2014 NBA All-Star Game: Should David Lee Be Named An All-Star?
By: Chris Biderman
All of a sudden being the Warriors’ No. 2 option has its perks.
After being Golden State’s first All-Star representative in 16 seasons last year in Houston, Davis Lee’s production remains at a similar level while the Warriors are on pace to finish with a better record than last year. But the big question heading into Thursday – when the reserves are announced – is whether or not Lee’s season will garner a second-straight nod giving the team two All-Stars for the first time since the ’92-93 season when Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin were honored.
Fairly or not, Lee’s candidacy could be decided based on the Warriors’ merit of having two All-Stars. But it’s more likely his All-Star fate will be determined by how he stacks up against the loaded group of front court players in the Western Conference. Injuries will also factor in.
Lee’s averaged 19.5 and 10.8 at this point last season when he was selected. Those numbers are down slightly this year (19.2 and 9.9). His rebounding numbers have taken a marginal hit with a healthy Andrew Bogut in the lineup, who’s getting 10.3 a game after just 7.7 last year.
The West’s three starters in the front court are Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love, leaving LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard as the obvious favorites for reserve spots. Aldridge has played at an MVP-candidate level while Howard has the Rockets in the No. 5 spot in the West ahead of Golden State.
Whoever coaches the West will have a tough decision when it comes to filling Kobe Bryant’s spot in the starting lineup. If Chris Paul can get healthy in time after separating his shoulder Jan. 3 (a six-week prognosis), he would likely slide in alongside Steph Curry in the backcourt. Otherwise, that spot likely goes to James Harden who leads all shooting guards averaging 23.7 points per game.
Howard could also be an option for the starting lineup after finishing sixth in the conference in voting allowing for a giant lineup alongside Curry, Durant, Love and Griffin.
The field of potential All-Stars in the West isn’t nearly as guard-heavy as envisioned coming into the season thanks to injuries to Paul and Russell Westbrook. If Paul can’t play, Lee’s chances of getting chosen could get a boost with the shallow pool of back-court candidates.
Let’s make a few assumptions. First, lets go ahead and pencil in the two Blazers Aldridge and Damian Lillard for reserve spots. Their cases don’t require much explanation. Just look at their impact on the standings.
Then throw Howard in the mix, who will likely be the only true center on the roster. That leaves four remaining spots and a number of question marks. A combination of Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, Kawhi Leonard, Nicolas Batum or others will likely fill two, while the others will go to big men.
Let’s go case-by-case and compare Lee’s season to other big-men candidates (in no order) to round out the Western Conference’s postseason squad:
It’s fitting that given the depth at power forward in the West Duncan is No. 7 among “power forwards” with a 21.52 PER, just one slot ahead of Lee (19.78). The Spurs are second in the west with Duncan averaging just under 15 and 10 in his 29 minutes a night. Duncan’s numbers aren’t a match with Lee’s, but the well-oiled Spurs are 33-11 and in the currently hold the No. 2 seed in the conference. If Duncan were to get the nod over Lee, no one outside of the Bay Area would complain. The Spurs are simply too good and the 37-year-old’s leadership, defense and overall star power give him the edge despite Lee’s advantage in scoring, rebounding and usage (as a product of minutes).
Jordan’s development has been a big boon for the Clippers, who hold a four-game advantage over Golden State in the standings. Jordan leads the West in rebounding by a full board a game over Love and is having the best defensive season of his career to this point. He’s not scoring with Lee, but he’s shooting 65 percent from the field thanks to his high volume of dunks. Lee gets the edge because of his overall offensive versatility, doubling Jordan’s usage while shooting 81 percent on free throws compared to Jordan’s 41. And if you’re into advanced metrics, Lee’s .174 win share per 48 minutes edges Jordan narrowly by one-thousandth: .173. Jordan might be the splashier player on a better team, but Lee is more deserving at this point. And who knows what kind of player Jordan becomes without having Paul run the point on his team.
Davis is quickly becoming the most intriguing big man in the NBA simply because there hasn’t been a player with his physical gifts combined with his skills in some time. He’s this generation’s only player that’s drawn comparisons to both Kevin Garnett and Duncan. He’s currently fifth in the conference in PER in part because he leads the NBA with more than three blocks a game. He’s also averaging a double-double and shooting at over 50 percent from the field. His polished skills offensively have been one of the surprises of the season, upping his scoring by almost 8 points a night over his rookie year. His wins shares per 48 dwarfs Lee’s at .205, but he’s played in nine-fewer games for a New Orleans team that’s 18-25. Davis has the notoriety of being a former No. 1 overall pick and is one of the game’s emerging super stars with extreme visual appeal in his game. Warriors fans would love to look at the teams’ records in making this decision, but here the nod goes to Davis. The league is driven by star power and Davis is well on his way even if his team isn’t there with him yet.
Lee has the edge on Ibaka in terms of wins shares per 48, but if you’ve watched the Warriors play the Thunder this season, you’d know Ibaka has dominated Lee in almost every facet. Ibaka’s shot 14 of 24 and scored 66 points with 34 rebounds combined in the two match ups with Golden State. He’s simply dominated and there might not be a worse match up for the Warriors’ power forward. Ibaka remains one of the league’s elite defenders and has comparable offensive metrics across the board, although Lee marginally better in most categories. While the stats favor Lee, it’s not enough to override Ibaka’s head-to-head dominance. If it came down to these two, the edge would have to go Ibaka.
Dirk is sixth in the conference in PER at 23.37 compared to Lee’s 19.78. The Warriors are 1.5 games ahead of the Mavericks in the standings, but it’s hard to argue against his star power, scoring and place in the game. Nowitzki will go down as first great European player in NBA history and without him the mediocre Mavs’ roster would be vying for a top pick in this year’s draft like so many other teams. Nowitzki has the edge in scoring (21.2 ppg) while Lee is the better rebounder. But Nowitzki’s usage and value evident by win shares per 48 have to give him the nod. Should Dallas maintain a hold on the final playoff seed, they won’t be an easy out in the first round of the playoffs as long as the German’s resurgent season holds true.
The Kings might be in the West’s cellar but Boogie is having one heck of a year. He might lack efficiency because of the load he’s forced to bear the offensive load, but he’s scoring nearly 23 points a night to pair with 11.6 rebounds per game. Only Durant, Paul, and Love have higher PERs than Cousins. Lee gets the nod because he’s doing almost as much far more efficiently on a better team, but Cousin’s season at least warrants consideration. His continued development will be worth watching in Sacramento if he’s able to continue to get better each season as he has. Nod: Lee.
The numbers say Lee’s season is awfully similar to last year’s All-Star worthy campaign, but his selection spoke more toward the ascension of the Warriors than his personal achievements. Hence the post-selection sentiment that it should have been Curry representing Golden State instead. Lee’s having another nice season, no doubt. But with Curry getting a spot in the starting lineup, it becomes harder to plug Lee on to the roster given the depth of the front court in the Western Conference. If the Warriors were a top-4 team in the standings, Lee would have a better case. But right now, Duncan, Davis, Nowitzki and Ibaka have the edge over Lee for one of the remaining couple of spots available for front court players on the West’s bench.