David Lee reported Monday to the Mercury News that he was in “panic mode” with the Golden State Warriors due to the team’s lackluster start. Many, Lee included, believed the Warriors could contend this year under first-year head coach Mark Jackson, but the Warriors have been abhorrent thus far, posting a 7-12 record.
He’s done more than his fair share of scoring and glass work for the Dubs this season; but if Lee truly wants to propel his team to the playoffs, what he should be of concern is his porous defensive efforts. Golden State ranks 28th in the league in points allowed per game (99.7); and with Jackson set on turning the Dubs into a defensive stalwart, Lee’s is not aiding the coach’s scheme with is output so far this season.
Power forwards matched up with Lee have averaged 20.3 points over the past six games, a stretch in which the Warriors have tallied just a 2-4 record. He’s given up big offensive nights to mediocre scorers like Serge Ibaka (20 points, 7.5 season average), an aging David West (18, 11.8) and Kris Humphries (18, 12.9).
Recently, Jackson has favored using Lee at center and running a 2-3 zone. However, at 6-foot-9, 240 pounds, Lee lacks the size and physicality to effectively administer the paint. Lee is best served playing one of the wings, and with improved defensive footwork, could excel alongside a more palpable defensive big man.
Though his defensive game has is far from satisfactory, Lee is not a complete liability. He averages one steal a game and runs the court well in transition. What he needs to improve on, however, is playing the hip of penetrating opponents and preventing bigger post players from backing him down so easily.
Lee tends to rely on fouling down low, ranking third in the league with 3.8 fouls per game. This is not an efficient means of playing defense, as demonstrated during a mid-January date with Orlando in which Dwight Howard set the NBA single-game record for free-throw attempts with 39 in the Warriors' 120-109 loss at the Oracle Arena.
Defensive rebounding has always been a strong suit in Lee’s skill set throughout his career. He boxes out opposing big men well regardless of his size. His 9.9 per-contest average puts him among the league’s best.
It’s widely known throughout the league that Lee has prolific scoring capabilities. He has an onslaught of post moves and a lethal mid-range shot, is a superb finisher down low and great off the pick-and-roll and can back down even the most brawny defenders. Nevertheless, his Achilles' heel to his lofty playoff hopes and being mentioned as one of the elite power forwards in the league is his defense.
Lee is not doomed to inadequate defensive efforts for the rest of his career. At 28, Lee still has the athleticism and explosiveness to evolve as a defender. While he cannot control his size, he can improve his decision-making, take better angles on opponents and spend some more time in the weight room.
Perchance, Lee will continue to progress defensively. And, perchance, the Warriors will find another piece to play alongside him at center to turn Golden State’s sinking ship around.