David Lee makes so many dollars every day. When the Golden State Warriors acquired him in a sign-and-trade with the New York Knicks for $80 million over six years, it was staggering, to say the least.
Lee seemed to be a player whose name was made as much by the media frenzy in the city he played as his top-notch rebounding and ability to score.
That is how it appeared early in his Golden State days, as the team continued to lose and he lacked the talent to impact the win column.
His scoring and rebounding both immediately plummeted, and Warriors fans were wondering what their oft-maligned front office had gotten them into this time. To his credit, he did step up his play last season, but the damage was done.
Lee had fallen off the national radar.
So far this year, he deserves to be back on it. And he has resurfaced by doing all the stuff at which he excelled in Gotham—namely, scoring efficiently and grabbing boards. But it is the latter's effect on the team's defensive culture of accountability that might be making the most difference.
Lee's defensive ability remains slight. Nobody fears him in the paint, and his rotations are neither a thing of beauty nor worth studying.
But while he may not be forcing the opponent to miss shots, his ability to finish possessions has been huge. Tom Ziller of SB Nation argues that Lee's defensive rebounding dominance is a big reason the Warriors are much improved this year on that end of the floor.
He notes that Golden State was the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA last season. Now, it is first—and Lee improving from grabbing 20 percent of opponent misses last season to 24 percent this year has been a huge help.
Assuming one point per shot for the opponents off of offensive rebounds, and assuming Lee's teammates wouldn't be picking up those extra rebounds (most of the returning players have static rebound rates), Lee's own defensive rebounding improvement is worth at least 1.5 points per game for the Warriors defense.
That's a big deal. That by itself—ignoring any other defensive improvements on the team—is the difference between the Warriors having a one-point positive scoring margin and having a slight negative scoring margin.
Currently, he is fifth in the NBA in defensive rebounding. This, combined with his consistent scoring (19 points per game on 51.4 percent shooting, his highest in Golden State) means that Lee has moved beyond being just the overpaid guy the Warriors signed.
Now, he is the key interior cog on the fifth-best team in the Western Conference.