Continuing a series that looks at the players on the Warriors roster this season and the expectations I have for them, we turn our attention to David Lee, the big offseason acquisition and all-star power forward for this squad:
When the Warriors traded for David Lee during the offseason, it finally gave hope to those Warriors fans who were tired of watching small ball. The Warriors, bereft of a legitimate big man for years, finally had one. Lee is a talented offensive player, particularly adept at the pick and roll, and one of the NBA’s best rebounders. The days of Corey Maggette and Stephen Jackson trying to masquerade as power forwards in a small-ball lineup are over. Now in the Warriors’ corner, at 6-foot-9 and weighing in at 250 pounds, David Lee!
Lee had a fantastic season for the Knicks last year. While no doubt benefitting from Mike D’Antoni’s player-friendly offense and buoyed by the lack of talent on New York’s roster, it’s hard to argue with Lee’s statistical output. He carried a bad team, yes, but it was different than what you sometimes see with a player who puts up fantastic numbers for a lousy team.
The biggest difference? Lee was an efficient player. He didn’t put up a ton of shots to boost his scoring stats. He worked within the framework of the Knicks’ offense and took what the defense gave him. Even though Lee added a reliable mid-range jump shot last season, many of his points still came through intelligent execution (the pick and roll) and hustle (putbacks off offensive rebounds). The fact that Lee averaged 20.2 points last season while taking only 15.5 shots per game and that he shot 54.5 percent from the field should prove that Lee’s offensive output last season was not a fluke.
The other difference between Lee and the good-player-on-bad-team stereotype was that he did more than just score a bunch of points. Lee did the dirty work, too. Lee’s rebounding numbers have been consistently good since he came into the league. Last season, Lee was second in the NBA in rebounding with 11.7 rebounds per game, trailing only Dwight Howard. Again, this wasn’t a fluke. Lee averaged 11.8 rebounds the season before last and has averaged 9.6 for his career.
Rebounding isn’t a sexy stat. There’s little glory in it. But it’s crucial to a team’s success. The Warriors were putrid, atrocious, despicable rebounders last season. Credit to the Warriors for recognizing their biggest weakness — rebounding — and addressing it with one of the NBA’s very best in that area.
Critics of the trade for Lee point to two things: Lee’s poor defense and that the Warriors gave up Anthony Randolph in the trade. The defensive concern is legitimate. Lee is not a good defender. He is a better defender when he plays power forward, so there is hope. I would have been worried if Don Nelson were still coaching the team, because I think he would have played Lee at center a lot. Lee was forced to play center often last season for the Knicks, and it wasn’t pretty. But when he played power forward, his defensive performance was at least adequate. I believe that under Keith Smart, Lee will play power forward the majority of the time. Paired next to a hopefully resurgent Andris Biedrins at center, Lee’s shortcomings on defense might not be so noticeable.
The other concern — the loss of Randolph — is also understandable. Randolph was the beneficiary of ridiculous amounts of somewhat unjustified hype the past couple seasons. Some Warriors fans considered him a surefire future All-Star. Maybe he’ll get there playing for the Knicks. Maybe he won’t. Even if he does, all that means is the Warriors traded a future all-star forward for a current all-star power forward. I don’t see the harm in that. If Randolph turns into the next Kevin Garnett, then yes, you can chalk this trade up as a loss for the Warriors. But I’m not going to worry about that unless it actually happens.
This coming season, I have very high expectations for Lee. I expect the pick and roll between Lee and Stephen Curry will become a main focus in the Warriors offense. I’m not saying Lee is Karl Malone and Curry is John Stockton, but I’d be lying if I hadn’t wondered if Curry to Lee(!) might become the new Stockton to Malone(!).
I don’t see Lee’s shot attempts going down from last season; I think 15.5 shots per game is a realistic expectation in this offense, so I expect Lee’s offensive output to stay the same or increase a little. If Lee can increase his trips to the free-throw line this season (he averaged 4.1 attempts per game last year), he could boost his scoring a little bit.
I expect Lee will continue to be one of the NBA’s best rebounders. I don’t see any reason for those numbers to fall. If the Warriors drastically reduce their offensive pace under Keith Smart, I suppose less opportunities could mean fewer rebounds for Lee, but I don’t foresee a big drop in that area.
I expect Lee to average about 21 points and 11 rebounds this season. I expect him to challenge for another All-Star nod this season. If the Warriors can avoid the bottom of the standings, I think he has a great chance at playing in the All-Star game.
What do you think? Post your expectations for Lee in the comments below.