David Lee's Real On Court Impact

Since David Lee’s decision to join the Mavericks, his play has caused a number of articles to pop up about how his renewed vigor, his changes in diet and scenery, and the great effects he’s had with Dallas in the 13 games since he joined the team. In 19.9 minutes per game, Lee is averaging 11.2 points and 8.3 rebounds, with four double-doubles. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who was salary-dumped by the Warriors and subsequently bought out by the Celtics, so the excitement is understandable. Note: all stats from this article are current as of 3/23/16.

There’s only one problem: Lee is hurting the Mavericks, and it’s no coincidence that since joining the team at nearly 20 minutes a game, the Mavs have gone a mere 5-8 and fallen into a tight race for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. The numbers beneath the headlines tell a very different story about Lee’s “resurgence,” and that story is the same one that kept him from the court in Boston and the same one that unlocked Golden State when he was forced off the floor.

We’ll start with the most obvious indicator that Lee’s presence on the court is hurting, not helping: Since joining Dallas, the team’s net rating is -1.6 with Lee on the floor, but a +3.5 with Lee on the bench. In spite of his great offensive skillset, Lee is a huge negative on the offensive end of the floor with his current usage patterns. When Lee steps on the floor, the Mavs’ Offensive Rating is 105.2. Without him? They clock in at an ORtg of 112.3. He does improve the defense, with quick feet that make him a different type of backline defender than Zaza Pachulia has been: with Lee on the floor, their Defensive Rating is 106.8, but without him they allow 108.8.

As for his rebounding impact, Lee is displacing one of the NBA’s better rebounders in Zaza Pachulia, so you’d expect a negative impact. This is, however, the place where his impact is felt positively. With Lee on the floor, the Mavs rebound better overall, better on the defensive glass, and better on the offensive glass, with an increase in each of the team’s rebounding percentage statistics when Lee’s on the floor. In the same vein of surprising impacts, Lee’s most highly complimented skill is his passing as a big man, but his presence increases turnovers, decreases assists, and depresses the Mavs spacing such that they shoot less three pointers and make a smaller percentage of them in dramatic fashion. With Lee on the floor, the Mavs shoot 8 less three pointers per 48 minutes and make only 26% of them, as opposed to the 40.3% they have made with Lee off the floor.

All of that said, Lee could be a very useful big man in the right role: a second-unit anchor who plays back-to-the-basket basketball. He’s one of the best in the NBA in post-up efficiency, and he does have great hands. While J.J. Barea is typically most effective whirling around Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-pops, he’s been doing very well slicing into the defense as Lee rolls as well. The real question is why Lee’s minutes are coming at the expense of Zaza Pachulia, at nearly 20 minutes per game with the Mavs, rather than some of the other big men on the team.

Favorite Play of the Week

A little tidbit I’ll be sharing each week is my favorite play run by the Mavs that week. This week, we’re going to look at a wrinkle Dallas has thrown into a staple NBA set, “Horns,” to spring Dirk Nowitzki for a three at one of his favorite spots. You can watch the video here, courtesy of stats.nba.com:

Dirk Horns Flare

Horns is a set where two guards or wings stay in the corners, the two bigs come to the top of the key to set a screen on either side of the ballhandler, and the remaining guy brings the ball up the middle of the floor. Viewed from half court, it looks like a longhorn logo. In this particular play, the ball handler is Parsons, who uses the Dirk side of the screen like any other. However, as Kevin Love, tasked with defending Dirk here, drops down to corral Parsons as required when a team defends a pick and roll by “icing,” he leaves himself open to what will happen next. David Lee, in the position that typically rolls to the basket in this action, starts his job to the basket but cuts it short to set a pick directly in the path Love will have to take to recover back to Nowitzki. By the time Thompson realizes what Lee has done, it’s too late. Parsons fires back to Dirk, Love smashes into Lee, and the big German gets three points.


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