CHICAGO - A hoard of reporters leaned in with their microphones as Deyonta Davis slouched into his seat at the NBA Draft Combine. Questions were asked and Davis answered with a faint voice. Three minutes into the interview one reporter said, "It's like you need a microphone in front of you for us to hear you. Were some teams concerned about that?"
"When I was in front of them, I spoke up," Davis said.
It's not Davis' job to make his voice carry more than a few centimeters from his face for reporters. Davis' job is to make his voice resonate on the court in front of 18,000 screaming fans.
That's the hurdle for Davis as he prepares for the NBA. The rest of his game will take care of itself because of his incredible physical profile. Davis is long, at 6'11 with a 7'3 wingspan. He's strong, at 237 pounds with a wide frame to support more muscle. He's agile, with fast-twitch hips that can change directions in a flash.
Davis shows it all off in the clip above, blocking future first-rounder OG Anunoby's three-pointer, and then darting back to the paint to swat away his second chance layup. A Mutombo finger wag would've been a perfect celebration, but the classic stare down is suitable for Davis' reserved personality.
As a freshman at Michigan State, Davis blocked 4.1 shots per 40 minutes pace adjusted, an elite mark from this year's draft class. The Spartans' defensive rating was seven points better with him on the floor than it was when he was off, per HoopLens.com.
Davis wasn't expected to be a one-and-done prospect but he rose quickly in college. At this point of the draft process he's a likely lottery pick. But NBA teams are drooling for more bigs that can protect the rim, switch screens, and rebound, so Davis could surge up the charts as the draft approaches. Just like he always has.
The 19-year-old isn't close to a finished product, though. He still needs to improve his fundamentals as a defender. When he defends the low block he gets too upright, so savvy post scorers back him down. And on the perimeter he tends to fall for jab steps that knock him off balance, leading to penetration and fouls.
And then there's the communication aspect of defense. Davis improved at quarterbacking Michigan State's defense over the court of the season by signaling and directing his teammates. But there were moments he didn't make calls that he should've.
He also simply may not be loud enough. It's important to be vocal, to project, especially on the road. Davis' soft-spoken voice isn't an issue off the court, contrary to what some reporters may feel, but on the court he does need to get louder.
What's it matter? Here's what the late Flip Saunders told The Cauldron about the importance of defensive communication:
"Communication, it boils down to, as much as anything, just understanding what you're doing. If you're talking, you're not worried about what you have to do. Young players, many times, they're thinking about what they have to do because it's new to them. ... It's probably the biggest thing with young players, is their lack of communication. They don't come out [of college] as good communicators. That's something we all try to instill. ... But it's one of those things that sometimes it takes a long time."
Davis has come a long way in the time since he stepped on campus at Michigan State. Once a player who relied solely on his athletic traits to protect the rim, Davis has shown signs of being a communicator.
Davis credits seniors Colby Wollenman and Matt Costello as teammates who played a pivotal role in helping him break out of his shell. "They helped me," Davis said at the NBA Combine. "They just played around or would stand up and talk in front of the team. Little team activities."
SB Nation asked lottery prospect Denzel Valentine about Davis' maturation.
"I think starting off with Deyonta, he wanted to do it," Valentine said. "If people are telling you to open up and they're not making you feel comfortable, you're not gonna want to do it. He felt comfortable with our team, our leaders, and the whole team welcomed him in to help him as best we could. And he did it."
Davis' defense will be his calling card in the NBA. It's why he's projected to go so high in the draft. His offense is raw and at the moment he projects realistically as a player that primarily screens and dives to the rim. He runs the floor hard and has good timing on cuts. His hand-eye coordination coupled with his explosiveness make him a constant lob threat. Once his screening improves, his area of his game should come all together.
But Davis says he compares his game to the Toronto version of Chris Bosh. That's a bit optimistic, but his point is that he never got a chance to show off his jumper. He didn't receive many opportunities to shoot in college, but did display solid touch and mechanics when he did.
If Davis does make advances on offense, it totally changes his developmental trajectory as a pro. At his stage now his role player skill-set on offense coupled with his potential to be a tremendous defender makes him a lottery-level talent. Anything else would be icing on the cake.
Deyonta Davis doesn't seem overwhelmed by the limelight that comes with this praise. When asked what he wants to accomplish, the soft-spoken teenager with a bright future in the NBA simply said, "I'm a kid that just wants to play basketball and hopefully stay in the league for a long time."