Written by: Jesse Taylor/@gsw_jessetaylor
Reader’s Note: Over the next two weeks, WarriorsWorld will examine the play of David Lee, easily the most polarizing player on the Warriors. Tim Kawakami questioning David Lee makes Joe Lacob very frustrated. Scott Ostler felt obligated to clarify a story about Lee being called “FEMA,” because he was never there for his Knicks teammates. Plus/minus devotees say he hurts the team more than he helps. Others say he pads his rebounding stats by snatching missed free throws. His supporters love his repertoire of post moves and ability to finish with either hand. They stand by his double-double stats. We are providing an unbiased look at this debate by watching David Lee, and only David Lee, on both ends of the floor for a stretch of games ending with the Lakers at Oracle Arena on December 22. Following each game, we will post an examination of his performance and let his game be the final judgment. Our first installment follows the matchup at Washington on December 8.
Well, Lee is already off to a bad start as he loses a strange, half-speed foot race with Steph Curry just before tip-off. Did anyone else think this was weird? What are they doing? Do they do it before every game and this is the first time CSN caught it on camera? Why did I feel compelled to rewind it three times?
From what the camera caught, here’s what happened: as they finished shaking hands at mid-court and the ref was just about ready to toss it up for the jump ball, Curry and Lee locked eyes, then turned and raced to the baseline basketball stanchion. Curry won the race, then Lee turned and gave him a forced and awkward handshake hug thing.
Are Lee and Curry the new lighter-skinned version of Rocky and Apollo? If Lee ever wins one of these races, will he yell “Adrian!” and lift Curry/Apollo into the air with a giant bear hug? Please, please, please CSN, make sure to continue getting these strange races on camera. I must know what happens next.
Also, while all this was happening, I’m pretty sure I heard Bob Fitzgerald comparing the 2-14 Wizards to the Miami Heat because they upset the Heat in the past week. And that Kevin Seraphin could erupt for 28 on any given night (he averages 12 points a game and his career high is 21 points).
Game starts and I have two quick notes. 1) Chris Singleton is going to be Lee’s easiest matchup on the defensive end this year. He does absolutely nothing on offense but set screens and wait for an open jumper. 2) Watching Lee away from the ball quickly shows why he is such a great rebounder. Remember how your high school basketball constantly stressed the importance of blocking out? Well, David Lee is still listening. On every shot, Lee gets in proper form to block out, putting his body on someone and screening them away from the ball. This is something you miss while watching the ball.
On offense, Lee hustles after ever rebound, and when he can’t grab the ball, he tries to tip it to teammates. He and Festus Ezeli both do this after Lee misses a short flip shot; tipping the ball out to Curry who hits an open jumper to give Warriors a 4-0 lead.
On defense, it’s obvious the coaching plan is for Lee to help off Singleton and dare him to shoot long jumpers. The first few times back on defense, Lee is playing the Kevin Garnett role, barking out instructions to teammates. He does it three times to begin the game, then never again. Brownie points for trying, but it’s just not in his personality to do this the whole game like KG.
An open Singleton hits a three on Lee, who didn’t hustle back from his help defense to distract him. The next time down Lee hustles and puts a hand in Singleton’s face and Singleton passes up a shot. Lesson learned.
Two times in a row Lee doubles off Singleton and two times Singleton gets a basket. On the second play, Barnes needed to slide over to help out, but failed to do so. Jackson saw this and inserted Green soon thereafter.
Lee has eight points as he subs out for Landry with the Warriors leading 20-16 at the 2:13 mark in the first quarter. He returns with 8:20 left in the second and quickly hits an open 20-footer to make it 37-27. He misses out on two assists after nice drive-and-kicks to Curry and Charles Jenkins, who each miss wide-open jumpers.
He continues to do an excellent job blocking out for rebounds while not having to worry about playing much defense on Singleton. But he gets stuffed on two consecutive offensive trips down the court, forcing his shot a bit.
Cartier Martin leads a Wizards comeback (Fitz: “Martin will not score 14 points in a half again this season!”), and Lee finishes with 12 points and 11 rebounds at the half. Warriors lead 50-47.
Lee misses on open 18-footer to start the third. He then makes a nice pass to Klay Thompson, leading him down the baseline for what would have been an easy layup. However, Klay wanted the pass at the three-point line so he could shoot a three and didn’t cut to the basket, causing it to be a turnover on Lee. Jim Barnett correctly pointed out that it was Klay’s fault, not Lee’s.
Lee is stuffed at the basket for the third time in the game, but comes back to hit an open jumper at the top of the key to give the Warriors a 57-56 lead. The next time down, he gets on offensive rebound, has an easy put-back layup, but turns the wrong way, right into Emeka Okafor who steals the ball. But again, Lee comes right back down, drives, gets fouled and hits two free throws. 59-56 Warriors.
A noticeable defensive lapse takes place as Lee is guarding Seraphin. Lee is screened and doesn’t fight through it. This leaves a cutting Seraphin wide open under the basket for a layup that a non-hustling Lee can’t recover from in time. Landry checks in for Lee with 3:05 left in third and the Warriors hanging on to a 64-62 lead.
With 8:07 left in fourth and the Warriors leading 78-74, Lee checks back in. Lee helps out on defense and ends up picking up Jordan Crawford at the top of the key. Crawford blows right by him for an easy layup. Lee then leaves Singleton open again and he hits the jumper. Next time down, Lee plays poor defense on Singleton and has to foul him. Singleton hits 1-2 free throws to tie the game at 84. A stretch of bad defense continues as Lee is matched against Nene, who beats him on the block, but misses the layup. Lee makes up for the bad defense with a beautiful (or “filthy” as Rasheed said on Twitter) move on a pick-and-roll with Curry. His crafty and tough lefty layup gives the Warriors a 93-85 lead with 2:18 to go.
After a Wizards basket, Lee makes a bad pass and the ball goes out of bounds. The Wiz take advantage and make it 93-89 with 1:44 to go. Lee again makes up for it with a clutch jumper for a 6-point with a minute left.
That should have sealed the deal; however, Lee makes his biggest mistake of the game with four seconds left and the Wizards down 99-97. Bradley Beal purposely misses the second of two free throws, and Lee completely blanks, forgetting to block out Beal, who sneaks in for the rebound. But just as he’s about to tie the game with a layup, Ezeli swoops in to get a fingertip on the ball, forcing a miss. Carl Landry grabs the rebound, gets fouled, hits free throws, game over. Warriors win 101-97.
Lee almost cost the Warriors the game with his absent-minded play at the free throw line. There’s no excuse for it. On the flip side, he continued to look strong and confident on the offensive end while also snatching up defensive rebounds.
Defensively, there was no challenge for Lee as he was matched with Singleton most of the game, but even so, he still had a run of defensive lapses in the fourth quarter that hurt the team. But most of the Wizards’ damage came from the guard positions, so you can’t blame the big runs on Lee.
Watching only Lee throughout the game definitely tells you much more about him than his stats do. His rebounds are earned. He finished with 24 points and 17 rebounds one night after going for 30 and 15 in Brooklyn. Even with a -1 plus/minus, it was obvious he did way more good for the team in this game than bad, and I would rate his defense as average for the full game. Again, he wasn’t challenged on that side of the ball. It will be more telling to see how he fares in tough matchups coming up against Chris Bosh and Josh Smith, and if he can stop Glen “Big Baby” Davis in Orlando.