The task was to determine just how good David Lee is. Is he simply a garbage man extraordinaire, or is he a legitimate All-Star-caliber player. The exercise wasn’t made easy by the fact that Lee—and every other Knicks player—sleptwalked through a hideous first 15 minutes of a 108-103 home loss to the 76ers, which saw his team down 34-13 before they woke up and made a game of it
Lee’s overall numbers were certainly respectable. Let’s see how he tallied them.
David Lee: 7-12 FG, 3-5 FT, 11 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 0 BLK, 0 TO, 17 PTS
In Mike D’Antoni’s system, Lee’s primary offensive function is to set an initial high screen for Chris Duhon at the free throw line and them rumble hard into the middle of the paint. Partly because Chris Duhon started the game in a coma, partly because Lee, too, was passive at the onset, and partly because Philadelphia’s baseline rotations were on point, that ploy only resulted in a single point for Lee, on a foul and made free throw.
Of the 27 screens I charted of Lee, 13 were good ones and 14 were bad ones; the majority of the flimsy ones coming early in the game, or on designed slips.
Lee attempted to create his own offense 12 times, mostly by driving and with generally successful results.
- Twice Lee drove and was either blocked or stripped at the rim. Lee flashed superb hands and a quick first jump by picking the ball up around his ankles and laying it in quickly each time.
- Another time, Lee drove hard with his right hand at Dalembert, and though he missed the shot, was in perfect position to get his own rebound and lay the ball back in.
- Lee drove hard with his right hand against Maurice Speights, was smacked in the side of the head, and still hit a running layup. He missed the ensuing free throw.
- Lee finished with a running lefty layup on the break.
- Lee drove and attempted to switch hands from his left to his right in midair. The attempt rimmed out.
- Two other drives resulted in a rejection by Thaddeus Young, and a foul (Lee hit both free throws).
- The two times Lee attempted to post up Young, resulting in Dalembert coming over from the weak side to block a baseline hook, and Lee gaining no advantage resulting in a harmless pass out.
The game shows that while Lee certainly isn’t a reliable post threat, he’s evolved to the point where he can successfully take opposing players off the bounce with either hand and create makeable shots for himself. While it wasn’t on display, Lee’s jump shot and range have improved considerably from last year, and he can score on the box against select defenders.
While Lee’s assist was a simple one—an ordinary pass to Danillo Gallinari which was turned into a three pointer, he also made a nifty bounce pass from the high post which turned into an un-assist when the Knicks player missed a layup, and he made a hockey assist to Larry Hughes for an open jumper.
Most impressively, Lee’s improved every aspect of his game since he was a rookie with no appreciable offensive skill whatsoever. Lee certainly can become a successful and versatile fourth option in the league, while he’s already a diligent ball reverser, screen-setter, screen-slipper, and offensive rebounder.
It’s this end of the floor where Lee struggles.
Because D’Antoni has the Knicks switch every screen, Lee was often stuck on the perimeter guarding Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala. Lee too much respect to Iguodala’s drives, allowing AI to shoot over Lee, while Lee bit hard on a Miller pump fake and fouled him 19 feet from the basket.
Even when Lee was defending his own man, he made no effort to contest a Samuel Dalembert 18-footer (understandable considering Dalembert’s inconsistent jumper), and was left dizzy by a Thaddeus Young cross over.
Lee sometimes made effective hard shows and recoveries on screen/rolls, but when he wasn’t showing, he was in no-man’s land, giving up too much room to rhythm jump shooters.
Lee’s most egregious off-ball defensive mistake was sagging too hard off Young who was at the top of the key, and paying too much attention to Miller with the ball at the left wing. An up-screen from Young for Speights allowed for an uncontested alley-oop with Lee nowhere in the area.
Also, because Lee is New York’s de facto center, yet isn’t a shot blocker, the Sixers had no troubles attacking Lee’s help defense and registering scores of layups.
Lee does work hard, but more consistency is needed by Lee on this end of the court to truly be an all-star.
Aside from Dwight Howard and Tim Duncan, there is no better rebounder in the game than Lee. What sets Lee apart is his pair of adhesive hands and his jet-quick first and second jumps which let him beat opposing rebounders to the ball‘s apex. He can also grab rebounds well out of his area by the fact that he has such great leaping range.
Lee did miss four rebound attempts, but three of them came very early in the game before the Knicks’ alarm went off. And if he wasn’t collecting the boards, he was tipping balls out and boxing out.
One underestimated ability of Lee’s rebounding prowess is his ability to make quick outlet passes and then run the floor to help trigger and add fuel to an effective fast break.
If rebounding were the sole aspect of basketball, Lee would be a surefire hall-of-famer. But taking everything into account, Lee’s a step outside all-star status until his defense at least catches up with his offense.