Sports Illustrated ranked the top 100 players in the NBA over at the Point Forward and David Lee was one of the Golden State Warriors to make the list.
The top 100 is a projection of how the players will perform in 2013-14 and the southpaw’s placement seems fairly close to accurate, although one can quibble about the players listed ahead of him.
During the 2013-14 campaign, Lee averaged a solid 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game on 51.9 percent shooting from the floor. Furthermore, he was a vital cog to the Warriors offense because of his ball-handling and passing.
Mark Jackson frequently used him as his pressure release option when Stephen Curry was double teamed in the half-court because the former Florida Gator can finish these plays or set up teammates.
Lee is not an elite power forward per se, but it is probably fair to say that he is as close as it gets to being the line of demarcation between the very good and the very best the league has to offer. He submitted a PER figure of 19.23 in 2012-13 and here is the list of power forwards that rated higher while playing north of 30 minutes per game:
- Serge Ibaka
- Al Horford
- Dirk Nowitzki
- Paul Millsap
- Chris Bosh
- David West
- Blake Griffin
- Tim Duncan
Kevin Garnett’s minutes dipped under 30 minutes on average while Kevin Love was injured during most of the year. The Minnesota Timberwolves star appeared in 18 games but was limited physically and it affected his overall production.
One expects that the players mentioned above will all be better than Lee in 2013-14 and that is reflected in the rankings. His offensive prowess makes him a key contributor for Golden State and also one of the very best players at his position.
However, his defensive shortcomings are very real. At times it may feel as though he is getting picked on, but the harsh reality is that he hurts more than he helps on this side of the ball.
Rob Mahoney painted a perfect picture of Lee’s defense in his explanation of the big man’s ranking:
Opponents often go out of their way to pick on Lee by making him defend on the move. He actually does a credible job of shuffling and contesting when his assigned man has control of the ball, but the longer he’s forced to defend space (such as in a drawn-out pick-and-roll sequence), the sloppier his coverage tends to get. This is not an uncommon problem among big men, but Lee is in a particularly rough spot because he’s so unintimidating around the basket.
NBA.com’s advanced stats tool tells us that opponents shot a higher percentage at the rim with Lee on the floor precisely because his movements and reactions are often a step or two slow.
When the former New York Knick was on the bench in 2012-13, the Warriors were statistically one of the 10 stingiest defenses in the league. The coaching staff accomplished that feat by playing either Carl Landry or Draymond Green (in his rookie season) at power forward when Lee rested.
The idea that Golden State fared better defensively with Green should serve as a wakeup call for the Dubs’ starting power forward. Rookies typically struggle on that end because of the speed of the game and the complexity of NBA offenses.
Coaches pick on players when they know they lack the experience to consistently make the proper reads and adjust to the nuances of NBA sets. And yet, Green held his own for the most part and even played with bravado at times against some of the league’s elite players when he was tasked with guarding them.
With the former Michigan State Spartan on the hardwood, the Warriors allowed 100.1 points per 100 possessions per NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, a figure that would have ranked among the five best in the NBA when projected over an entire season.
Clearly, Lee has some work to do on this end but the expectation is that the status quo will remain given that he is in his eighth season in the Association and signs of progress are quite slim.
And still, I feel as though ranking Danilo Gallinari ahead of him is a slight stretch. At his best, the Denver Nugget is a good shooter, capable defender and solid option against a smaller player.
His role requires him to play like a star at times although it seems fairly apparent that he is not one. He does a good job of getting himself to the free throw line and converted the highest rate of his shots in 2012-13 as a member of the Nuggets.
That shooting figure was a mere 41.8 percent from the field. Yes, that’s the best he has ever shot in Denver. In other words, he does not have one single thing he does great when playing at his best. That’s incredibly apropos considering that he is recovering from a torn ACL and should return in late November.
Thus, it’s impossible not to be skeptical about Gallinari’s rank vis-à-vis Lee. With that said, it’s not necessarily a travesty. The other players listed ahead of Lee rated fairly and will more than likely be better than Golden State’s top rebounder.
Nonetheless, he will be a pivotal player in 2013-14 by virtue of his scoring, rebounding and passing. The Warriors’ playoff hopes hinge on Lee’s ability to at least reproduce his production from the previous season. If he does that, the Dubs should be in great shape.