Ranking David Lee Among NBA's Best Power Forwards
A short while ago, David Lee was considered something of a Warriors burden. He was thought to be a skilled offensive player and a very good rebounder, but such a defensive liability that his $15 million salary in 2015-2016 seemed quite problematic.
This consensus opinion was more than valid, but Golden State has found a way to unleash their power forward's best attributes. First off, GSW changed up their defense.
In the past, they had David Lee race out to thwart guards dribbling around screens. The "showing" tactic exposed Lee's lack of quickness and difficulty in changing directions. It also shredded Golden State's defense. Now, the Warriors have Lee sink backwards as guards run around the screen.
The tweak has improved GSW's defense, and perhaps fueled the best offensive output of David Lee's career. Once a burden, Lee is now somewhere in the top five of power forwards at the moment.
Quick note, before we proceed: I am listing players who almost exclusively play power forward. Though versatile SF/PF guys like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and LeBron James might dominate this category, we're sticking with prototypical power forwards.
5. Ryan Anderson
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I know that I said I'd avoid combo forwards, but Ryan Anderson is different because he's lumbering and wholly unable to guard small forwards. This guy is a prototypical PF in the sense that he'll match up defensively against frontcourt players.
He's also an incredibly underrated offensive contributor. Anderson torches opposing power forwards from deep with a career three-point percentage that hovers around 40 percent. It helps space the floor for his teammates, allowing his guards to penetrate.
That Orlando let him go is one of the more underrated stories of the offseason. The 24-year-old Anderson's 20.5 PER is a rebuke to whatever "rebuilding" plan that the Magic were selling.
4. David Lee
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Here he is, solidly at No. 4. If we're only going by 2012-2013 numbers, he might be No. 1, crazy as that seems. David Lee is first among power forwards in Earned Win Average (an ESPN stat that combines PER with minutes played). Yes, Tim Duncan is technically No. 1, but everybody knows that he guards centers and that the Spurs have been lying for years about his position.
David Lee has emerged as a savvily devastating offensive force. His mid-range shot opens up the floor and sets up his tricky pump fake. When he catches the ball off pick-and-roll, his driving ability draws defenders. When those defenders are drawn, it sets up lanes for Lee's elite-passing ability.
At 19.8 points, 11.2 boards and 3.5 assists, the Dubs are finally getting more than their money's worth. If Lee keeps up the current pace, he's moving up these rankings with a bullet.
3. Dirk Nowitzki
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He hasn't played in 2012-2013, but we should vest some faith in a champion and future Hall of Famer. Dirk is the original superstar stretch-4, the rare player with center height and shooting guard range.
Much of Dirk's value can't be conveyed in stat form. Still, the stats are impressive. Even in the down Nowizki year of 2011-2012, he averaged 21.6 points in 33.5 minutes of play.
Based on how so many of the NBA's older players are performing, I am going to err on the side of Nowitzki optimism. His shot will remain unblockable, even as his athleticism declines.
2. Blake Griffin
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Blake Griffin got so widely derided with cries of "overrated" that he became underrated. Calm down pundits and fans—the man is 23 years old and still putting up a 22.65 PER. His raw numbers look worse because he's playing 32.4 minutes per game, but his productivity has not ebbed.
The notion that Griffin simply dunks isn't rooted in much fact or observation. Blake's handle is among the best at his position, as is his passing vision.
For whatever reason, Blake Griffin rarely gets credit for his roughly four assists per for 40 minutes. This is no small feat for a big man who rarely handles the rock for his team. Griffin is also workshopping that hitchy mid-range jumper and making strides.
According to HoopData, Griffin is hitting 53.8 percent of his shots between 10-15 feet and 41 percent between 16-23 feet. All he does is dunk—except when he's doing virtually everything else.
1. Kevin Love
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If we're going by 2012-2013 production, Kevin Love would not be at the top spot. Since coming back from a hand injury, Kevin Love is shooting 36.3 percent from the field and 24.7 percent from three. His rebounding has held steady at 13.9 boards per game, but it's been ugly elsewhere.
You can't bounce him down the list based on a mere 14 games, though. He's just come back, and his numbers should eventually round into form. Also, his productivity last season warrants serious praise.
In 2011-2012, Kevin Love averaged 26 points and 13.3 rebounds. He also did it while splashing 37 percent of his threes and stretching defenses to their breaking point. It's not his fault that Minnesota keeps whiffing on draft picks and bad injury luck. If Love isn't the best prototypical power forward going, it's going to take more than 13 games to convince me of that. I need months of proof, not a few weeks.