Davis knows his role

WALTHAM, Mass. -- If Glen Davis is about to be passed on the Celtics' depth chart, he won't get caught looking in his rearview mirror as it happens.

A short time after coach Doc Rivers told the media Monday that he grappled with the decision of whether to use Davis or Shelden Williams as his first big off the bench in Sunday's win over the Cavaliers, Davis talked confidently about shaping an identity for himself on this season's team, thriving in a role recast after last season and seemingly earning a spot in the playoff rotation as the postseason nears.

"Being a young player, you have to learn by experience," said Davis. "It shows Doc had faith in me in the rotation to get it done. I don't want to let him down, knowing he believed in me and my skills, he's seen me grow as a player.

"I like the rotation we have, we're gaining momentum out there. We could do things better, but we're getting better each day and making sure we're mentally focused when that time comes."

Regardless of whether he's cemented in his role or not, the 2009-10 season has certainly not played out like Davis or the Celtics expected.

Filling in for an injured Kevin Garnett last season, Davis essentially doubled his regular-season production, averaging 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists per game in the playoffs.

That led to high hopes for this season, particularly after some worried Davis might be lured away as a restricted free agent last summer. Instead, the Celtics worked out a friendly two-year, $6.3 million deal to bring Big Baby back.

But the addition of free agent Rasheed Wallace this past offseason limited the need for a scoring big and meant Davis had to find a different way to ensure he had a spot on the court.

"Last year, my role was to be a scorer, hit open jump shots," said Davis. "This year we have Rasheed Wallace, so I had to find another niche to be successful and to help our team, [a role] no one else can do. Being an energy guy is my role. It's good to know I can do other things, but you have to stay in your role and do what's best for the team."

Due in part to that transition, Davis' numbers are down even from his unremarkable regular-season numbers of a year ago. Davis is averaging 6.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 43 percent shooting this season after posting 7.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 44.2 percent shooting last season.

It's his energy off the bench that has kept Davis in the mix. He's averaging a team-best two offensive rebounds per game, actually hauling in more offensive boards than defensive rebounds this season, an anomaly for any player.

Last month, Rivers noted that Davis' energy would keep him on the court.

"He's an energy player, and when he becomes a finesse player, he's not as good," said Rivers. "When Baby plays with energy, he plays with less thought and great intensity. He's a really good basketball player with an unbelievable basketball IQ. When he plays at that level, that speed, he's pretty good. But when he starts thinking and playing at the same time, he's not very good."

The trouble for Davis lies in generating baskets around the hoop. According to stats site 82games.com, nearly 60 percent of Davis' attempts this season are coming near the basket and a staggering 25 percent of those shots have been blocked.

To put that in perspective, Kendrick Perkins generates 70 percent of his shots in the same area of the floor, but only 13 percent of his shots are blocked. While Kevin Garnett takes only 29 percent of his shots near the basket, a mere 6 percent have been blocked.

And Williams, the man Rivers has toyed with moving ahead of Davis, generates 66 percent of his shots close to the basket, with only 12 percent blocked.

It's hard to imagine Davis playing himself out of the rotation, particularly after sequences like the one that unfolded late in the third quarter Sunday. Davis blocked a J.J. Hickson layup attempt, hurdled a front-row fan while chasing the loose ball, then scrambled back onto the court in time to collect a defensive rebound on a Delonte West miss, which led to a Tony Allen layup in transition.

All of which came in a 13-second span.

It was a shining moment in a season in which tumultuous might be too soft an adjective to describe. Davis missed the first 27 games of the regular season after fracturing his right thumb in an off-court altercation shortly before the season-opener.

He returned in late December but has made more headlines for potential nickname changes (Uno Uno?), a desire to play professional football and obscene remarks directed at a fan in Detroit than anything he's done in a game situation.

After averaging nearly 16 points per game in last year's postseason, Davis hasn't scored 16 points in a game this season.

Despite all the lowlights, the 24-year-old Davis called it a valuable learning experience, something that will make him stronger in the future.

He admitted Monday that his thumb remains bothersome. Davis said it's like a bad bruise that has lingered throughout the season, making it uncomfortable for him at times.

But Davis, speaking in softer tones than the high-volume, energy-oozing player seen on the floor, noted the playoffs were around the corner and told reporters that big moments are made for Big Baby.

When a reporter called Davis out for a third-person reference and wondered if that was a sign of his returning confidence, Davis admitted confidence is something he needs right now.

"The confidence is coming," said Davis. "Sometimes I get down on myself. The last couple games I have because I know I can play better. I know I'm a better player. I know I can help my team in ways to win games.

"I get real down on myself, but I just gotta play. Play the game. I'm more of a feel type of guy -- an emotional type of guy. I have to go out there and play and have the mentality to play my game. No matter what Doc says, no matter what anyone else says. You listen to your teammates, you listen to your coaches, but you also have to go out there and be the player you are. That's what I'm trying to do."

And Davis couldn't resist another third-person reference.

"[Sunday's] game, that was Big Baby you saw out there," he said. "Energetic, running the floor, being everywhere. I have to go out there and do my thing."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.