HoopsHype.com Articles

Jordan's most unlikely heir
by Brian Lester / April 13, 2002

It's late in the first quarter of Cleveland's game against Milwaukee and all is going well for the Cavaliers. They lead 33-27 with under three minutes to play and the noise level from the crowd of 13,864 is beginning to rise inside Gund Arena.

It can only mean one thing: Ricky Davis, Cleveland's energetic sixth man, is coming off the bench and is ready to dish out punishment on a Bucks team desperately trying to keep its playoff hopes off of life support.

On this night, Milwaukee is fortunate. Davis only scores 16, but the Cavs still win the game, 106-81, and continue their strong play in the month of April by securing their third consecutive victory.

The Bucks, meanwhile, leave Cleveland as the latest victim of Davis' intoxicating scoring binge. Davis has become a legitimate offensive threat in the NBA over the last few weeks and teams are struggling to find ways to shut him down.

Teams such as the Lakers, who somehow managed to survive a career-high 35-point attack by Davis on March 26. Teams such as the Pacers, who saw their postseason hopes take a hit when Davis torched them for 32 points, including 19 in the fourth quarter, to guide the Cavs to a come-from-behind victory on April 8.

Plain and simple, Davis is a headache for opponents. His scoring totals are starting to look like the winning lottery numbers, and the Cavs certainly feel as if they have a winning ticket in their hands. Davis is no longer just
another player on just another bad team. He has emerged as one of the league's rising young stars and coach John Lucas can't say enough about him.

"I love coaching him and the fans love him, too," Lucas said. "He is a great player and has done so much for this team. He can score, he plays great defense and he is energetic."

Without a doubt, life is good for Davis. In fact, it's never been better.

"Things are going pretty good," Davis said while kicking back and relaxing on a chair inside the Cavs locker room. "I'm playing good and shooting good, and the team is winning. It's a great feeling. This is probably the best year of my career. I'm getting a lot of minutes and playing good basketball."

Good basketball? Try great basketball.

In Cleveland's last 10 games, the Cavs have won four and Davis has clicked for 22 points or more in seven of those outings. His lowest output was 18 in a romp of the hapless Bulls. His most productive night was his sizzling effort against the Lakers.

No one could have seen this coming. Not even Davis. Not when his scoring averages from the first three years of his career (4.5, 4.7 and 4.6) looked like the GPA's of high school honor students. Not when he didn't score 20
points or more during any game in the first three months of the season. And certainly not when his season-high up until the second day of February was a mere 18 points.

Davis can't really put a finger on what has been the key to his strong play. He just knows that he is in a zone right now.

"There really hasn't been anything in particular that has made a difference for me," Davis said. "I'm just on a roll. Guys are getting the ball in my hands and I'm taking advantage of my opportunities."

ROUGH BEGINNING

Davis certainly didn't have opportunities in the early stages of his career and was hardly the electrifying star that he is now. The NBA wasn't kind to Davis, who played only year at Iowa before being selected by Charlotte with
the 21st pick in the 1998 draft.

Injuries were his biggest problem, including a right fractured foot that forced him to miss the first 61 games of the 2000-01 season. Davis played in just 94 games in his two seasons with the Hornets and was shipped off to Miami in a trade in August of 2000.

Even with the Heat, he struggled to find his groove, playing in just seven games during his only season with the Heat because of his broken foot. A trade to Cleveland just four days before the start of this season, though, was the beginning of better times for Davis. Not only has he remained injury free, but he has played in every game so far, scoring in double figures 33 times in 79 outings.

"It wasn't really tough trying to adjust during my first three years. I just couldn't avoid injuries," Davis said. "I'm playing well now because I haven't had to worry about playing hurt. It definitely makes a difference."

It's no secret that the fans in this city known for its bad luck in sports have fallen hard for Davis. They cheer at jet-engine volume whenever he fades away for a jumper or throws down a thundering dunk off of a fast break. Not
surprisingly, Davis is enjoying every minute of it.

"Cleveland is a good place for me," Davis said. "They have given me an opportunity to play and the fans are great, too. I would love to come back here next season. It's just a matter of the front office taking care of some things. But I'm confident things will work out."

BRIGHT FUTURE

Davis is a restricted free agent at the end of this season, but the Cavs, who were 29-50 after last Friday's loss to Charlotte and will miss the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, have said they want to resign him. This franchise is eager to be a contender again and many believe Davis is capable of making that happen. Lucas even went as far as saying Davis could evolve into one of the greatest players off all time.

"I think he can be the next Michael Jordan if he develops into the great player he has the potential to be," Lucas said, grabbing the attention of the reporters surrounding him in his press conference. "Davis really can be as
good as he wants to be if he continues to work hard and improve. We definitely want to keep him in Cleveland."

Lucas won't get any arguments from his other players with those statements.

"There aren't too many players like Ricky Davis," Cavs point guard Andre Miller said. "I do hope he stays here because he plays with so much energy. This team is a lot better because of him."

Davis loves his teammates and wants to carry his late-season success into next year. He is confident that what he has done so far, though, is merely a glimpse of his potential.

"I do think my best is yet to come," Davis said. "If I continue to play as well as I have been and I continue to get opportunities, I think I can be a great player. I still have a lot to prove in this league."

Brian Lester is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

Tell us what you think about this article. E-mail us at HoopsHype@HoopsHype.com