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X-Factor Damion Lee keeps the Warriors afloat

Fans worried how the Warriors would survive the absence of Klay Thompson. Now we’re only worried there won’t be enough playing time for the Splash Brother-In-Law

Golden State Warriors v Sacramento Kings
Damion Lee high fives his brother-in-law, some guy named Wardell.
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

One of the biggest questions leading into the Golden State Warriors season was how the team would stay afloat in the months before Klay Thompson’s return. The answer, for four games at least, has been heavy minutes from the Warriors X-factor, Damion Lee.

Against Oklahoma City, the NBA’s most famous Curry brother-in-law (sorry Austin) played 26 minutes and scored 20 points. He shot 8-14 from the field, and 4-7 from three-point range. His plus-minus? +16.

On the season, he’s averaging 14.3 points in 26.9 minutes per game. Lee is a 47.3% shooting from deep and over 90% at the line. Just call him the Splash Brother-In-Law. Perhaps the most important on his stat line is 1. That is, one single turnover the whole season.

For a team whose Achilles heel in the Curry era has been turnovers (OK, aside from literal Achilles injuries), Lee is a steady presence who simply doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s not a big assist guy, but he is a ball mover on offense. And as we learned from the Warriors’ win over the Bulls last year, he’s not afraid to take big shots.

In a way, he’s the anti-Kelly Oubre. Oubre was a lottery pick, and has always had multi-year contracts. Lee went undrafted, and had to fight his way up from the G League with a series of ten-day contracts and two-way deals. Lee isn’t nearly as fast or athletic as Oubre, but he does have excellent size for the guard position at a long-armed 6’5”. He might not make the kind of high-flying blocks that Oubre was known for, but Lee also doesn’t hurt the team’s defense with over-aggressive play or lapses in concentration. Oubre plays wild, and though Lee had his out-of-control moments when he first got to the Dubs, that part of his game has disappeared.

Plus, unlike Oubre, he’ll knock down his wide-open looks.

It’s hard to quantify Lee’s contributions in the stat sheet, especially on a night where he doesn’t score a lot. But it’s clear that he’s a winning player, perhaps due to the chemistry with Steph that can only be developed on the golf course and at family holidays. Just look at his plus-minus numbers from his last ten games, including last season:

  • +16
  • +6
  • +6
  • +9
  • +16
  • -12
  • +16
  • +11
  • +15
  • +11

It’s not a surprise that the team is 9-1 in those games. The one negative total was from a loss in Boston, where Lee was on the court for quite a few Kent Bazemore turnovers and fouls. Those nine games didn’t always feature much scoring from Lee, but his mere presence seems to elevate the team. The coaching staff seems to have learned that shooting and smarts are invaluable next to Curry, no matter who they come from (See: Toscano-Anderson, Juan). How else does Lee help? By pushing the pace.

Of all the three-player combinations that have logged 48 minutes or more, the Curry-Green-Lee trio has the fastest pace and the best net rating (+8 points per 100 possessions). Lower the threshold to 35 minutes and the best trios all include Lee, whether it’s Lee-Iguodala-Porter (31.4), Lee-Iguodala-Curry (25.3), or Lee-Wiggins with either Curry or Green (10.8). Admittedly, this is a small sample size, but the Warriors are simply better when they play fast and move the ball, and Lee loves to do both.

So while we’re still eagerly awaiting Klay to sail back into the starting lineup, having a second mate like Damion Lee - especially when he’s hitting nearly half his threes - is a very nice luxury.

In closing, I present the current NBA Damian/Damion Power Rankings

  1. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: Dame was named to the NBA 75 list this week, but he’s currently shooting 2/24 on three-pointers this year, opening the door a slight crack for another Damian/Damion to snatch the top spot.
  2. Damion Lee, Golden State Warriors: Lee has had a strong season off the bench so far, locking in a rotation spot for when Klay Thompson returns. He’s outshooting Lillard, and has not put out a single mix tape, so that’s also a win for Lee.
  3. Damian Jones, Sacramento Kings: Jones is Sacramento’s fourth-string center, and has not entered a game this season. Remember when he started a playoff game in 2019? That was weird!
  4. The Kid from The Omen: Too short, is the Antichrist.