Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Should David Lee be an All-Star? A Word of Caution

As my subway pulled into my stop early this morning, I came upon the sports section of amNewYork, the free daily paper here in the Big Apple. They had a photo spread of their sportswriter's All-Star reserve picks, and right there in the middle was a huge shot of David Lee. I laughed--typical hometown crap. 

But I checked the stats tonight. Did you know David Lee is the Knicks' leading scorer, at nearly 16 per game? With a true shooting percentage (nearly 61 percent) that's 11th best in the league and PER of 18.6? Those are pretty good numbers. 

The PER is basically the same as it was last year, so we can chalk up the offensive improvement to the fact that Lee is a) playing six more minutes a game; b) playing for Mike D'Antoni and c) taking four more shots per game than last season.

Still, the numbers are solid, and we all know Lee's a great rebounder. You're going to be hearing a lot about David Lee in the next few months. He's slated to make $2.7 million next season before becoming a free agent, meaning his deal expires right when every team wants to have a lot of players with expiring deals. And also right when teams that don't get LeBron/Bosh/Wade/Amare are going to have some money to spend. 

One word of caution: A huge percentage of Lee's field goals are assisted on--79 percent of his jumpers and 67 percent of his shots in close, according to 82games. I'm telling you now, you're going to have a hard time finding players with higher assisted-on rates than that. (Overall team rates tend to be between 55 and 60 percent). I checked maybe two dozen players, and I couldn't find anyone with assisted-on rates that high. I checked a sampling of both low post and perimeter-oriented forwards (some names: Aldridge, Jefferson, Duncan, Stoudemire, Garnett, Bosh) and some wings/guards, and I couldn't find anyone. I'm not saying Lee has the highest assisted-on rate in the league (I didn't check everyone; I have a job, you know), but he's up there. 

Last season, Lee's assisted-on numbers were more toward the normal range (48 percent on close shots, 67 percent on jumpers. The latter is still high but not unusual). 

The broader question I have for basketball fans smarter than me: Does having a high assisted-on rate mean David Lee's offensive stats are misleading? That he's becoming an overrated offensive player? I don't know the answer. I suspect they mean his higher scoring numbers are in large part the product D'Antoni's emphasis on pace and ball movement, and that any team that signs Lee shouldn't expect him to put up 16 per game. Ever. But who knows?


  1. All I remember hearing in the pre-season was how Lee wasn't a D'Antoni style player and his game was going to suffer in this system. While I'm not exactly ready to buy into the fact that Lee is an All-Star because despite his numbers, he still doesn't strike me as any kind of game changer - but some credit has to go to Lee. I think at the end of the day, David Lee is adequately "rated."

  2. he's gold on my fantasy team, esp for his draft position. so is Duhon for that matter. so, yeah, he's 'rated'.

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