David Lee has demonstrated a multitude of skills over the years, but that has not stopped pundits and fans alike from calling him overrated.
His yearly salary of $13.8 million technically places him in the same discussion as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Garnett to name a few. However, he has been accumulating stats on losing teams throughout his career and has seen his defensive shortcomings exposed before a national audience in a manner that has nearly turned him into a laughingstock.
David Lee. His ability to hit the midrange shot, score in the post and operate from the elbows make him an important offensive cog. But Lee’s defensive deficiencies are so significant that it’s often a wash. He’s a useful player, but just looking at point totals inflates his value.
Levy is not wrong. Lee’s offensive game is a thing of beauty because of the tools he has at his disposal. However, his defense leaves much to be desired and often puts the Warriors in a bind.
Jordan White of Hardwood Paroxysm offered a similar opinion about the Dubs’ forward:
David Lee. Yes, he’s very good on offense, but any work he does on that end is essentially negated by his production (or lack thereof) on defense. Lee is a defensive sieve, letting opponents have their way in the post or further out, ranking in the bottom five in proximal field goal percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 53 percent against him.
In other words, the former Florida Gator constantly faces an uphill battle on defense. Lee’s teams have consistently posted a negative scoring differential when he is on the hardwood according to NBA.com, and thus that stigma has been around him for his entire career.
Furthermore, the left-handed big man was injured during the 2013 playoffs and yet Golden State thrived in his absence. That served to reinforce the opinions of those who felt as though the Warriors were better without their top rebounder. Mind you, that is not entirely the case.
Lee appeared in 79 games during the 2012-13 campaign and the Dubs outscored their opponents by 3.1 points per 100 possessions with their starting power forward on the hardwood according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool.
Once the big man headed to the bench, those numbers basically flip flopped. The defense marginally improved but the offense fell off a cliff. The Warriors scored at a bottom-five league rate without Lee when projected over an entire season.
The players that typically replaced Lee were Carl Landry and Draymond Green in some spots. Landry’s value comes mostly from his offense. He is a solid mid-range shooter and also scores at a good clip from the post, especially against undersized forwards.
Despite those factors, the offense was not as good with Landry because he does not offer the same passing skills or post-up looks that Lee brings to the table.
As it pertains to Green, he struggled on offense during his rookie season. His jump shots landed all over the place except inside the basket. That may sound harsh but consider this: The former Michigan State Spartan converted 25-of-143 (25.2 percent) shots from mid-range and beyond in 2012-13 according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool.
Defenses dared him to convert open jumpers and he was more than happy to try, albeit with little success.
During the course 2012-13, Lee was essential to the Warriors’ success because of the way teams defended Golden State. Opponents trapped Stephen Curry and Jarrett Jack in an effort to force other players into making plays that they would struggle executing.
For the most part, that was true but not in the case of the Dubs’ starting power forward. He was the primary pressure release point and was quite effective in that setting. With defenders rotating at him, Lee found ways to create high-percentage looks either for himself or for teammates with pinpoint passes on the move.
The list of other big men capable of consistently handling such responsibilities in the league:
- Al Horford
- Greg Monroe
- Joakim Noah
- Josh Smith
- Kevin Garnett
- Kevin Love
- Pau Gasol
- Marc Gasol
Thus, one can understand what prompted the Warriors’ offense to struggle without its best interior passer. On the flipside, Mark Jackson and company did not seem to skip a beat during the 2013 playoffs despite the absence of Lee.
The Warriors played well during the postseason, but one should not confuse that to mean they were better off without the southpaw. Golden State downsized their lineup and put shooters all over the floor.
And yet, both their offense and defense were statistically worse in the postseason when compared to the regular season. Granted, the Dubs faced superior competition during the playoffs, but there is something to be said about Curry’s struggles in the 2013 Western Conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs.
In that series, Curry desperately could have used his coveted release valve but Lee was hampered because of his health and thus rendered ineffective.
When taking into account his offense, Lee is one of the best big men in the league. The game is played on both sides of the ball though. Hence, his deficiencies on that end prevent him from being an upper-echelon power forward.
He is probably in the second tier of players at the four and consequently it becomes difficult to state he is unequivocally the most overrated player at his position in the league.
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