David Lee Is Propelling Golden State Warriors Beyond Expectations

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterJanuary 3, 2013

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 02:  David Lee #10 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after the Warriors made a basket against the Los Angeles Clippers at Oracle Arena on January 2, 2013 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If we're deciding today, David Lee is an All-Star. There's just no real way around it, much as I might try to find one. His team is rolling, he's the only NBA player averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds, and his defensive lapses have been mitigated by a new scheme wherein he hedges less often on screens.

That's all quite nice, but his role as point forward has perhaps impressed most of all. The Golden State Warriors are an odd team in that they can't really space the floor for main shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. This is because the Dubs lack three-point shooters in the frontcourt, unlike such three-happy teams as the Rockets, Knicks and Spurs

It's great to have the space that comes with a four-out (four three-point shooters) strategy, but Lee helps the Warriors in other ways. His unusual deftness at passing to open teammates around the perimeter compensates for whatever space they're lacking on the outside. Golden State has fewer perimeter openings to exploit, but Lee is usually liable to find whatever space does exist out there, even if he's at a standstill. 

Here's a good example from Wednesday night's Warriors romp over the Clippers. Off a screen-and-roll, Curry finds Lee near the elbow. Lee sees that Thompson's defender is sinking in, to cut off the cutting Biedrins, and DL cooly whips the ball to Klay for a trey: 

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This is how Thompson and Curry can combine to make more threes per 48 minutes than all but eight NBA teams. As it stands, the two have combined to hit more threes than the Bulls, Bucks, Celtics, Grizzlies, and Timberwolves in their standard playing time. Credit to their quick releases, but also credit the guy getting them so many looks. 

Lee is great at finding three-point shooters from a standstill, but he's also a threat on the move, especially off pick-and-roll actions. Lee and Curry comprise one of the best pick-and-roll combos in basketball, in part because players who aren't Lee and Curry do much of the scoring. 

Here's an example of how Lee catches the pass off screen-and-roll, and creates for others. Curry slings the ball to Lee as DL steps forward and instantly dots the ball to Carl Landry for a layup. 

Lee's been doing this all year, to the tune of 3.7 assists per game. Lee once informed me after a game that he'd played some point guard in high school. It clearly shows in this court vision and his handle, which are both above average for his position. 

One of the reasons Lee is able to make these passes is due to how deadly he's become as a mid-range shooter. When he catches the pass off pick-and-roll, defenses are quick to race toward him for the closeout. 

Per NBA.com, David Lee is shooting 56.5 percent from between 20-24 feet, and a healthy 46.2 percent between 15-19 feet. If you don't close out on Lee, he'll hit the jumper.

But, if you do close out on Lee, he can take the ball off the dribble and find easy scores. As nutty as it sounds to say it, Lee has become an unsolvable problem for defenses this season, and the Warriors are reaping immense benefits from his complete game.

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