A while ago I saw some reaction to a Ethan Sherwood Strauss article stating that the Warriors should seriously consider trading Lee if they want to reach their ceiling. It's not the first time this has been suggested and god knows it won't be the last either but for all of the Lee bashing(most of it deserved) I think we lose track of how good Lee actually is. I wanted to sit down and go through everything front to back to examine every little facet of Lee's game to see where he truly excels and where he fails(No surprises for guessing what he fails at).
To anyone who's statistical analysis only stretches as far as looking at box scores you may think Lee is a pretty damm good player. He's the only player in the league last season to average 18 points and 11 rebounds per game. He led the league in double double's with 56 and was tied 3rd among all PF's and C's in assists with 3.5 per game. Looking at those stats you might be right to consider him one of the most productive players in the NBA last season. This fantastic season was rewarded with an All-Star Appearance and a trip to the playoffs. Lee however was injured in the first game of the playoffs and sat out the rest of the post season while the Warriors rose to prominence.
This is probably the part where I would usually say something along the lines ''But if we look closer we see a completely different story'' . Unfortunately today is not that day. There is just no possible way that David Lee can be statistically seen as a good defensive player or even a competent one for that mater. And the fact of the matter is I can't argue that. However I do think David Lee does get's more abuse than others that play his position I don't think that's entirely fair. I mean there has got to be a player who's getting paid more and yet produces less. Enter please Carlos Boozer and Zach Randolph.
Maybe not the first names that you were thinking of but let me explain. They like Lee put up similar numbers over the past 3 seasons(Randolph: 15.7/10.4 and Boozer: 16.2/9.3 ). They like Lee are both 6'9 and play the power forward positions beside dominant defensive centers. That last part in particular is something I want to focus on. These players aren't exactly renowned for their defense more their rebounding and scoring. Now we know how bad Lee is when it comes to defense but what about these two? Are they just as bad as Lee and we don't know it? Let's take a look first at how they compare synergy wise defensively.
In order to do this i'll compare all 3 against the 4 most faced situations that all 3 saw last season. These 4 are Post-Up, Iso, P'n'R Roll Man and Spot Up. From this we'll measure the PPP(Points per 100 Possesions), FG% and %Score from all 4 situations so let's start first with our very own David Lee
Isolation: PPP: 0.94, FG%:41.6%, %Score: 44.1%
Post-Up: PPP: 0.84, FG%: 44%, %Score: 43.7%
Spot Up: PPP: 0.82, FG%: 35%, %Score: 35.6%
P'n'R Roll Man: PPP: 0.6, FG%: 30.1%, %Score: 28.4%
Isolation: PPP: 0.52, FG%: 28.9%, %Score: 25.7
Post-Up: PPP: 0.76, FG%: 41.1%, %Score: 38.4%
Spot-Up: PPP: 0.83, FG%: 35.%%, %Score: 36.2%
P'n'R Roll Man: PPP: 0.83, FG%: 44.6, %Score: 40.9%
Isolation: PPP: 0.84, FG%: 43.9%, %Score: 41.3%
Post-Up: PPP: 0.9, FG%: 45.1%, %Score: 47.9%
Spot-Up: PPP: 0.72, FG%: 31.8%, %Score: 33.9%
P'n'R Roll Man: PPP: 0.95, FG%: 43.2%, %Score: 44.1%
First thing you'll have noticed about these stats is that Zach Randolph is clearly the best defensive player. He's particular effective in Isolation set up's while David Lee shows up to be the best P'n'R Defender of the 3. Lee is actually so good with his defense of the P'n'R Roll man that he ranks in the top 10. Boozer on the other hand tends to show a better ability further away from the basket while defending the spot up jump shot. However while this gives us a rough indication how how effective these guys are when their stud centers are off the court. So how much of what these guys do for their team can be put down to their partners in the front court.
With the C's:
Now the way I broke this down was like this: I took the combined stat's of how the team plays when both Centre and PF are on the floor at the same time and compared it to when it was only the PF was on the floor. I compared them on PPP, eFG, TS, FG%, 2P% and 3P% on offense and on defense. I then subtracted the difference in order to find a simple rating for usage. The numbers shown indicate the difference between the two situations. A plus number denotes the C/PF partnership was better while a minus number denotes how much better the PF only is over the C/PF.
PPP: Offense: -0.2, Defense: +1.0
eFG: Offense: +0.5, Defense: +1.7
TS: Offense: -0.2, Defense: +1.2
FG%: Offense: +0.5, Defense: +1.4
2P%: Offense: -0.2, Defense: +3.4
3P%: Offense: +2.3, Defense: -3.2
PPP: Offense: +1.7, Defense: +10.9
eFG: Offense: -0.1, Defense: +2.2
TS: Offense: -0.2, Defense: +0.5
FG%: Offense: +0.5, Defense: +1.6
2P%: Offense: +0.1, Defense: +2.7
3P%: Offense: +0.1, Defense: 0(There was no difference between the two)
PPP: Offense: -5.4, Defense: +3.5
eFG: Offense: -2.2, Defense: +2.1
TS: Offense: -2.2, Defense: +2.8
FG%: Offense: -0.8, Defense: +2.0
2P%: Offense: -0.1, Defense: +2.3
3P%: Offense: -6.4, Defense: +0.8
It's pretty easy to see that Marc Gasol is worth every penny to Memphis especially on the defensive end. Joakim Noah doesn't seem to be that useful on the offensive end and Andrew Bogut and David Lee hit some sort of middle ground on offense while being completely weighted in Bogut's favour on the Defensive side. This is actually something i've kept coming back to over and over again for the past while. How many PF's out their play lockdown D to the standard on most of the really good C's in the league today? I mean you could count Tim Duncan as a PF. Kevin Garnett is an obvious choice, maybe LaMarcus Alridge, Josh Smith and possibly Al Horford depending on where he plays. It's not exactly a long list. I mean is it possible that people are less emphasising defense in power forwards instead pushing the idea of scoring and rebounding knowing that any weakness on the defense end by the Power Forward will be covered by the big 7ft centre inside.
However it's this final issue that people need to remember most when it comes to Lee. He's getting paid 2 million less than Boozer and 7 million less than Randolph. While they should have gotten the size contract's that they did from these stat's he's averaged over the last 3 years and considering the defense effect not being so poisonous that it hurts the team to excessive lengths. Also something to remember about Lee is that he formed 1/2 of that fantastic Curry and Lee Pick and Roll package that proved so effective a few seasons ago.
It's probably getting to the point where everyone is going ''But he really can't play defense''. Which is technically correct but let's be realistic here. Who in their right mind is going to want to trade for David Lee? He's on the downside of his peak with the 3 year deal that'll keep him on whatever team he's on till he's 32. Not to mention he earns 11+ Million which in this era of young players for cheap deals is like asking you're local supermarket to jack up the prices for the same goods you can get twice as cheap across the street. While there is a very good case for a small ball unit it's close to impossible that Lee will be moved without having to sacrifice a few first round picks.To be honest if we are to switch to a small ball line-up(Which I personally hope we don't) i'm interested to what people suppose we do with a All-Star Power Forward on our bench. Anybody got any suggestions?