David Lee: the NBA’s hidden gem

Knicks PF/C David Lee has played way better than his reputation indicates.

David Lee had one hell of a game last night. Friday against the Golden State Warriors, the same team that surrendered 44 points to Mavericks rookie Rodrigue Beaubois last week, Lee posted a line of 37 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists. In doing so, he became the first player in the NBA to sport a 30-20-10 line since 1976. You know who did it that year? Arguably the greatest center in the history of the sport — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Obviously David Lee is a fantastic player stuck on a terrible team this season. With averages of 20.3 points, 12 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, he has been paved his path into the society of elite big men in the NBA — not that anyone would know.

Lee remains, too, one of the Association’s best-kept secrets despite his stellar play. And to think the Knicks nearly botched negotiations with him last offseason because he was holding out for money he deserved. Still, he probably would have been better off if they had.

David Lee is a free agent this offseason, and given New York’s go-big-or-go-home mentality, they will most likely lose out on re-signing its best player. So he’ll have an opportunity elsewhere, but he likely will once more not get the money he deserves; he is behind several larger household front-court players who have the opportunity to be free agents this center, namely Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Carlos Boozer.

This notwithstanding, Lee deserves a yearly salary in the $12 million to $14 million range. He will be a 20-1o guy for years to come, and his jump shot only continues to improve — as does his PER, which stands now at 22.51 (representing a 3.5-point increase from last season’s mark). The most amazing thing about it? The 6’9″ Lee is playing out of position, having been relegated to the center position for the lowly Knicks, who have no one else to play the 5.

So where will No. 42 be playing next season? The three teams who feature the big men listed above  — Toronto, Phoenix, and Utah — will need a presence up front should their power forwards leave town. Furthermore, the Nets may be in play: they’ve suffered from Yi’s piss-poor production at the 4, and pairing someone like Lee who can stretch the floor a bit more with the low-post presence of Brook Lopez could prove very beneficial. Really, anyone could make a play for him.

It hurts to know that Lee will be underpaid according to his next contract, so he should try to sign something short term to spread his name around the league more. Nevertheless, he is going to provide significant production for whoever inks him for the 2010-2011 season, and he won’t be doing so in MSG. That could be a very good thing (if the Knicks flop in their free-agent pursuits) or a very bad one (if they manage to recruit LeBron or someone else).  But if he keeps filling up the box score like he did last night, NBA GMs will eventually take notice of his greatness.

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Hardwood Paroxysm