David Lee should be ecstatic.
The Golden State Warriors' acquisition of center Andrew Bogut last March meant, in theory, that the Warriors' power forward would finally have some capable assistance down low. Bogut could help Lee with the rebounding, possibly dragging the Warriors' team figure up from dead last in the NBA. He could shoulder some of the scoring load, too. And hey, Bogut's even a great passer.
All those things should make Lee a very happy Warrior.
But, at the same time, Bogut's arrival should have Lee worried. Because once Bogut starts patrolling the paint, David Lee is going to be exposed. Let me explain.
In Bogut, the Warriors have their first legitimate center since some guy named Wilt manned the lane a thousand years ago. But more than that, Bogut represents an encouraging willingness by the front office to look past cosmetic statistics in their evaluation of players.
Bogut's career averages of 12.7 points and 9.3 rebounds are nice, but they're not even as good as what solid-but-unspectacular centers Marcin Gortat (15.4 and 10) and Greg Monroe (15.4 and 9.7) put up last season. But GM Bob Myers and owner Joe Lacob looked harder at Bogut, and in doing so, determined that his basic numbers didn't come close to measuring his true value.
You see, Bogut's contributions to a team are harder to measure because they don't show up in the usual statistics. But they're significant. ESPN stat guru John Hollinger said, "Defensively, Bogut remains a monster. He ranked sixth among centers in blocks per minute, fifth in defensive rebound rate and took heaps of charges. Every metric I use rated Bogut as one of the best defensive centers, and Milwaukee's team stats (fourth in defensive efficiency with Bogut as the centerpiece) argue that as well."
You'll notice he didn't mention points or rebounds per game.
And the deeper you dig, the more it becomes clear that Bogut is a real game-changer. From a pure defensive efficiency standpoint, Bogut is arguably the most impactful presence in the NBA. Just look at the last four seasons.
When Bogut was on the floor, the Milwaukee Bucks' defensive efficiency was the best in the NBA three times and third-best once. When he wasn't on the floor, their defensive efficiency fell apart, ranking 24th, 17th, 7th and 26th. Check out the chart of those ratings here.
None of that shows up in Andrew Bogut's "regular" statistics. And that's where we return to David Lee.
Lee, Bogut's polar opposite, is a conventional stat-head's dream. He scores in bunches and pulls down a hefty total of rebounds—if you cut out his rookie year, when he played just 16.9 minutes per game, Lee has easily averaged a double-double for his career. And Lee, unlike Bogut, has enjoyed season averages of more than 20 points and 10 rebounds multiple times.
The Warriors' new ownership knew they had to make a big splash when taking over the team in 2010, and they clearly hadn't yet gotten wise to the fool's gold that are cosmetic statistics. As a result, they were taken in by Lee's apparent effectiveness and awarded him a ridiculous six-year, $80 million contract.
Despite the pretty numbers, the reality has been that the Warriors are often more effective without Lee on the floor. For example, last year, Golden State's defensive efficiency improved by four points when Lee was on the bench. And overall, the deeper analysis of Lee's contributions to the Warriors isn't much better. Note the contrast between John Holllinger's analysis of Lee and the earlier bit about Bogut:
The numbers back up the subjective evaluation. Pick a method, any method -- Synergy says he was in the bottom quarter of power forwards, 82games.com shows opposing power forwards had a 20.1 PER against him and basketballvalue.com reports the Warriors gave up 5.01 points per 100 possessions more with Lee on the court. He was 60th in blocks per minute, and in his case, his low foul rate was another indication that he was mailing it in.
That's a pretty different scouting report.
Overall, Lee is much worse than his conventional numbers, while Bogut is far, far better. And while Lee's numbers will almost certainly look shinier than Bogut's next season, savvy fans and analysts will know that Bogut's value is much greater.
And that's why Lee should be a little worried. When compared to Bogut, who literally seeks out contact and throws his body around to help his teammates, Lee is going to look utterly soft and selfish.
Lee got away with his apathetic, stat-centric play in the past. But now that Andrew Bogut's in town, things can go one of two ways for Lee. He can take a cue from Bogut and get tougher, less selfish and more helpful. Or, he can he can keep doing what he's always done, which will expose him as a player who gets his numbers, but doesn't really help his team become any better.
Lee's got a choice. And if he changes his game for the benfit of the team—even if it's only because he doesn't want to let Bogut make him look bad—it'll be better for everyone.