Golden State Warriors: Why David Lee Is the Most Important Piece to the Puzzle

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 3, 2012

March 24, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee (10) after dunking the ball against the Sacramento Kings during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

It’s a little odd that the Golden State Warriors’ most consistently productive player has been something of an afterthought during a whirlwind offseason that saw the team improve through the draft and via trade and free agency.

But David Lee should not—and must not—be forgotten amid the new faces and elevated expectations in Golden State.

Realistically, Lee is going to play a ton of minutes this season. Not because he’s the team’s best player, but because historically—both as a Warrior and as a New York Knick—he’s been a durable guy who’s only lost time to fluke injuries. From a probability standpoint, Lee’s the safest bet to be on the floor for the most total minutes in 2012-13.

Because of that, it’ll be critical for Lee’s minutes to be utilized productively. And from an offensive perspective at least, the way he’s used will be largely up to the coaches. Fortunately, there’s a lot of data available to tell us (and the coaching staff) precisely how Lee should be used on offense.

According to Synergy, Lee ranked in the top 15 percent of all NBA players in points per play when used as the “roll man” in pick-and-roll situations. Of course, it bears mentioning that in an abbreviated season last year, Stephen Curry rated in the NBA’s top five percent as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations, with an astonishing points-per-play average of .97.

That’s some elite efficiency, and the Warriors would be wise to focus on using Lee and Curry in pick-and-roll situations as often as possible.

Last year, the Warriors used David Lee as the roll man 228 times, which comprised about 19 percent of his total touches. That figure needs to go way up this year. If Lee can maintain his excellent pick-and-roll efficiency, and the coaching staff is wise enough to make a Curry-Lee tandem a larger part of the offense, it’ll serve the Warriors very well on the offensive end. 

Based on the potential of the Warriors’ pick-and-roll alone, David Lee is an absolutely vital component in the Dubs’ offensive machine.

Aside from the pick-and-roll, the other aspect of Lee’s offensive game that makes him a critical piece of the Warriors’ attack is his mid-range shooting. According to the always useful, Lee’s an excellent shooter from 10-15 feet; he made 48 percent of his shots from that range, which ranks him fifth among power forwards who averaged at least 20 minutes per game last year.

When utilizing Lee as a shooter, though, head coach Mark Jackson and his staff will have to be more judicious. From 16-23 feet, Lee was a far less accurate sniper. His 36 percent field-goal percentage from that range in 2011-12 placed him 32nd among that same sample of power forwards.

What’s particularly alarming is that Lee was allowed (or decided, depending on how you look at it) to take 3.8 shots per game from 16-23 feet, but only 1.8 per game from 10-15 feet. That’s an obvious strategic mistake, and it cannot happen this year if the Warriors hope to trot out an efficient offense.

Putting statistics aside for now, there’s another angle that will help show just how critical Lee is to the Warriors’ upcoming season. And this one’s a little more philosophical.

You see, Lee’s always been a pretty good offensive player, but he has also (rightfully) earned the label of being virtually worthless on the defensive end. What makes Lee’s disinclination toward defense so particularly frustrating is his obvious skill on the offensive end. That has led many analysts to conclude that Lee’s defensive shortcomings are caused not by a lack of ability, but by a lack of desire.

There are few things you can say about a player that are more damning than “he doesn’t care” or “he’s not trying.” But those things are said about David Lee’s defense, and for the most part, they seem to be true.

But this year’s Warriors are supposed to be different than the teams of past years. There’s supposed to be a culture change and a new emphasis on defending.

With that in mind, there really is an argument that Lee is the most important piece to the Warriors’ puzzle because he’ll be the barometer for the purported culture change.

He’s been a perfect representation of the Warriors over the last few years: all offense and no defense. So if things really do change in Golden State, the first person to look at will be Lee. If he comes out in 2012-13 and gives sustained effort on the defensive end, it’ll show that the team has bought in to its new identity.

If he looks like the same David Lee, we’ll know that nothing’s really changed.

Fortunately, Lee has finally admitted that his defensive mentality leaves something to be desired. According to CSN Bay Area’s Matt Steinmetz, “David Lee said one of the things he likes most about [Andrew] Bogut and Bogut’s game is that he’s ‘nasty.’ Lee acknowledged he could use a little more of that in his own game and he’s hoping some of Bogut rubs off.”

The Warriors are definitely hoping that’s the case, too.