As the Golden State Warriors roll closer to the start of training camp, a big question still remains with the new coach Steve Kerr’s offense, will David Lee or Draymond Green get the nod as the starting power forward?
The players play two contrasting styles: Lee is more an offensive juggernaut, while Green is the get-in-your-face, workmanlike player who can guard every position. The decision will be a tough one to make, but let’s break down both of the players' strengths and weaknesses before suggesting a game plan.
David Lee has been known to put up big numbers throughout his career, but until 2012-13, the numbers were relatively meaningless, since he never made the playoffs. Lee normally finishes with a double-double on most nights, and his 2013-14 season averages mostly prove the same (18.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG).
Offense is in the forefront with Lee, since that is his best skill. He is an adept passer and can hit mid-range jumpers.
However, Lee shot below the 40 percent mark for the first time in his Warriors career between 10-15 feet last season, per Hoopdata. He will need to improve upon this part next season, especially with what might be required by Coach Kerr.
One of Lee's hidden talents is that he can score with either his left or right hand.
Lee is often criticized for his defense and his salary. One is a killer on the micro level; the other hurts the Warriors on a macro level.
His defense has been an albatross, as Lee is mostly left behind when he encounters quick feet or dazzling moves. He has tried to improve his limited skill set, and the effort is there, but the results are not always pleasing.
According to Bruce Jenkins from the San Francisco Chronicle, the pressure is on for Lee:
Lee will occasionally make a brilliant play on defense, but the normal result of an above-average play against him is a foul on Lee. Lee averaged three fouls per game last season, as he ranked tied for 21st overall and fifth for his position.
The one benefit that Golden State has going forward is that Lee will be a free agent in 2015-16, so he will be an expiring contract during next year's free-agency period.
Kerr has to weigh the effect of Lee losing value if he sits Lee versus the overall effort he can provide on the court. Lee needs to improve his range, as Kerr is looking for a stretch-4, and Lee did not impress based on his results, as shown in his NBA.com shot chart from last season.
Green is a hard worker who is defensively instinctive and is not afraid of anyone, including LeBron James.
Green improved significantly from his rookie year to his second year in the league. He looked a lot calmer with the ball and hasn’t been afraid to hit key shots at crucial times in the game.
Coach Kerr should like the fact that Green can stretch the floor more than Lee, as Green is known for hitting an occasional clutch three-pointer. Green is smaller than the average power forward, as he measures up at 6’7”.
Green also has a problem, because he really is just a forward or a tweener. When the Warriors go small, he can easily play the power forward position, but with his size, Green is logically a small forward.
So, Green masquerades as a power forward and has a significantly deeper range than the starter at the 4 position. Green shot 33.3 percent in 165 attempts from behind the arc last season.
As Green states in an interview with Dime Magazine, he will be looking to solidify that range in order to truly be a stretch-4.
However, Green’s focus is not entirely on the offensive end. His line from last season was 6.2 PPG and 5.0 RPG in almost 22 minutes.
Green had a 97.7 defensive rating for this past season, per Basketball-Reference.com, ranking him fifth-best in the league. It doesn’t matter where Green lines up, as he makes a significant impact on both sides of the court.
Green has a high basketball IQ and succeeds with positioning, anticipation and the desire to outduel his opponent. He should be ready to battle it out in preseason and the regular season to get a starting gig.
Coach Steve Kerr’s Preliminary Thoughts
I love David Lee, and I think he’s going to be our starter, and he’s going to score a lot and be our slasher and our interior scorer. But we need to complement that with some perimeter shooting from that spot, too.
Leung also noted that Kerr, on August 7, stated Lee was in a stable position going forward:
Klay Thompson and David Lee, who were players in trade talks involving Love, were named by Kerr as having "automatic" starting spots along with Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut when a boy at the Warriors Basketball Camp at Tice Valley Community Gym asked the coach about the lineup.
Based on the preceding information, Kerr will look to have Lee as the starter going into the season. However, Green should not look at the comments as a defeat, but as an opportunity to get quality playing time moving forward.
In the same interview with KNBR 680 and as reported by Leung, Coach Kerr spoke about how he may use Green as a stretch-4.
You saw Draymond make five threes in Game 7 (of the playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers), which is one of the reasons why the Warriors almost won that game. We need some shooting out of that position.
Green is more adept at shooting from the perimeter, and he can prove his skills to Kerr in camp and on the floor during the season.
The Best-Case Scenario
David Lee looks to be the starter going into the season, but he should consider the starting job in name only. Lee will not be used in the key moments of the fourth quarter, and he probably will not be used when the Warriors need to spread the floor.
Lee primarily has the job, because he is held in high esteem by co-owner Joe Lacob and the organization, he was the first real free agent to come aboard for the new ownership, and he puts up significant numbers.
Oh yeah, it doesn’t look good for the pocket book if Green is starting with a salary under $1 million over Lee and his $15 million annual salary.
Green will have a pivotal role on this team going forward, as he will be used in a variety of capacities. Coach Kerr will rely on him to stretch the floor and will play him when he needs the team to get physical.
Early analysis from CBSSports.com on Green states that he is the “best forward prospect over Harrison Barnes.” Green needs to use this momentum to his advantage and assimilate into Coach Kerr’s new system.
If Green can successfully master the system, he can increase his playing time whether at the small or power forward position.
As for Lee, he is getting closer to the end of his contract, and at age 31, he is probably in the final stage of the most productive years of his career. In order to secure another substantial contract in Oakland or somewhere else, he needs to show his value this season.
As which player would be better off the bench, different variables will dictate which player would make more of an impact.
Lee would create a mismatch with the second team power forward and provide instant offense for a bench unit that finished 24th in scoring last season. Although Lee is accustomed to starting, he could be the spark that is needed in that role.
Green is ready to play no matter who the opponent is and what situation he is given. He provides that necessary spark and can take command with the players around him.
Coach Kerr will have to learn how to use his tools on the fly and figure out who provides him the greatest advantage in each situation.
Lee will get the starting gig, but Green will have the biggest impact of the two. Green will be on the court in the final minutes and anywhere else Coach Kerr needs a stopper.