Blueprint for Courtney Lee to Bounce Back with Boston Celtics

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Blueprint for Courtney Lee to Bounce Back with Boston Celtics
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Sean Williams, Sasha Pavlovic and a handful of second-round picks is not exactly that much to give up for a quality shooting guard, but you would be hard pressed to find a single Boston Celtics fan who was pleased with the way that Courtney Lee played in his first year in green.

Lee was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup. He saw time at both the point and the 2 and wound up averaging a mediocre 7.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists on 46.4 percent shooting and 37.2 percent from three-point range.

He played better as a starter, averaging nine points, 2.7 boards and 2.1 assists on 46.8 percent shooting overall 37.3 percent, but was a complete non-factor in the postseason.

Unfortunately, his preseason performance has not exactly instilled much confidence.

He’s one of only a handful of Celtics to appear in all seven games, but he’s averaging just 5.7 points, 2.7 boards and 2.3 dimes on a dreadful 31.1 percent overall and 31.13 percent from deep.

He’s struggled with his outside shot and is in danger of losing his minutes in the backcourt with MarShon Brooks, Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford all looking strong in the preseason so far.

With the regular season fast approaching and the Celtics rotation taking shape, let’s examine how Lee can bounce back in 2013-14 and be the player in Boston that he was with the Houston Rockets and the New Jersey Nets

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Don’t Just Shoot Threes

Lee has made his bones offensively as a spot-up shooter, primarily from the corners, but he should not be limiting himself to just the role of floor spacing guard. For his career, he’s attempted 2.7 threes per game and hit a vey good 38.4 percent of them, but he is far from a Steve Novak-type offensive weapon.

Lee is actually a more versatile scorer than he often receives credit for.

He has a decent off the dribble game and knows how to react to a closeout and put the ball on the deck. He has excellent touch from mid-range and can stop on a dime and pull up from inside the arc.

Obviously, mid-range shooting is generally low percentage. But Boston’s offense generally involves a lot of jump shooting, and with teams more geared to run opponents off the arc it is important to have a counter if a player cannot get all the way to the rim.

Lee shot career-highs of 45 percent on 16-23 foot jumpers last season, as well as 65.9 percent at the rim, per HoopData.

Lee is not a high-flyer per se, but he can elevate and finish at the rim consistently. He is decent with both hands and generally does a good job of converting in transition.

When he is used primarily as a shooter, Lee is almost rarely in motion. According to Synergy Sports, of the 158 threes Lee attempted last season, 110 of them were spot-up attempts.

Lee's 2012-13 shot chart heat map, per Basketball-Reference

The Celtics will need more players who can break down the defense and attack the basket while Rondo recovers from his knee surgery. So, Lee is going to need to be more willing to not just settle for threes and do more offensive work inside of the arc.

He attempted just 0.9 free throws per game in 2012-13, and while his career high is only 2.2, averaging less than one foul shot a game is inexcusable for someone playing nearly 25 minutes per game.

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Defend the Pick-and-Roll Better

Lee’s reputation as a 3-and-D wing is not overblown. He is a very good individual defender on the perimeter, but he is far from a complete defensive guard.

Per Synergy Sports, Lee held opponents to just 31.7 percent shooting on isolation plays, but allowed pick-and-roll ball-handlers to shoot 47.5 percent. They also turned the ball over just 24.7 percent of the time while scoring on 40.1 percent of pick-and-roll plays.

The pick-and-roll is the most common play in the league nowadays, and in his second year in Boston, Lee has to do a better job defending it if he wants to bounce back.

Part of Lee’s problem was adjusting to Doc Rivers’ schemes, which emphasize the defense crashing in on penetration and a lot of quick rotations.

The defense should change slightly with Brad Stevens in town, but a lot of Lee’s problem was more personal than a product of the system he was playing in.

Lee struggled at times to get through screens and recover onto the guard. He does not have elite speed, so he has to be more aware and willing to fight through screens. He also needs to do a better job of picking where to gamble and where not to cede position.

The 28-year-old is a pretty disciplined defender, but this is an aspect of the game that most NBA players could improve upon.

According to 82Games, he allowed opposing point guards to post a PER of 16.7 per 48 minutes, and while he hopefully will not be logging heavy minutes at the 1 throughout 2013-14 he may see some burn there before Rondo is healthy.

For as good as the 6’5” Lee can be when denying penetration against some of the game’s premier shooting guards, he needs to improve his pick-and-roll defense pretty significantly from where it was during his first season in green. 

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Become a Vocal Leader

Obviously, this is easier said than done, but one of the quickest ways for the 28-year-old Lee to earn heavier minutes and a bigger share of responsibility on both ends of the floor is to become a more vocal presence on the court and in the locker room.

Lee has only been a Celtic for a season, but he has NBA Finals experience and did have the opportunity, however briefly, to learn under Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rivers.

He was often criticized in 2012-13 for fading into the background during long stretches of time on the court where he did not seem to contribute. He would be passive offensively and not active enough defensively, which often led to his minutes being shortened subsequently.

Though the C’s have plenty of 2-guards, none of them are as experience as Lee and will likely look to him throughout the course of the season, meaning it is essential that he takes a more active role in the development of the team’s young perimeter players.

He does not have to replace KG by himself, but this Boston team is lacking a communicator on the court. It seems unlikely that the notoriously mercurial Rondo will step into that role.

As someone who has seen everything from a dismal 12-70 finish with the Nets to a 59-23 season and a run to the finals with the Magic, Lee should be able to command the ear and respect of both his peers and the Celts’ younger players.

He just needs to step up and accept that leadership role, which in turn will lead to more minutes and freedom from Stevens. 

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Play with Brandon Bass and Jeff Green as Much as Possible

Of the eight five-man lineups featuring Lee that scored about Boston’s season average per 100 possessions, only one of them featured neither Jeff Green nor Brandon Bass, according to Basketball-Reference.

One of Boston’s most effective lineups in 2012-13 featured Bradley Lee, Pierce, Green and Bass in a deadly small-ball unit that featured plenty of shooting.

While obviously a lot of that success had to do with Pierce’s excellent all-around offensive play the group outscored opponents by 31.5 points per 100 possessions and should be able to at least replicate some of that chemistry with "The Truth" gone.

The combination of Lee, Bass and Green gives opponents fits because all of them have good shooting range and can stretch out an opposing defense. That ability creates open driving lanes for Rondo and Bradley, while also allowing Lee and Green to cut along the baseline to create open looks.

While that lineup is not great on the boards, all three are solid defenders at their position who can hold their own against the most opposing players.

Though Lee can play point guard in a pinch, he is really best suited as a 2, and with Green on the court Lee has less ball-handling responsibilities which means he can focus on sprinting down the court for an open three or an easy look at the rim.

Although it is possible that the C’s could look to tank for much of the year and give their young guys extended burn, Lee, Bass and Green are three of the most experienced players on the roster and should, at least to start the season, shoulder a lot of responsibility on both ends of the floor.

Lee did not always look great playing alongside Bradley because of the sheer lack of passing the two presented, but he should perform well as long as he can share the court with Bass and Green.

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Continue to Be Smart with Shot Selection

A bounce back season for Lee does not necessarily mean he’ll be scoring 15-plus points per game and making it rain from three; he simply is not that type of player. While Lee’s lack of aggression was frustrating at times, he did shoot a career-high from the floor and an even better 47.6 percent overall and 43.9 percent from deep after the All-Star Break.

The C’s will need Lee to shoot more and he will likely be less open with defenses not preoccupied with KG and Pierce. But that does not just mean he should be hoisting up ill-advised jumpers and hoping they go in.

Lee generally does not just penetrate and attack the paint without a plan, he is typically willing to kick the ball out for a reset and rarely just forces up a tough shot since he is close to the rim.

Unless Green takes a humungous leap as a scorer or Rondo comes back and starts knocking down threes at will, this season Boston’s offense will likely be more by committee. So, it is important that Lee continues to make high percentage decisions and does not just start chucking the ball at the hoop.

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