How long can the Warriors hold onto David Lee without mortgaging their future? - Ezra Shaw
Stephen Curry and David Lee have been far and away the Golden State Warriors' best two players this year, with Lee heading to the All-Star Game, the first for the Dubs since Latrell Sprewell. But just how good are they together and what is the ceiling of the duo?
Because when your favorite basketball team loses four in a row on the road and barely squeaks one out at home against the 23-38 Toronto Raptors, you must take a step or ten back and assess the future of the team.
BBallBreakdown of SBNation recently posted an intriguing piece about which scorers are truly the best and most consistent scorers in the NBA by identifying players that took advantage of bad defenses to boost their stats. Not that there's anything wrong with padding stats against bad defenses, though; hell, if I were in the NBA—and that's pretty unlikely considering I can't even grab rim and struggle to score in college intramural games—I wouldn't care which team I'm dropping 30 on any given night.
Some surprising names came up, like Carmelo Anthony who fared best against mediocre teams, Dwyane Wade who shot slightly worse against elite defenses, and Kobe Bryant who somehow shoots worse against the lesser defenses. Then there are the non-surprises like Jrue Holiday inflating his shooting against bad teams, Paul Pierce shooting more free-throws against bad defenses (or any defense with that slow-motion game), LaMarcus Aldrige having more assists against the lesser squads.
And in any other year, a list of top players probably wouldn't have any Golden State Warriors on it but both Stephen Curry and David Lee popped up several times in this research.
According to the article, Curry scores 9.26 percent more of his points against bad defenses, but there is no change when he plays elite defenses. His assists per minute percentage and free-throw attempts per minute percentage remain the same, relatively.
Lee pops up in the category one would surmise with the way he's played this season: scoring eight percentage points less in the points per minute category. However, the chart also shows that he's shot more free-throws against better defenses.
The statistics help tell a selective piece of the puzzle but they're rendered somewhat meaningless without sufficient context. So what does all this mean for the future of the Warriors? Just how good can each player be and where do they fit in the long-term plans of the Golden State Warriors?
Yes, Curry is great at shooting the ball. Yes, Lee is great at running the pick-and-pop and is probably an underrated passer.
Yet the question for this offseason and the next becomes: how best do the Warriors go about addressing the weaknesses of their star players?
While Curry is in the first year of a 4-year, $44 million contract (a steal so far), Lee has two years left at about $30.5 million on his contract after this season. Curry, a budding star, is set for the team's future (barring injury) but it's the pairing of him and Lee that poses such a predicament. And that may not bode well for Lee's future as the best interior scorer and main "defender" on the team.
Teams are also starting to forcibly remove the ball from Curry before the offense gets set, making other players initiate the offense—exposing the Warriors lack of another reliable ball-handler. Lee has trouble scoring against defenses that are geared towards stopping his drives to the basket and playing him with much more contact in the post.
These two things might go hand-in-hand when the Warriors decide, if they do, to unload their favorite player.
So - I'm not the best with metaphors - but at what point is the honeymoon stage of the relationship between the owners and Lee going to end, if it does at all?
Lee's an All-Star and a great person that goes beyond the norm to help the community. He was also the Warriors' representative speaking at the presentation for the potential arena in San Francisco. The guy is averaging 18.8 points, a 23.9 percent defensive rebounding percentage, 3.8 assists, and a 55.6 true shooting percentage (stats courtesy of NBA.com) - those are excellent, even top ten power forward numbers. Even with his enormous contract, he still presents good value.
That's neat and all but at a certain point, in any relationship, the flaws in your significant other just start to stick in your craw and manifest themselves to a point of no return. With Lee and the management team of the Warriors, namely Joe Lacob, the flaw is defense, defense, and defense - Grantland didn't need to single him out for us to know that.
The honeymoon stage I speak of? At some point, the defensive side of the ball will have to take precedence in what management is seeing in the All-Star.
Perhaps the most off-putting case is Lee's numbers with and without Bogut on the floor. With Bogut and Lee on the floor, the team has allowed a 56.1 true shooting percentage. When Bogut is off? A Lee-led defense has allowed a true shooting percentage of 52.6, according to NBAwowy.com. Bogut isn't 100 percent, and they've only played a handful of games with each other but this might not be a problem any defensive center can fix. Lee can't guard a stretch power forward (Andrea Bargnani) or a bruising power forward in the post (Amir Johnson). No matter what Bogut can bring on the defensive end, it may never be enough. Combine that with the fact that he struggles against greater opponents and the writing may be on the wall, numbers-wise.
Granted, this team will most likely make the playoffs this season due to their home-friendly schedule, but do we realistically believe a duo of Lee-Curry will take them past any of the top four teams OR have potential to become great down the road?
As Coach Nick stated in his breakdown earlier, if Lee is unable to play up against the competition and defend against the weaker teams, how long can the Warriors hold onto Lee until they start to mortgage their future?
One may argue that the Warriors could have sold high at the past trade deadline while the time was ripe with Lee playing his best ball. The Warriors, at the deadline, essentially passed up an offer of Eric Gordon for Klay Thompson because they wanted to see the team play together healthy. And the Dubs will almost certainly be linked to many trades this summer and will do their due diligence to at least entertain the thought of another blockbuster trade.
However, when we think of duos with franchise-changing ability, thoughts of Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker-Tim Duncan, LeBron James-Dwyane Wade, Joakim Noah-Derrick Rose, Chris Paul-Blake Griffin, and even Paul George-Roy Hibbert fit that notion. If a team is unable to obtain a dynamic duo, they'll have a true star like James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, or Kobe Bryant.
The current Warriors don't have "contender" potential if Lee remains on the team for the next couple seasons. And while Curry is the best shooter in the league in the past who-knows-how-long-maybe-ever? he probably doesn't possess the same superstar talent that a Kyrie Irving may have.
Bob Myers might be starting to understand that—or he already has but owners won't let him make a Lee trade yet—as he's traded Charles Jenkins and Jeremy Tyler to get under the cap to avoid a meaningless year of a luxury tax hit. The repeater tax will go into effect soon, with astronomical fees, and with expiring contracts like Bogut, Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson, and trade pieces in Thompson and Barnes, he is set for a big move this summer.
But the bottom line on the court is that the Warriors won't be going any further than the first round with a duo of Curry and Lee as their two best players. And if they somehow find a way to upset the...Los Angeles Clippers (?) it won't be for Lee's improved play on defense, but most likely Bogut's health or a role player developing quicker than expected. Unless Barnes goes all Paul George - growing a few inches and turning into a star - the Warriors don't have the core that'll take them anywhere near the top four seeds in the Western Conference.
Two years is a long time, especially in the NBA, and the Warriors will have to act soon especially with the development of Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson on the uptick.
All it will take is for the owners and general manager to understand that the duo of Stephen Curry and David Lee, while exciting and effective in its own way in one of the best seasons in recent Golden State Warriors history, doesn't provide the team with the potential for their brightest future.