The Golden State Warriors demolished the Hawks in Atlanta, capping a 6-1 road trip no one predicted. Now the Warriors’ winning ways have allowed everyone to start appreciating David Lee for the first time since he came to Oakland, as he was named Western Conference Player of the Week.
Back in the summer of 2010, the Warriors sent Ronny Turiaf, Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike and a 2012 second-rounder to New York for the right to sign Lee to a six-year, $80 million contract.
What the Warriors gave up wasn’t the problem — Turiaf is a journeyman bench cheerleader, Randolph is on his way out of the league, and Azubuike never played for the Knicks. The money was always the concern with Lee, along with his defensive shortcomings.
Now it appears the Warriors are getting what they are paying for.
Lee won his second Conference Player of the Week Award (the other came in 2009) after finishing Golden State’s eye-opening trip by averaging 22.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1 steal, while shooting 60.6% (40-66 FG) from the field and 11-for-11 from the line over the last four games. And as far as this season goes, Lee is finally proving to be the player the Warriors thought they were getting from the Knicks. Perhaps having actual NBA players as teammates and not having a tooth lodged in his arm helps.
Measuring defense in ways other than the dreaded “eye test” is exceedingly difficult in the NBA. John Hollinger’s PER only measures offensive efficiency, and Lee’s PER of 20.0 is the highest since coming to Golden State. However, it’s not like he was an offensive slouch last year, when his PER was 19.7. Both of those figures are pretty high for a player who attempts a three about once every two months.
I’m more interested in differentials. Point differential says more than simply being a high-scoring team; total rebounds often has more to do with pace than the ability to box out opponents a majority of the time. When Lee was a Knickerbocker, his Offensive Rating (an estimate of points produced per 100 possessions) far outpaced his Defensive Rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions).
The Warriors weren’t expecting a defensive stalwart when they traded for Lee, but they probably figured his offense would more than make up for whatever he gave up defensively. But after an average ORtg-DRtg differential of 12.4 in his years with the Knicks, there was no differential at all in his first two years with the Warriors. Team defense may have a lot to do with Lee’s best DRtg of his career so far this season, but his offense hasn’t fallen off at all.
As a result of Lee’s excellent play and, above all else, the Warriors winning two-thirds of their games, Lee is getting love from places one never would’ve expected before this season. Warriorsworld is running a “David Lee Watch” where they’re spending “nearly two weeks examining the play of David Lee, easily the most polarizing player on the Warriors.” Tim Kawakami also gave Lee some credit almost a week before his “Player of the Week” nod:
I’ve been a Lee critic–I don’t give his defense a free pass and it shouldn’t get a free pass.
But when he shoots at this kind of clip (FG% is up from 49% to 51.4% over a handful of games) and feeds shooters and rebounds like a madman… Lee is a definite “plus” player and deserves praise.
The timing of the Monta Ellis trade
In reading the Warriors’ release on Lee’s award, I came across something that caught my eye:
It is the 29th time a Warriors player has been named Player of the Week since the NBA began giving out the award in 1979 and the first since Monta Ellis on March 12, 2012.
Wait, Ellis was still a Warrior(s) on March 12? Yes, but he was traded along with Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson on … March 13.
That’s not to say the Warriors will trade Lee tomorrow. However, one has to wonder just how much that award spurred the Milwaukee Bucks to pull the trigger on a deal the teams had likely been talking about for a decent period of time, considering the number of high-profile players involved.