At 32 years old, Courtney Lee is playing his best season yet

At an age where most players start to show signs of decline, Knicks guard Courtney Lee is putting up bigger numbers than he ever has before. So how is he doing it?

With Kristaps Porzingis being hobbled by knee pain, Tim Hardaway Jr. still locked up in a walking boot, and Enes Kanter's back continuing to flare up, the mantle of the most important player on the Knicks squad has shifted to the shoulders of a non-flashy shooting guard on the wrong side of 30. And boy, has Courtney Lee carried that weight well. 

These Knicks had no business competing, let alone winning when Carmelo Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder returned to Madison Square Garden last week. A big contributor to this was obviously the 30-point explosion from Michael Beasley. However, what also went kind of unnoticed in that furor was the 20 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals that Lee procured as well. 

It's certainly fair that Beasley gets praise for his out-of-nowhere 30 points, but it's kind of 'business as usual' that Lee gave some serious contributions for a depleted Knicks squad that most predicted would be rolled by the Thunder. In fact, it's become a recurring theme this season, as so many different players are now beginning to shine in New York whilst Lee has been there the whole time, doing his job and doing it well. Porzingis takes a leap into All-Star status, THJ emerges as a versatile scoring threat and secondary playmaker, Frank Ntilikina is growing as a player by each game, and yet there still is the workhorse veteran Lee, the embodiment of a grinding New Yorker, quietly averaging career highs in points, assists, rebounds, and steals. He's been the steady hand that maintains a standard of excellence during games while being the perfect example of a hard-working, high character role model to surround the younger Knicks with off the court.

So how exactly is Lee having a career year at an age where most roleplayers consider moving to the bench or take pay cuts to help their teams stay competitive? His increase in scoring can almost solely be traced to a marked improvement in efficiency; despite his increased role on offence from last year to this one, Lee has posted career-highs in percentages both from behind the arc (40% to 43%) and at the foul line (87% to a white-hot 94%).

Furthermore his true shooting percentage, a measure of efficiency that takes into account 2-point, 3-point and foul-line makes, is also the highest it's ever been, currently sitting at 58%.

Some players take a while before they truly blossom in the NBA. Chris Webber was known as a headcase and bounced around a few teams before finally making a home in Sacramento, ditto with Rasheed Wallace and Detroit. Steve Nash notably won his first MVP award at 31 years of age.

The difference between these three players and Courtney Lee though was that their star talent was at least visible from the start. Steve Nash might be the best example of a late NBA bloomer but even he was an All-Star before he got to Phoenix. Courtney Lee has always been, and probably still is, a starting-level rotation player, who happens to be having a nice year. The idea that he'll improve on this year's production, or even sustain it for a few more years, is pretty questionable.

It becomes an interesting problem that the Knicks will eventually have to deal with if they hope to contend in a few years time. Lee's age doesn't exactly fit with that timeline and will be 34 years old when he'll be seeking his next payday. With that being said, his current contract is quite reasonable (especially in the current ages of Deng/Mozgov-type albatrosses) for his on-court production. So do the Knicks attempt to deal him now, while his value is at an all-time high, for some younger assets, or continue to ride with Lee for the sake of continuity? 

In my opinion, they should trade him. I've been a fan of him for a while now, and always thought he was unfairly over-looked when premier 3-and-D players are usually discussed. He's been a hard worker his entire career, which just goes to show why he's playing his best basketball at an age where most players begin to decline. So why not strike while the iron is hot? After years of the Knicks being involved in unequal-return trades, I feel like these situations don't come around too often. My ideal trade scenario is Lee being traded to a contender, rewarding his years of toil with the chance to compete for a championship, with the Knicks getting a first-round pick in return. That first rounder is key though -- anything less is unequal value for a player who's both a savvy veteran and a starting-level talent.

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