David Lee: Better than the Knicks Anticipated?
This past season, Jeremy Lin took over New York as well as the NBA by storm and became for a lack of a better comparison, the ultimate Disney movie. He reminded people that should they stick to their dreams, there is a good chance that they will come true.
And just like that, the dream was over…
In New York.
Lin famously signed an offer sheet with the Houston Rockets that Knicks owner James Dolan did not want matched, and thus Lin is now taking his story to Houston; while many Knicks fans are still perplexed by the move. The media sensation helped revive exciting basketball in New York and also helped the team reach the postseason and thus many obviously wanted to see him come back to NY and play a full season.
But just like that, he was allowed to leave, in a move that bothered several new Yorkers. But prior to Jeremy Lin’s departure from the Big Apple, there was another player that diehard fans in NYC wanted to see remain in orange and blue: David Lee.
The Florida product was selected with the 30th pick in the 2005 NBA draft by Isiah Thomas and showed glimpses of talent in his early years in New York. By his fourth season in the league, Lee was racking up double doubles with ease it seemed and he was also converting a high percentage of his shots.
Rarely did the big man get out of his comfort zone.
He understood that his role was to rebound and convert at the basket whenever his teammates fed him the ball and he obliged. He played both power forward and center, and played hard. He finished with authority at the basket and made defenders think about challenging his attempts at the rim.
The New York Knicks may have been a bad team at the time, but Lee was seen as being part of the solution to help turn things around. But then the summer of 2010 arrived and players such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire were free agents. The Knicks big man’s contract had run out as well and thus he became somewhat expendable given the marquee free agents that were available.
In the end, New York missed out on the big fish and settled on former Phoenix Suns player Amare Stoudemire; who also happened to play the exact same position as David Lee. And just like that, Lee was signed and traded to the Golden State Warriors.
The move was a no brainer to many — notwithstanding Stoudemire’s injury concerns — but as it turns out; there were fans completely opposed with the direction in which the franchise was heading. Indeed, some from the old guard watched David Lee play with the Knicks and saw a throwback player.
In his book When the Garden was Eden, Harvey Araton obtained this quote from Willis Reed:
“I enjoy watching him [David Lee] play because he’s what I call a 100 percenter. David may not be having a good night, but it won’t be because he’s not putting out, and those are the guys that fans can relate to, the guys that bring teams together.”
Coming from the captain of a former championship team, it is quite the compliment.
Many argued that the big man was overrated and overpaid when he first arrived in Golden State given that he accumulated good stats on bad teams. Lee has maintained his same level of statistical productivity with the Warriors, but the team still has yet to break through and become a winner.
His defensive shortcomings obviously are a big reason for this; Lee allows opposing big men to score at a relatively high rate and his defensive rotations can leave much to be desired. With that said, the acquisition of Andrew Bogut may in fact help in this department.
In his post titled Things Looking Up for Golden State over at HoopSpeak, Brett Koremenos had this to say on the pairing of Bogut and Lee:
“The player that will receive the biggest boost from Bogut’s addition is holdover David Lee. The Warriors four man has always showcased an exemplary stat line yet has been essentially a zero-sum player his entire career thanks to his sieve-like play on defense. For perhaps the first time, Lee will finally have a frontcourt partner that makes his game a net positive. Indeed, with the Australian center protecting the back of his teammate, Lee’s talents will get a bigger opportunity to get noticed.”
If his porous defense can be somewhat covered up, it allows the spotlight to shine brighter on his other skills.
The big man has terrific hands and moves well without the ball, which makes him an ideal pick-and-roll partner to play with Stephen Curry. In addition, although his passing isn’t on par with Pau Gasol’s, the Dubs have used Lee at times as a facilitator on offense this season much like Mike Brown used Gasol this past season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lee has been able to catch the ball on the move and make quick decisions with respect to heading towards the basket and finishing or finding an open cutter or shooter.
And much like Reed stated, players like Lee help bring teams together because they help the pieces fit. Going into the 2012-13 season, when the former Knickerbocker rolls to the basket, he will have an opportunity to finish on the catch, feed Bogut at the rim or the likes of Klay Thompson on the perimeter.
He may not be the team’s best player, but he may end up being it’s most important one given his rebounding, scoring on the block and helping the roster pieces fit together.
This begs the question: would New York have been better off with Carmelo Anthony and David Lee and Tyson Chandler paired up together?
Maybe, maybe not.
Anthony has taken the ball out of the hands of Stoudemire and thus turned him into a bystander at times; while Lee hits the glass, moves without the ball and finds ways to get himself free around the rim. It’s tough to say if this trio would trump the Anthony-Stoudemire-Chandler group; but then again Melo may not have wanted to join the Knicks had Amare not already been on board.
The “what if” game is tricky like that, but one’s thing for sure, going into next season, one team’s loss was the gain of the Golden State Warriors.
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