Brandon Davies is on a mission, one different than the assignments that usual BYU students take after graduating from college.
Davies came to Las Vegas after a four-year college career in Provo, Utah. After inviting him to play on their Las Vegas Summer League team, the Clippers extended him a partially guaranteed contract, which basically affords him an invite to training camp. But that’s it. Davies isn’t someone that has anything close to a guaranteed roster spot.
Instead, the former Cougar has to prove himself and he had five games in Sin City to get started.
Davies showed up in Vegas as someone that could provide some stretch for the Clippers, but he unexpectedly struggled hitting his midrange shots during summer league. But even without consistently sinking jumpers, he gave the Clippers a reason to believe he was an NBA player: energy. Energy means something with bigs and Davies seemed to become more and more active as summer league progressed. His final game against the Knicks was by far his best – and that had little to do with his LVSL-high 14 points. Again, it was his verve.
Guys like Davies don’t necessarily make rosters because they can score. Yet, so many summer league players come out and try to do just that.
I scored a lot in college and high school so I should try to score a lot here.
It’s an unhealthy mentality, an example of theory without logic. Not every player thinks like that, though. In fact, plenty of players don’t, but it invades the minds of some and that infection is usually hard to flush out.
I spoke to one individual at summer league who would surely go under the category of “fringe NBA player trying to make a roster”. He’s a good big man, a skilled player with a large frame that would give him a chance to succeed at the next level. But when I asked him what he has to do to make an NBA roster, he responded that he needs to “finish at the rim”.
Let’s face it, this player probably wouldn’t have many opportunities to finish at the rim at the NBA level. It would be his job to use his body, use his six fouls, and out-hustle everyone. But when you think your job is to score, you end up making that into the priority.
The Suns’ Alex Oriakhi, however, is quite the opposite.
“[Teams] already have guys that can score and hit the three,” says Oriakhi, who the Suns drafted out of Missouri with the 57th pick in this year’s draft. “You have to do the little things, whether it’s setting good picks, taking charges, going after loose balls. But that’s what they’re looking for in a great role player.”
Oriakhi was a guy that, though he didn’t shoot often, did actually average 11.2 points per game in his final collegiate season. He shot 63.9 percent from the field in doing so. He was a strong pick-and-roll collegiate center. With that in mind, he could have come to the desert with a desire to hydrate himself with points. But he didn’t. He has to work; and because of that, he floats in a boat similar to the one in which Davies rests.
Oriakhi has a startling sense of self-awareness. If a man’s greatest strength is knowing his own weaknesses, then the former Mizzou center is one of the strongest players in Las Vegas.
“If your job is to dive on the floor, be the Michael Jordan at that,” Oriakhi continues.
It’s always rousing to see someone that has been arguably the second-best player on a national champion talk about grit. Oriakhi has a certain unassuming aura about him that lets you know that this guy knows exactly what he is. And it’s not just talk. His game backs it up. And Brandon Davies has that same sort of modesty on the court.
“I just wanted to make sure my energy was up and that I didn’t take any possessions off,” Davies said after the Clippers’ final summer league game, a 91-80 loss to the Knicks. “I want to show that I’m willing to compete at a high energy level and make sure I’m competing on both ends.”
It’s easy for athletes to say blindly that they need “energy”. Or that they need to “play hard”. Or that they have to “outwork opponents”. Those are all code words, clichés that give writers and fans alike what they want to hear. But it’s something different when a player backs it up.
It’s easy to tell when you watch closely that Davies has a clear sense of identity. Sure, he likes taking his midrange jumpers, but that’s not because of an inability to be aggressive. He’s not settling for those jumpers. He merely knows that’s one of the strengths of his offensive game. Even when he hangs out on the outside, he still finds time to crash the offensive boards hard.
Davies had three offensive rebounds against the Knicks and got a hand on at least three or four more Clippers’ misses. It’s the sort of bustle that makes defenses uncomfortable and in a lot of ways, that’s what team offensive rebounding is: making the defense uncomfortable enough that it gets caught out of position. Davies’ feet move – and they move constantly. Because of the mentality that produces that sort of style, he has a shot to stick on an NBA roster.
Players like Davies and Oriakhi are plentiful. For every Oriakhi, there’s a Henry Sims. For every Davies, there’s a Jackie Carmichael. They know they’re competing against each other. It’s not college anymore. At this level, everyone is good. Mentality can set competitors apart. Ultimately, for bigs that are just on the cusp of the NBA, it all comes back to one specific Oriakhi hypothetical: “If you’re not on your A game, there’s someone out there that will be – and they’re going to kick your ass.”