The prevailing thought that seems to have emerged in the past 18 hours since Ed Davis' announced he would enter the NBA Draft is the loss will only minimally impact UNC come next season. Adam Gold on 99.9 The Fan indicated he did not think Davis leaving would damage the Heels as much as people think. Jumping on the bandwagon were Mike Decourcy of The Sporting News and N&O columnist Caulton Tudor. The basic gist of both pieces is that while Davis was very talented, it is difficult to imagine UNC missing him all that much considering he never blossomed much beyond a rebounder and shot blocker. This assumption is almost certainly based on Davis' development trajectory flattening out to some extent. Yes, Davis was good but not great in two seasons but that does not mean that would continue in year three. If Davis were to make some gigantic leap forward come next season then he would obviously have a huge impact. The question is whether such a leap was ever forthcoming. Based on what we have seen so far in terms of work ethic and effort, it is difficult to say the leap was coming.
To be honest, I find myself in the camp with Decourcy and Tudor on this. We have all had plenty of time to consider what our opinion would be if Davis finally pulled the trigger and for weeks now my gut feeling has always been the same: Somehow UNC would be better off. Some of that is colored by various things I have heard but it is also informed by what I have seen on the court. If you go back to last year when we were out buying SI Commemorative editions and national title t-shirts, the trending topic regarding Davis was how much of a beast he would be this season.
"Davis is going to put on some muscle! He is going to be awesome! I think he could be a 20-10 guy!"
Or so we thought. The problem is I am not sure Davis did what was necessary to live up to those expectations. When you watched Davis played this season, I am not sure we saw anything in his offensive game improved all that much from 2009 when he came off the bench. We know for a fact he came into the season not meeting his conditioning goals. Roy Williams himself has said Davis was not a good practice player. Not to mention Davis was not the type of big man who runs the floor well unlike Tyler Zeller or John Henson. I don't mean any of this to bash Davis, who reminded some of us of Sam Perkins. If you gave me a choice to keep Davis or let him go then I would probably opt to keep him and hope his game develops. However, now faced with the reality of losing him, I am finding it difficult to believe it a crippling blow. And that is without delving into various team chemistry problems rumored to be associated with Davis.
When I envisioned UNC in 2010-11 I envisioned Tyler Zeller and John Henson in the post. For whatever reason my gut feeling was this would be fine. Yes, these two have to step up their game to cover some of the things Davis did well. Mostly that was rebounding and shot blocking. Henson does both of those really well. Put some extra meat on Henson's frame and give him some decent offensive skills he can do plenty of damage at the four. Tyler Zeller needs to play his size and rebound the basketball better against shorter competition. He also needs to work on his hands and keeping the ball up so it is not swiped by smaller players. Even before that, however, I think Zeller's offensive game was probably ahead of Davis. Zeller has a nice arsenal of shots. What he needs is to refine his post moves, fundamentals and play bigger. Both Zeller and Henson run the court extremely well which makes them a good fit into Roy's system
The bottom line is Ed Davis leaving might hurt UNC but if it does I do not foresee it being a disaster. As Decourcy and Tudor pointed out, it is tough to lament losing what you never had. Davis' promise was never fulfilled for various reasons. Yes, it may have been fulfilled had he stayed one more season. Still it is difficult to speculate what that would look like. Tudor also points out that losing Davis simplifies things for Roy. As much as we like to talk about depth being a positive, Roy Williams has a tendency to over-manage his rotations. If you hand Roy 12 players, he tries to find playing time for 12 players because he likes fresh legs on the court. This often leads to odd lineup combinations which disrupts the team rhythm. The same would be true here. With only Zeller and Henson along with the Wears and a helping of Will Graves at the four, UNC will see more of their two best big men on the court. The certainty of playing time and comfort knowing your role can do wonders for a player's confidence and production. Hopefully that will be true for Zeller and Henson. Foul trouble could be an issue but when isn't foul trouble an issue?
The most important thing to remember here is while Davis leaving deprives UNC of a NBA talent, it does not mean the players left behind are not perfectly capable of making strides to compensate. It is also important to remember what this is all conditional. If Zeller and Henson's respective games do not elevate then losing Davis is going to hurt more. However, I am convinced, as many of you are as well, that an improved perimeter game is going to make life on the interior much easier. Having a second player on the floor like Harrison Barnes who can facilitate the offense will open the halfcourt up. If Larry Drew can play smarter basketball alongside Kendall Marshall then the Tar Heel fast break will be back in business with two big men who can run.
In other words, UNC will be just fine. Heck, Duke won a title with Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas at the four and five. For my money Zeller and Henson bring more to the table than those guys do.