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BOSTON — At this time last preseason, Glen Davis  watched in street clothes from the bench with a broken hand he suffered when he took a swing at a friend around 4 a.m. one night.
Big Baby’s done a lot of growing up since then.
“You make a mistake, and it helps you grow,” Davis said after last night’s Celtics win over the Nets  in the preseason finale. “Situations happen. … I look at it, and I just look back on how young I was at that time. I’ve had a lot of things happen in my life so far.”
At the start of the preseason, Davis questioned his role, and coach Doc Rivers  fired back: “I think Big Baby’s living up to his nickname again.” There was a here-we-go-again feel to it.
But in just three short weeks, Davis has grown into the leader of the NBA‘s best second unit, thanks in large part to Danny Ainge defining his role as,well, an indefinable one.
“It’s how you look at it,” said Davis. “I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t have a role,’ but I knew my role. It was just confusing. I know I’m a versatile player. I can do multiple things. I can play the 5, and I can play the 4.”
Rivers has also let Davis define his own role on the court.
“One thing Doc’s letting me do this year is allowing me to be more creative on my own. So far, in the preseason, I’m being a post threat, and I’m shooting an outside jumper. I’m just glad and fortunate that I know my role now. I know exactly what I can do for this team, and I’m going to do it the best I can.”
BIG BABY: SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR?
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better second unit in the NBA than Nate Robinson , Delonte West , Marquis Daniels , Big Baby and Jermaine O’Neal . So, why shouldn’t that unit produce the league’s Sixth Man of the Year?
An argument can be made — rather easily — that right now Davis is the best player on that unit. He’s certainly played that way this preseason.
Sure, in the last four years, the Sixth Man award has gone to a guard who has played more than 30 minutes a game and averaged close to 20 points (Jamal Crawford , Jason Terry , Manu Ginobili  and Mike Miller ), but it hasn’t always been that way.
In the award’s 28-year history, it’s been given to a post player 15 times — including Celtics Kevin McHale  (twice) and Bill Walton . The average season of those winners: 14.7 points and 6.9 rebounds in 28.3 minutes per game (per-minute averages of 0.5 points and 0.2 rebounds).
In seven games this preseason, Big Baby averaged 12.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in just 20.6 minutes per game (per-minute averages of 0.6 points and 0.2 rebounds).
Given any injury to Shaquille or Jermaine O’Neal (heck, J.O. is already hurting), Davis would be the first to gobble up those minutes. Is there any reason he couldn’t average 14 points and six rebounds in 25 minutes a game?
That would result in a better season than many of the past Sixth Man winners , including Corliss Williamson and Anthony Mason, who play similar roles to Davis.
One thing’s for sure: Glen Davis is no longer the Big Baby on this team. “I guard Kevin (Garnett) every day in practice,” he said. “It’s helping me a lot, and it’s helping him a lot. It helps both of us.”
STUDENT TEACHES MASTER
One guy who isn’t interested in the Sixth Man Award, as we learned from ESPN.com : Shaq.
He may end up starting too many games to be considered for the award anyhow, and therin lies the concern. To start the season, Shaq will likely play the majority of minutes at center for the Celtics, and he hasn’t fully grasped the defensive schemes yet — as evidenced by an off-court discussion between him and Big Baby at the end of last night’s first half.
“We were just communicating with each other, making sure we’re on the same page,” said Davis. “We have to do it a lot. He really doesn’t know our defensive system, so me being here almost four years now, I know it. So, I’m just trying to help him out, making sure that he’s there when the rotations need to be made and things like that.”
The Celtics have a handful of days left before opening night against the Miami Heat . In that time — and into the regular season — Shaq will continue to learn the schemes, and the Celtics will adjust those schemes because of him.
“The game has changed for all of us,” Ray Allen  said of Shaq’s presence. “It’s not just a situation where Shaq has to come here and learn us. He has to learn what our system is. I’m sure that’s a great challenge for him. We kinda know who he is and what he can do, but it does change the complexities of our offense and defense. Teams look at us differently. They guard us differently. With that, we’ve gotta make sure that we adjust and we’re smart because of it.”
This team’s been pretty successful the last three seasons with schemes on both ends of the floor that didn’t include Shaq. Is it better for him to adjust to them, or for them to adjust to him? In the long run, the former would serve them better. After all, what are they going to do if — as expected — Kendrick Perkins  returns to the starting lineup in February? Readjust?
Of course, this is all supposes that at 38 years old Shaq is capable of an adjustment.
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach  on Twitter.)