Dominique Keller Illini Basketball Illinois Basketball Illinois Basketball Summer School Jereme Richmond Meyers Leonard Mike Davis Mike Tisdale Tyler Griffey U-of-I Basketball University Of Illinois

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