Is David Lee Worth $80 Million?

K ShakranSenior Analyst IJanuary 16, 2011

David Lee, one of many overpaid players in the league?
David Lee, one of many overpaid players in the league?Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After acquiring forward David Lee in a sign-and-trade deal with the New York Knicks in exchange for Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf and a 2012 second round pick on July 9 2010, and awarding him an $80 million deal over six years, Golden State Warriors' management consistently used the term "All-Star" to characterize the kind of deal they had landed.

It's a classic public relations move by the Warriors to hype up the fan base for such a signing. In reality, however, Lee replaced Allen Iverson due to personal issues on the East All-Star roster in the 2009-2010 season campaign.

In effect, "David Lee was the all-star that isn't," as Kelly Dower wrote on his Ball Don't Lie Blog on Yahoo! Sports.

“David Lee is a terrific basketball player and an All-Star,” said Warriors’ General Manager Larry Riley on July 9, 2010.

While the Warriors management were routinely throwing out the All-Star label beside Lee's name, the former New York Knicks forward did not initially get the All-Star nod, despite averaging stellar averages of 19.4 PPG and 11.4 rebounds last season. The Knicks, at that point during the All-Star week, owned a 15 win, 31 loss record.

Aside from the All-Star chatter, a burning question has emerged: Is Lee worth the $80 million he was awarded by the Warriors?

Starting as the power forward for the Warriors in the 2011 season, Lee is averaging 15.6 PPG and 9.6 rebounds per game. The last Warriors power forward to produce similar rebounding numbers (8.6), but more points (24.5), was current Cleveland Cavaliers forward Antawn Jamison in the 2000-2001 seasons.

And that is certainly saying something about the mediocrity of the Golden State Warriors the past decade--both at the power forward position and as a franchise.

By acquiring Lee, the Warriors addressed the glaring rebounding deficiency on the team, as the team was ranked 29th in rebounding last season. But they also seem to have overpaid for a power forward like Lee.

Lee on the Defensive End of the Floor

Lee is one of the worst defensive power forwards in the game today. Last year, Lee was ranked 28th in defensive efficiency. Until this point of the season, Lee is 28th in PER (Player Efficiency Rating) among power forwards and is tied for 87th in the league with the New Orleans Hornets' Emaka Okafor  in PER, according to John Hollinger's NBA Player Statistics.

Lee struggles guarding skilled and athletic power forwards, particularly in the Western Conference, and especially in the Pacific Division. In two games against the Los Angeles Lakers this season, Lee has averaged seven points and five rebounds, including a game where he scored no points and ended up with 3 rebounds on October 31, 2010.

The player Lee was matched up against Pau Gasol, a top-tier power forward in this league, averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds in those two games.

In three games facing the Los Angeles Clippers this season, another in-division rival, Lee averaged 14 points and eight rebounds. His counterpart, rookie sensation Blake Griffin, averaged around 21.6 points and 11.6 rebounds.

When facing skilled power forwards like Gasol or athletic ones like Griffin, Lee tends to struggle containing his man or trying to score on the offensive end. In a critical possession on the Jan. 14 game against the Clippers in Oakland, Vladamir Radmonovic, who was guarding Griffin, forced a 24 second clock violation while the 21-year-old took five dribbles and failed to take a shot. 

Clearly, that was an indication by the Warriors head coach Keith Smart that Lee had trouble containing his man.

Furthermore, defending pick and roll for Lee is a disaster within itself--as the 6'9'' forward fails to cover the guards' man.

Lee on the Offensive End of the Floor

Despite being a good rebounder for his career (9.6 RPG), Lee does not have a good back to the basket game or any notable offensive go-to moves to take. Although more of a willing back-to-the-basket player than his front court mate, center Andris Biedrins, Lee is awkward creating offense on the low-post.

One of this strengths, however, lies in the pick and roll game--which the Warriors have seldom utilized since adding the 27-year-old to the roster.

In a career against the Warriors in the 2008-2009 season, Lee scored a career high 37 points in a Knicks jersey, while then fellow point guard Chris Duhon dished out a career high 22 assists, mostly on pick and roll plays with Lee.

Smart rarely uses Lee's pick and roll strength in the Warriors offense, whether it was with guards Monta Ellis or Stephen Curry. Lee usually does not set a solid pick on a pick and roll situation, and rather "slips" the screen, which creates a clear advantage over his defender to catch the ball and finish easily going to the rim.

During his last two years in a Knicks uniform, and mostly when coach Mike D'Antoni took charge as head coach of the New York based franchise, Lee started at the center position.

The University of Florida product possessed speed and quickness against slow centers. Thus, he could blow by them in an isolation play, or he could beat them down the court in a typical D'Antoni fast break.

Playing against centers in New York, Lee was more of a productive player with averages of 18.5 points and 11.7 rebounds. Therefore, returning to his more traditional position as a power forward, Lee has struggled to produce on a more consistent basis due to the fact that most of his opponents are more skilled under the basket, possess better mobility than most centers, and have similar height and body type.


Lee should be considered an overpaid player in relation to his skill set and the kind of impact he has on a team. By no means is Lee a Kevin Garnett type of forward, nor is he a Sam Bowie, but he does not deserve the kind of deal he received for the sole purposes of being an All-Star as Warriors managment constantly said when they acquired him.

In addition, the Warriors gave up too much for him. Anthony Randolph, with sky-high potential, should not have been let go of this soon, especially not after two seasons in which he averaged less than 15 minutes a game.

Turiaf, another locker room glue guy, and even considered one of the best teammates to have on your team, was not that hefty of a contract. He was an excellent role player, along with his teammate Azubuike.

A reasonable deal that should have been given out to lee should have been around $50 million for five years. $10 million a year seems reasonable for his kind of production and impact has on any team, especially as weak as the Warriors.

His former teammate on the Knicks, Al Harrington, accepted a very good $35 million over five year deal from the Denver Nuggets. Being the smart franchise that they are, the Nuggets refused to give Harrington, a similar impact player as Lee, more than the market commanded.

That's exactly what the Warriors did not do. In an attempt to quickly hype up the fan base, they gave an excellent role player a huge deal that might prove arduous in the future.

There is no doubt about Lee's work ethic and passion, but the Warriors should again ask themselves: Is he the power forward they really coveted, or was it a panic mode decision from a franchise that excels in taking bad decisions?


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