Let me count the ways. — E. B. Browning
Don Nelson, Larry Riley and the Golden State Warriors have just pulled off a trade for an all-star power forward, a trade that will define the next era of Warriors’ basketball. And in the fashion typical of our wonderful Bay Area media, it was greeted by yawns and derision. Some of these esteemed commentators, and their bellowing herds of followers, even arrived at the conclusion that the Warriors LOST this trade. In their minds, because it was executed by the “old regime,” without the approval of the new owners, then it can’t be good. And because Anthony Randolph is merely 21, while David Lee is all of 27, then Randolph automatically has a bigger upside than the all-star Lee.
Absurd. Ridiculous. I am frankly incredulous of these opinions. Have any of these people actually watched David Lee play? Can’t they see what is staring them in the face? Here is what I see looking back at me:
6-9 250 lbs.: Lee has the size to go head-to-head against the biggest NBA power forwards in the game. The days of watching the Warriors get steamrolled at the power forward position — of watching Harrington, Wright and Randolph getting scraped off the floor — are over.
Extraordinary Toughness and Durability: Three years ago, Lee played 81 games. Two years ago, Lee played 81 games. Last year, Lee played 81 games. While upping his minutes to 37 per game. If you are a Warriors fan, this stat alone should have you on your knees and weeping. David Lee is not a boy, but a man, who comes to play every night, without complaint, against the biggest baddest players in the NBA. And delivers.
Defensive Rebounding: Lee grabs close to 12 rebounds a game, 9 of those at the defensive end. His critics say this is largely a product of playing in D’Antoni’s system. What do they say about the fact that he has been played out of position his entire career, against much larger centers? Or about the fact that he’s never played with another frontcourt player who could box out? Not much.
Andris Biedrins and David Lee will make up one of the great rebounding tandems in the league. With this trade, the Warriors have gone from one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, to one of the best. Their problems on the boards are over. You can make book on it.
Running Ability: He’s not Anthony Randolph in the speed department, but Lee has no trouble beating his man down court and finishing. He ran the court relentlessly in D’Antoni’s system. At 250 lbs., that’s special.
Extraordinary Pick and Roll Player: Those of you who remember the night Lee and Duhon tore apart an exhausted Warriors team at MSG have a glimmer of what I’m talking about. A glimmer. Because David Lee has never played with a p0int guard like Stephen Curry. A player who I think has already demonstrated himself as one of the top four pick and roll point guards in basketball (after Nash, Paul and Williams). Working with D-LEAGUERS.
What goes into being a great pick and roll big man? A big body and a desire to set great picks. Extraordinary intelligence: knowing the plays, establishing chemistry with the point guard, making the right reads, the right cuts, the right shots, the right passes. Great hands. Great finishing ability. Great shooting ability. Great passing ability.
David Lee has all of these things, in spades. Warriors fans are in for some of the most beautiful basketball they have ever seen. Beautiful half-court basketball. Stephen Curry has his pick and roll partner, and the results are going to be spectacular. I wouldn’t be surprised if Curry averaged 10 assists this season, in his second year.
Ambidextrous finishing ability: Lee can flush it effortlessly. He can also lay it up off glass with his right hand as well as his left. Can you name me another NBA big man other than Pau Gasol who has that talent?
Unselfish passing ability: Lee is a talented passer, who averaged 3.6 assists last year. Do you remember watching in the playoffs the rare occasions that Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol ran pick and roll? The play went like this: Kobe to the rolling Gasol, to the cutting Bynum, SLAM! The Lakers could have run that play as often as they liked, but didn’t, because it wasn’t the triangle, and Kobe had a different agenda. The Warriors, under Don Nelson, won’t have that problem.
On the occasions that Lee finds himself double covered in the pick and roll, this is what you’re going to see: Curry to the rolling Lee, to the cutting Biedrins, SLAM! Or to the cutting BWright, SLAM! Or DWright, or Udoh, or Gadzuric, SLAM! And you’re going to see it over and over and over again.
Because like Pau Gasol, David Lee can really, really pass the ball. And Don Nelson, unlike Phil Jackson, can really, really coach.
Low post moves: Anyone who thinks Lee can’t play in the low post has simply not watched enough tape. Which means a lot of Bay Area media pundits have not watched enough tape. Lee has a deadly lefty jump hook, that he can hit straightaway or off the glass. And he knows how to get it: he has the body to get his position, and the handle to improve his position. He has the strength to finish his moves. And he has the passing ability to pass out of the post when doubled.
Having said that, I think Nellie will use him most of the time in the high post.
Nice Jump Shot out to 15 feet: Remember all of those Turiaf elbow pick-and-pops you used to pray over? Remember those Randolph and Wright baseline 15 footers you used to cringe over? Well, forget about it. David Lee will bury that shot. He cannot be left unguarded, the way teams left Turiaf and Wright and Randolph unguarded.
Which is going to make driving lanes appear for Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry that will make them very, very happy. Perhaps not quite as happy as the Israelites watching the parting of the Red Sea. But close.
80% Free Throws: In other words, a player who can and will get it done for you at crunch time. A GO-TO GUY IN THE PAINT. And the last time the Warriors had that was when? (Please don’t say Chris Webber.)
Defense: Since the trade I have read innumerable times that David Lee is a bad defender. It always brings a smile to my face. How do these genius pundits know that David Lee is a bad defender? By his stats, his metrics? By the stats and metrics of the New York Knicks? Garbage. Nonsense. I don’t comprehend how it’s possible to know anything about Lee’s abilities as a defender judging by his years on the Knicks.
David Lee played out of position for the Knicks, at center. And he was left alone on an island in the middle. His frontcourt partners were among the worst defensive players known to mankind. Al Harrington? Danilo Gallinari? What sort of defense would you expect a frontline of this nature to play?
David Lee was never paired with a shot-blocker on the Knicks. He had no place to route his opponents. No traps to funnel them into. No defensive scheme worthy of the name to execute.
That is NOT the situation in which Lee will find himself on Don Nelson’s Warriors. For one, for much of the time he will not be played at center, but at power forward alongside Andris Biedrins. But more to the point, on the Warriors Lee will be consistently paired with at least one terrific weak-side shot-blocker. Biedrins. Udoh. BWright. DWright. Even Gadzuric.
This will make Lee an incalculably better defender than he was on the Knicks. A defender that the pundits have never seen before. Lee’s job on defense for the Warriors will be to 1) play his man straight up; 2) Stand his man up, or in other words, refuse to cede him good position; 3) On catches, guide him into weak side help, ie. blocked shots; and 4) box him off the boards. I believe Lee is more than capable of executing this job, and executing it well. 40 minutes a game, 81 games a year.
Which leads me to two final questions for the pundits:
1) Is defensive rebounding a part of defense? Finishing a possession with a defensive rebound? Because if so, then Lee is automatically a better defensive power forward than the Warriors have had in years. The Warriors’ defensive rebounding is going to take a quantitative leap with Lee on the team. Guaranteed. Which I think means their defensive metrics are also going to take a quantitative leap. Which is to say nothing of their fast-break, and the most important stat of all, point-differential.
2) Did the pundits actually watch Brandan Wright and Anthony Randolph play defense these last few years? Did they watch them get steamrolled in the paint, get pushed around the court, get knocked to the floor? Did they watch them get injured?
There is simply no comparison between David Lee and these matchstick men. David Lee is not a 20 minute man, he is a 40 minute man. David Lee is not a 40 game man, he is an 81 game man. David Lee is not a fragile gazelle who shies from contact. David Lee is a 250 lb. man who is big enough and strong enough and tough enough to play straight-up against the best big men in the league. And dominate.
The idea that that will not improve the Warriors’ defense is laughable.
If you are of a bitter and depressive cast of mind, like our Bay Area media, then go ahead and mope and pine over the loss of Anthony Randolph’s promise. I think I know better. I think that if Andris Biedrins is finally healthy, and Don Nelson is retained to coach the extraordinary team that he has assembled, then a new golden era of Warriors basketball has dawned.