Having a deep basketball team is a luxury and the Golden State Warriors possess it.
With depth at multiple positions, the Warriors can afford to unleash starting-caliber players like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston from the bench. Of course, bringing talented players off the pine requires them to fully relish their roles in the wake of diminished minutes, which is something that both have had to adjust to in different ways.
Similarly, as the Warriors prepare for David Lee to return from his lingering hamstring injury possibly sometime in the next few games, coach Steve Kerr and his staff will need to find a way to add another veteran starting-caliber player to the rotation while maintaining the established chemistry that has helped the team achieve this 14-2 record.
Lee has been one of the more consistent players for the Golden State Warriors in the last five years. A nightly double-double threat, Lee's versatile mid-range and inside game provides matchup problems for opposing teams. Last year, the Warriors finished tied fourth in the NBA in total rebounding at 45.3 per game and Lee was a major contributor, rebounding at a clip of 9.3 per game (2.6 offensive). To put that into a percentile perspective, Lee hauled in 20.5% of the team's total rebounds. This season, Golden State is averaging 42.5 rebounds per game as a team, which puts them 16th in the league. While the margin may be minimal, Lee's impact in the rebounding department is certainly undeniable. Additionally, David Lee posted a Win Share (estimated number of wins contributed by a player) of 7.6 last season according to Basketball Reference -- that was second on the team behind only Steph Curry (13.4), and 35th in the entire NBA, and Lee missed 13 games en route to that impressive total.
Nevertheless, during this past offseason, the Warriors were reportedly looking to add a stretch four and entered their name into the Kevin Love sweepstakes. We all know how this situation panned out: Love ultimately landed in Cleveland, to the disappointment of many Warriors fans.
However, Tim Kawakami of Mercury News revisited the aborted Kevin Love - Klay Thompson trade talks recently and made the case that Draymond Green is more valuable than Love. It is definitely fair to say that the Warriors are in a far more stable situation without Love, who has the ability to opt-out of his current deal this coming summer. Golden State could have pulled the trigger on the deal to acquire another star in desperation but might have lost key pieces of the unit that has gotten off to such a hot start in Green, Thompson, or Harrison Barnes. So at this stage, while Love and Lee may be better players, I would agree with Kawakami that Green is certainly more valuable to the Warriors.
Marreese Speights' resurrection
Marreese Speights is functioning as a taller David Lee; hitting jumpers, finishing well enough to keep interior defenders honest and at least standing tall on the defensive end.
With Lee, the Warriors have an offensive juggernaut and solid rebounder but lack grit and grind on the defensive end -- despite his best efforts, Lee has never been a solid defender. Green makes up for Lee's defensive shortcomings and resembles the Swiss Army knife of the team. His ability to defend multiple positions and stretch the floor has been instrumental to Golden State's early success. According to Basketball Reference and NBA.com/Stats, Green is posting a defensive rating of 95.6 (5th in the NBA) and shooting 42.2% on catch and shoot 3's. Having Green on the floor allows the Warriors to experiment with different options on defense in which Green can sometimes matchup against opposing guards.
So there's little doubt that Lee will be getting fewer minutes than he has been accustomed to in the past. While Green is excelling in the starting power forward spot, Marreese Speights has emerged as the first big off the bench and he is scoring at an impressive rate of 12.6 points in 15.5 minutes per game, which will make it hard to cut his minutes much. Barnes is seeing minutes at the four spot when the Warriors go small, which has been successful against certain matchups. The entirety of this situation leads to a bigger question: should Lee be traded at some point instead of splitting time with an already-successful power forward rotation?
David Lee's hefty $15 million salary clogs up Golden State's flexibility until the end of the 2015-16 season. If bringing Lee off the bench is the best option for now, the Warriors would have over $27 million in salary on their bench just from Iguodala and Lee alone. Golden State has a crucial offseason decision this summer when Green is set to become a restricted free agent. The asking price for Green could certainly be driven up to eight figures, as I anticipate there should be league-wide interest in his services. In comparison to Taj Gibson, who signed a four-year, $38 million deal in 2012, Green could definitely command something larger. The NBA's salary cap is projected to be $66.5 million, with the luxury tax threshold expected to be around $81 million. Ideally, the Warriors should be fielding calls for Lee if they want to retain Green without hovering over the luxury tax threshold.
David Lee has been a regular contributor and impact player in helping bring the Warriors back to relevance. However, his history of injuries is becoming a concern while his prime is probably behind him. The Warriors have been successful in Lee's absence and -- while this is not a knock on Lee's skill set -- the Warriors might be better without him in the long run.
For now, Golden State should hope that a healthy David Lee can help strengthen the second-unit offense and return to his scoring and rebounding ways to help this team reach its full potential.