After 3 years of coming off the bench, David Lee finally earned a starting spot in 2009. Lee started 74 of 81 games (D’Antoni toyed with a Randolph/Chandler front court in November), 19 more than in his 3 previous seasons combined. On the court, Lee expanded his repertoire showing some new moves in the low and mid post while adding a jump shot. This, along with being emphasized in the offense with pick and rolls, allowed his pts/36 to increase to a career high of 16.5. However it’s not necessarily the scoring increase that elevated Lee from reserve to starter. KnickerBlogger readers and stat savvy fans understood that for a few years David Lee has been the most productive of the Knick front court players.
Much like his draftmate Nate Robinson, the expanded role exposed a flaw in Lee’s game: his defense. Lee’s block shot rate hit the lowest of his career (0.3 blk/36) and was similar to that of another notoriously bad defender in Zach Randolph. Granted in Lee’s defense, Coach D’Antoni played him as an undersized center (6-9), but even at PF, Lee’s help defense is sub par. Ideally the Knicks (or whoever signs Lee) will want to pair him with a center that can turn back some shots.
Overall Lee had a typically good season. He provided efficient scoring with excellent rebounding, and didn’t eat up too many possessions. He silenced his critics who said the half court set would stall with Lee in the mix. D’Antoni frequently featured Lee with pick & rolls, and the New York offense increased to the middle of the pack (17th, 108.1 pts/poss). Lee was 4th among Knick regulars in points per minutes, so talk about him being a garbage man is unfounded. There are a lot of players in the NBA with the ability to create a shot in isolation, but too often they do so at the high cost of missed shots, turnovers, and a lack of fundamentals. Thank goodness David Lee isn’t one of those players.
Report Card (5 point scale):
For Knick fans that envision David Lee as a borderline All Star (including his agent), this has to be a disappointing list of comparable players. But overall this isn’t such a bad list to be in. The top 4 players (Wilcox is still active) were all in the league for 11+ seasons, with Green & Cage banging until their late 30s. And there is one other ray of hope: Lee outclasses most of these players.
At his current age (25), Lee has already become a league leader in his key strengths (rebounding & scoring percentage). In the two seasons he’s had enough minutes to qualify for league leaders, Lee has been in the top 10 in fg% twice, and in his first season as a starter he was in the top 5 in both offensive and defensive rebounds. By the age of 25 Cage was in the top 5 in offensive rebounding once and Vaught was among the top 10 in field goal percentage. Other than these two instances, none of Lee’s other top 5 comparable players accomplished either of these goals by the same age.
So what to make of this list? Clearly Lee’s defensive inefficiencies put him in a lower tier of players. To use a food analogy, this group of players are the hamburgers of the league. They’re not something that you’d necessarily look to build around, but if you were deprived of them, you’d feel something was missing. There aren’t many White Castle sliders (Wilcox?, Carr?) and there are some Jackson Hole Wyoming savory burgers (Green, Cage, Daugherty). And although David Lee is still a hamburger, he’s made of Kobe beef.