Examining why Courtney Lee, a player who averages 9.6 points per game is worth $50 million.
There's plenty of obvious reasons to be excited about this year's New York Knicks.
In no particular order of hype; Carmelo Anthony will finally be playing with multiple legitimate scoring threats in Derrick Rose and Kristaps Porzingis (on that note, we also get year 2 of Porzingis), the weakest position in New York for the past several seasons, the point guard, just became one of it's strongest with the addition of Brandon Jennings as well, new coach Jeff Hornacek will bring some of the offensive wizardry that almost made him Coach of the Year in 2014. Joakim Noah will aid in the mentoring and mental progress of Porzingis. Dad 'Melo will hopefully continue both his habits of bully-balling smaller forwards with deft footwork and wearing bathrobes in public.
But the player I'm most excited about has the least number of offensive highlights out of all those guys. In fact, his career average is 9.6 points per game. Oh, and we're paying him just under $50 million for those 9.6 points per game.
Ladies and gentlemen, Courtney Lee.
A 6-foot 5 shooting guard who's shot a career 3-point average of 38% brings clear benefits to a Knicks roster in need of spacing, but the plot thickens when you compare Lee's numbers to the player he's replacing, Arron Afflalo. It's worth mentioning that Afflalo's career average from beyond the arc is the same as Lee's, 38%, but that wasn't the issue with Afflalo during his Knicks tenure. His biggest slight was that he essentially operated like a poor man's 'Melo, and would often grind the offense to a halt with a meandering iso leading to a step-back 2.
Whether the problem was Afflalo being asked to do too much as a second option or simply taking too many improvised mid-range bricks, it won't be an issue with Courtney Lee. He has that rarefied personality trait where he doesn't feel like he needs the ball at all times, despite having a shooting ability that you think would grant him licence to fire at will. Throughout his career, Lee has averaged around 7 or 8 shots a game. Even when he was playing in Memphis; on a team that desperately needed anyone to crank shots from the 3, he still averaged 8.4 field goal attempts.
A player who can score, but doesn't necessarily have to, comes in handy when you're collapsing the defence and need someone on the wing to throw the ball. When you compare Lee's relatively-meagre FGA% that to the 11.3 attempts Afflalo threw up each game in New York, and you can already begin to see the influence Lee will have on the New York offense. A classic case of what he doesn't do, almost being as important as what he does do.
On the opposite end of the floor, Lee's influence is likewise difficult to see at first glance. Good defence is notoriously hard to track through traditional box scores, and often the small, unmeasurable things a player does to bother his opponent won't be reflected in the stat sheet. As such, looking at their career averages for steals and blocks doesn't reveal too much:
Afflalo - 0.5 steals per game, 0.2 blocks per game.
Lee - 1.0 steals per game, 0.3 blocks per game.
Afflalo and Lee are basically on par with each when it comes to blocking and contesting shots, but Lee has a slight edge in his ability to steal the ball. Again, it's hard to say whether that makes Lee the more competent one-on-one defender; certain players in the past *cough* ALLEN IVERSON *cough* were notorious for leaving their man to go nab the ball. While this does reflect in higher steals averages, it does not a good defender make.
However, with the benefit of the NBA's tracking stats, we can understand how Courtney Lee holds his own on the defensive end of the floor as well. Last year, he held his opponents to 41.8% shooting from the field, 1.7 lower than the average field goal percentage. That's about as good as you can get for signs that a player is no defensive slouch. Just check out this defensive highlights package from Round 1 of last year's playoffs:
Lee sticks to Wade like glue, without ever recklessly swiping for the ball or picking up a ticky-tack reach-in foul. That's an incredibly hard thing to accomplish defending in a pick-up game, let alone competing in the NBA playoffs. It takes a real worker to give that sort of physical effort, night in and night out. Which is great, because that's exactly what Courtney Lee is. He's flown under the radar as someone who's now played for 6 teams in 8 seasons, but has had a positive impact on every single one of them. You would be hard pressed to find another non-star to which no player or coach had anything negative to say about. But that's the guy Courtney Lee is. He shows up, plays defence, hits 3's when asked and doesn't cause trouble.
And I'm so glad we have a guy like that locked up for the next 4 years.