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An Appreciation for David Lee

USA Today Sports

USA Today Sports

David Lee is an interesting player to read about on analytic NBA blogs. Love him, hate him, it seems like his name should have a suffix attached – David Lee “who stinks at defense.”

I am of a different perspective. In a world dominated by ultimatums, I choose to believe in the ability to change, to improve one’s lot in life. While Lee was eviscerated for his defensive performance by Kirk Goldsberry, this does not mean that he is always going to be a poor defender. Defensive schemes change, personnel change, and players can learn new tricks. Certainly having more time to learn from Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala has not hurt Lee, who is having a good season on the defensive end with these two stalwarts. The Warriors are the owners of the fourth-best defensive rating in the league, and Lee has posted a defensive rating of 91.4 over the last 10 games.

While his defensive renaissance could be attributed to playing more frequently with Bogut and Iguodala, as well as a more mature and experienced Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, this is an appreciation of his impact on offense.

The modern NBA is geared towards finding an advantage at the 3-point line. The Warriors are no exception, with the second-most 3-point field goals made this season, just behind the Portland Trail Blazers. But with so many players bombing away from the arc, the Warriors still strive to have a balance of inside-out to help keep defenses honest. Lee is the source for that sense of balance. He is shooting 57.4% inside of 8 feet, and his 397 attempts in that area account for 31.8% of the team’s attempts in that area. Stretch out the distance to 12 feet, and Lee is shooting 60.7% on 4.5 field goal attempts per game – Chris Bosh level of performance.

Lee is also one of the few players in the game left that can go out and get 20 points and 10 rebounds a game – numbers that over his last 15 games, Lee has been reaching. I ran a search on power forwards and centers over the last 15 years who have averaged those numbers over the course of a season, and there were 22 names on that list, but only nine players since 2010: Anthony Davis, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Zach Randolph, David Lee, and Andrew Bynum (so long, glory days). While the big names like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis and LaMarcus Aldridge steal headlines, David Lee is quietly plugging along in Oakland putting up similar numbers.

Can the Warriors win a NBA Finals title with David Lee suiting up as the starting power forward? Maybe. The competition at his position is stiff in the Western Conference (eight of the nine players listed above are in the West) but Lee will not be the reason why the Warriors fail at the end of the season. Cut the guy some slack, and enjoy watching him run pick-and-roll with the Splash Brothers.

And who knows – maybe Lee will be able to show off his dance moves with confetti falling around him in June this year.

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