The underrated David Lee

For the past five seasons, he has been a top scorer, averaging 18 points a game; a top rebounder, grabbing 11 boards each contest; and one of the league's most efficient players, hitting 53 percent of his shots. Yet when the game's top power forwards are mentioned, his name never comes up.

There's no doubt about it: David Lee is one of the most underrated, underappreciated players in the NBA.

And while that characterization has been unfair, it has also been understandable. See, on bad teams, somebody has to be the leading scorer and somebody has to be the leading rebounder. On bad teams, the best mediocre player on a roster full of them will often put up All-Star numbers.

Lee has often been that player. In 2009-10, he averaged 20 points and nearly 12 rebounds for a Knicks team that won 31 games. In last season's strike-shortened, 66-game campaign, he averaged 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds for the 25-41 Warriors.

David Lee's got to be an All-Star. How can he not be with the way he's playing? I don't know why he doesn't get nearly the same hype and respect that a guy like Kevin Love gets.
-- An NBA executive
So respect was hard to come by. Yes, he made the All-Star team in 2010, but he wasn't viewed as a legitimate star. Yes, he received an $80 million contract from Golden State in 2010, but many thought he was overpaid. Lee, after all, had never made the playoffs, so how good could he be?

That perception, however, may be changing. Lee is merely doing what he's always done -- averaging 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds on 53.6 percent shooting. If we round up, we'll find that Lee's the only player in the league averaging at least 20 points and 10 boards a game.

The difference, of course, is that this season, for the first time in his eight-year career, Lee is playing for a team with a winning record. In one of the biggest surprises of the season, the 19-10 Warriors are the fifth seed in the West.

To get a better sense of how those around the league view Lee, I asked a coach, two front-office executives and two scouts whether the Warriors' success was changing their perception of the Golden State big man.

The coach:
"The knock on David Lee has always been that he can fill up the stat sheet but he's not going to help you win games. I used to have that perception of him, too, but now he's answering a lot of his critics because he's winning games and he's playing at a high level. He's scoring, he's rebounding, he's defending and he's making some big plays. He's definitely not just along for the ride.

"He's really having the best year of anyone on that team. Steph Curry is having a good year but not a great year, and Klay Thompson is not shooting the ball as well as he's capable of. If I had to pick one All-Star from that team, it would be Lee. He can put the ball on the floor and he can post-up. They play through him a lot in the post. And when they post him up, they know they're usually going to get a basket, a foul, or if he gets double-teamed, he'll find a teammate for an open look because he's a willing and capable passer."

The executive:
"In my opinion, he's a numbers guy. He'll put up nice numbers and get a big contract, but I don't fully trust him in terms of being a star player. He'll probably be an All-Star but I just see him as a numbers stuffer. And I don't think Golden State will continue to play this well. They're kind of a new team so people don't know them that well. They're surprising some people. But once teams start to figure them out, it'll be a lot tougher for them. We'll see how they, and Lee, respond."

Another executive:
"David Lee's got to be an All-Star. How can he not be with the way he's playing? While it's true the term 'All-Star' doesn't come to mind when you think of David Lee, he's a monster. I don't know why he doesn't get nearly the same hype and respect that a guy like Kevin Love gets. Love's teams haven't won, either.

"David can do so many things out on the court. One of the Warriors' best sets is the high pick-and-roll, where they throw it back to him on the side and let him get busy. He can put the ball on the floor, too. There are a lot of [All-Star-caliber] guys in the West, but I don't see how you leave David Lee off the All-Star team."

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Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images
Lee has been one of the league's best rebounders for several seasons.
The scout:
"I think David's very good. We paid a ton of attention to him in our game plan. His 19-foot shot is just about automatic and he's so good in the pick-and-roll. He's got a nice one-dribble move off the face-up and spin, and his post-up game is deadly. He's got a hook with either hand. He's almost ambidextrous. We couldn't stop him. He's maximized his potential. Even when you know what he's going to do, you can't stop him.

"The biggest problem for him the last few years and one of the reasons he hasn't gotten any recognition is that he didn't have a good point guard. I don't think he'll get a lot of recognition because it's not like they're always running plays for him. He'll get a few post-up plays, but he does so much to hurt you in the flow of the game. He's a guy that can produce big numbers without you having to run a play for him. And you can see by his numbers that he's a great rebounder. He's a position guy. He's not dirty, but he's tough and physical. And he's a pretty smart player.

"People talk about his defense not being good, but his defense is fine. He knows where to be on the floor. He'll take away one or two of your strengths. His speed is good enough. If he's going against a prototypical center, he's not great, but he can guard most of the centers in our league and he can stay with most 4s."

Another scout:
"Lee should be an All-Star. The greatest thing about him is his consistency. He's done it year after year for horrendous teams. Now he's doing it for a good team and showing that his production in the past wasn't a fluke, that it wasn't a byproduct of being on bad teams. He's underrated and he's undervalued. He knows his role and he's great at what he does. He's going to outwork people to rebound and get putbacks. He's improved the range on his jump shot.

"I've always liked him. I just think he was stuck in bad situations in New York and the past two years in Golden State. But I always thought he'd be a great teammate to have. I would love to have him on my team. He's got more tools in the toolbox than you expect. He's more than a guy who can clean up the glass and get points and rebounds without having plays run for him. He just needed an opportunity to show what he can do on a good team."
Posted by: AllWeatherFan (48769) on 12-12-31 00:02:38
In Reply to: Can someone post the Insider article on Lee please posted by slipup on 12-12-30 21:40:10

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