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.

ESPN.com ran a 5-on-5 post on power forwards, and when pressed on the topic of most overrated players at the position, Ian Levy of The Two-Man Game offered this response:

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.

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at JM.Poulard@Warriorsworld.net.

6 Responses

  1. Julian Michelucci

    David Lee is not overrated by any stretch of the imagination. You could make a case that he is very underrated as well. It wasn’t too long ago when Lee was overlooked in the All Star voting process. In fact, Lee received far less votes from fans than most power forwards last season. David Lee is not the most gifted defensive player, but he makes up for that at least with his defensive rebounding. A top 5 rebounder last year and led the league in 20-10’s and double doubles. D. Lee is also one of the most competent passing forwards in the game. The guy is extremely skilled. He can hit the jumper, he can score with either hand, and he sees 2 or 3 plays ahead of the average player. He’s also not too bad on defense considering he’s always telling his teammates where to go. The guy is also a leader, even played though that torn hip flexor. David Lee is underrated if anything. He’s definitely a top 5 big man in the NBA to go along with Duncan, maybe Howard, and a couple of others.

  2. Justin

    No! David Lee is a hard working forward that just doesn’t have the length to make a defensive impact. He brings the whole team up when down and poses as a strong interior scoring presence. The man has too much intangibles that can’t be measure by statistics.

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  3. MBB

    No Lee isn’t perfect, then again which of our players is?f Anytime you can get double doubles like that from your all star (twice) PF consider yourself lucky even if his D is weak. For some reason the press have glommed onto him being overpaid, from day one, on Monta being a volume shooter and ignored deficiencies from favorites like Curry. Funny you don’t point out the latter’s really pathetic D. He has that great outside shot. Lee has been a fabulous double double machine, and Monta’s shots attempted, when adjusted for the long minutes he’s always logged, is not at all out of line with his scoring.

    It’s fine to point out areas that players can improve on, but do it across the entire roster.

    People cite PERs like it’s the final determinant for judging a player. I wonder what research you can point to that correlates PERs with just about anything? Please cite one. I do know that Hollinger always significantly downgraded Kobe’s play, even when he was the best player in the league. And Wages of Wins, many of the critics bible, had Biedrins listed as one of the 25 top steals in the league a few years back.

    Lee, givens excellent rebounding numbers night after night. Don’t you recall the years when we were flailing about looking for someone who could rebound? And looking at his percentage shooting actually understates his offensive threat, as, unlike many PFs, a significant number of his baskets come from his super mid-range shot!!

    Monta is labelled a one dimensional volume shooter by many of the same people who have felt Lee was overrated or overpaid. One dimenional? He has regularly been among or at the top of shooting guards in terms of assists and steals. That makes for a triple threat, to say nothing of his last second clutch heroics.

    Curry”s a great outside shooter, especially when open, yet his D is simply awful and must be compensated for by others, he can make fancy passes, but the fact that he’s turnover prone, and has been so even back to his college days, muffles the impact of his passing. He’s a fabulous free throw shooter, but gets to the line infrequently once you remove team free throws from the equation. This of course, is due to his regularly pulling up short of contact with the defender, preferring his teardrop shot. Not the way to get to the line to take advantage of his great free throwing ability. And, he regularly eschews taking that last second potential game making shot.

    Except for a very few greats, most stars have weak areas. Celebrate Lee’s double doubles rather than harp on his D liabilities.

  4. Justin

    I like Lee more then a lot of people but to say his defense is adequate is just wrong. It has been well known for years that Lee is in the top 5 (if not the) worst defenders in the league. For a guy who says he watches a lot of warriors games im real surprised that you would use adequate to describe his D. And if you looked at Kirk Goldsberry’s article that you are referring to that was shared at the Sloan conference, there is plenty of statistical data and film showing how poor his defense is. He’s also not the best power forward and frankly might not even be in the top 5. Again i like Lee and disagreed with people who said the warriors are better off without Lee because of his superior offensive skills and leadership. However his lack of defense has been a topic for years and for a guy who sounds like he thinks he knows a lot about basketball some of your arguments really surprise me.

  5. Blaiyan

    “and has seen his defensive shortcomings exposed before a national audience in a manner that has nearly turned him into a laughingstock”

    LOL. This literally never happened.

    Ievy? White? Who? And why should I care what they say? Ask them did they watch all the warriors games or did the likely start paying attention during the playoffs? Enough with the david lee can’t play defense bandwagon. Some report comes out about him being mocked at some analytics conference for his supposedly poor defense and people who didn’t even know he existed before are now going around saying how terrible he is.

    Anybody who actually payed attention knows how underrated he is and that nba fans only pay attention to the big names. Which is why you’ll hear all these foolish suggestions to trade for love or aldridge. As far as I’m concerned lee is the best power forward in the League. He plays adequate defense (like most of the nba) and consistently shoots 50% or more and you already know how he rebounds. You’ll are stat watchers so go to nba.com and write down all his stats in 2012-13 season from games 1-82 (not counting the games he was out for his knee) and see for yourself what he brings to the table. And not to self promote but I got some Lee highlights up on youtube from last season and you might want to watch 1 or 2 of those also. Don’t let the sports media brainwash you. They weren’t even paying attention until steph put up 54.