Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee has been as good as any power forward in the NBA since his arrival in Oakland. He’s averaging 18.3 points per game and over 10 rebounds a game on 51 percent shooting in his four seasons with the Warriors. Those are borderline All Star numbers for his position. However, as good as Lee is on the offensive end, he’s average at best on the defensive end.
Lee has never been a good defender. He’s been helped out a lot this year by Andre Iguodala as well as Andrew Bogut. Those two seem to take a lot of the pressure off of Lee having to defend quality bigs. The Warriors are a team that prides themselves on being a defensive first team. Lee doesn’t fit into that philosophy because he’s not a guy who can defend power forwards away from the basket consistently. It’s not from a lack of trying, but he’s never going to be the defender that the Warriors want from that position.
Also take into account that he’s in the midst of a 6 year 79.5 million dollar contract that he signed prior to joining the Warriors. He’s in the fourth year of that contract and he’s making a little under 14 million dollars this year and will make over 15 million the next two years. It’s safe to say his salary is already an issue considering the Warriors want enough money available to sign Klay Thompson, who they value much more than Lee, to a long term extension as well. Lee is the second highest paid player on the Warriors behind Bogut, who the Warriors signed to an extension this season. Even though Bogut isn’t the offensive player that Lee is, he seems to fit into Mark Jackson’s defensive philosophy much better than Lee.
Another thing that hinders Lee’s value, at least the last couple of seasons, is his injuries. He missed part of the playoffs last year with an injury and now he could possibly be out for the playoffs this year as well. Even though he’s not the only player on the Warriors who’s been injured this season, the Warriors don’t seem to miss him as much as they missed Iguodala, Bogut and Curry when they missed a few games this season.
The Warriors ability to play without Lee in the playoffs last season made him even more expendable than he already might have been. There’s been rumors that the Warriors have inquired about trading him for the last couple of seasons ever since Joe Lacob took over the team. The way Harrison Barnes played at the four last year really made the Warriors a much different team on both ends of the floor. Barnes gave up size, but he was as much of a matchup nightmare that Lee was, probably more so considering the fact that he played on the outside and there was more room for Curry and Thompson to manuever.
The same can be said this season, especially recently as Draymond Green has been playing the four position and giving the Warriors a much better defender. He isn’t the offensive player that Lee is, however, his hustle, basketball IQ and being able to play without the ball allows Curry and Thompson even more freedom than they had before.
Bogut has recently called the starting lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green and himself as the “killer lineup.” This lineup, according to the ESPN advanced statistic, defensive real plus-minus, contains the two top defensive wings in the entire NBA in Iguodala and Green and Bogut who’s number four on that list. Throw in Curry and Thompson shooting and this lineup is very good. Granted this is a small sample size, but at least from the games seen this lineup could potentially be a deadly postseason lineup.
Whether or not the Warriors end up being better without Lee in the long term remains to be seen, but there’s obvious developments that suggest that there are times they play better without him. The Playoffs will determine this, of course. The Warriors might not be the offensive juggernaut that they are with Lee in the lineup, but the rotation of Green, Iguodala, Bogut, O’Neal and Barnes as your front court players are a much better defensive lineup. In addition this lineup consists of individuals who don’t need the ball in their hands to be effective.