It’s not the first comparison that will pop into your head when you look at him, but David Lee’s career arc is actually very similar to a fellow all-star and former teammate in Zach Randolph.
They’re both lefties with smooth mid-range shots. Both crash the boards like mad men. Like Z-Bo, David Lee started out as a per-minute wonder who didn’t get enough minutes. Like Z-Bo, Lee broke out as his minutes increased. Like Z-Bo, David Lee got an insane contract and toiled in mediocrity, as the way he grabbed his (impressive) numbers wasn’t necessarily conducive to winning a basketball game. Like Z-Bo, he changed his ways for the better and is now leading a team in the Western Conference’s second tier.
And yet, David Lee’s story isn’t one of redemption, or of learning to play the right way. When Z-Bo traded his malcontent ways for Memphis winnings, celebrations were held around the basketball globe, his name aggrandized as a warrior who won in the impossible battle against his own demons. Zach Randolph was proof that yes, you can change your ways at 28 years old, and no, your reputation as a basketball player is not set in stone. David Lee’s story is a fun one, for sure – his improvement this season has been touted continuously on many a medium – but it wasn’t one of redemption, just of improvement.
Admittedly, Lee was never considered a malcontent. Lee was never angrily shown the door – he has played for two teams his whole career, only moving from one to the other when the 2010 Knicks brought in Amar’e Stoudemire on Lee’s spot. Randolph had burned bridges everywhere he went; Lee’s only crime was not winning. In a sense, there was nothing to be redeemed from, except for that pesky aversion to defense.
There is also a darker, more sinister undercurrent to the Lee/Z-Bo narrative. Lee played four years of college, and is white; Randolph played one year, and is black. Lee was the hardest worker on the team during the lost Knick years; Randolph was part of the Jail Blazers and rode the revolving door of failed star billings during the lost Knick years. Randolph, during his bad years, was probably much more of a detriment to his teams’ success than Lee was, but he also fit the profile much better, which will forever change the coverage. And we expected Randolph to be good; for Lee, even “stats grabber on a bad team” was an overachievement. You can’t get mad at an overachiever, right?
Even so, there is redemption to be told when telling of David Lee. Somewhere between Mike D’Antoni and Golden State, Lee stopped playing 50% of basketball. Yes, he played out of position, and yes, his teams were awful, but there was always something disconcerting about Lee, a player who broke out due to effort and didn’t seem to give the slightest damn about defensive play. He gradually found brilliance on the other end – especially during his final Knicks season, when he worked as a de facto point center for a roster that had no business existing, a showing that gave him a semi-controversial first all-star nod as a David Stern named replacement – but the label stuck.
Watching him ditch those habits for this year’s Warriors team has been a treat. Lee still wouldn’t be your choice defender, but he’s also no longer a liability. His rebounding isn’t back where it was during his New York days, but it’s the best we’ve seen since his move to The Bay and is a huge part in the Warriors’ improvement on the boards. His Synergy numbers on the pick and roll are staggering – he’s ranked 6th in the league (on defense!).
And without the horrible defense to distract him? We can appreciate all of the good again. The backbone he provides for the offense, both as a high post creator and as a pick and roll partner for Stephen Curry, is almost unparalleled among current big men. He’s virtually ambidextrous. He’s an excellent passer.
He’s just really, really good. No more caveats. Good for him.
I remember the first two All-Star Games that I REALLY watched (with an eye on basketball rather than just a casual fan) were the 1992 and 1993 All-Star Games. I was an NBA obsessive 10 and 11-yr old back then just trying to find any reason not to believe Michael Jordan wasnâ€™t the best player in the NBA.
I didnâ€™t have really anything against Michael Jordan. Iâ€™ve just been playing Devilâ€™s Advocate in obvious arguments since I realized that you could have some fun with that sort of mental exercise. And I wasnâ€™t really willing to accept that MJ was the best player (possibly ever) at the time because I wanted to find holes in his game. Confoundingly (is that a word?), I tried to convince myself that his dribbling ability and three-point shooting were weak enough that there could be an argument against his hands-down greatness.
Whenever I caught a glimpse of Dan Majerle, I was particularly enamored. He would spot up five to eight feet behind the three-point line and drill it. It seemed so effortless. It seemed so natural. If he was on NBC on the weekend, I was going to watch. Well, I was going to watch regardless but I was going to focus on him during the game. I just wanted to see the shooting stunts he would attempt each game. So when I buckled down with my â€œwealth of basketball knowledgeâ€ at the age of 10 and watched the 1992 All-Star Game from Orlando, I was thrilled that I was going to get to see one of my favorite players giving it a go in his first All-Star Game.
He didnâ€™t do much. Made a couple of baskets, missed a couple of threes and was one of many players lost in the celebration of Magic Johnson as he dazzled the court that day, stopped Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan on the last two defensive possessions of his hey-day and made that improbable three-pointer to cap off an incredible display of respect and love for the recently retired legend.
However, the next year in Salt Lake City, Dan Majerle shined a bit brighter. He made three long-range shots. He finished all over the court and ended up with 18 points off the bench in 26 minutes. He even blocked a couple shots and grabbed some boards. It was a nice showing.
So whatâ€™s the point of all this Dan Majerle rehashing?
Well, Dan Majerle probably never really deserved to be an All-Star. He made the ASG three times in his career. And he was a fine player. He was a really good player in face and a game changer quite often. But was he actually an All-Star? Does it even matter? His best pre-All Star break numbers in a season were the â€™94-â€™95 campaign in which he averaged 17.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists while shooting 44% from the field and 38% from three. He did it as the main guy for the Suns while Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson battled the injury bug.
Hereâ€™s the crazy thing about this All-Star appearance though â€“ he came off the bench for the Suns during most of that first half. He only started 46 games that season and 21 of them came before the All-Star break. He was voted into the All-Star Game by the fans becoming the first bench player to ever be voted to start an All-Star Game. And where do you think the All-Star Game was?
Dan Majerle was a really good role player throughout his career. And for a four-year stretch, he was arguably the best role player in the NBA. But was he ever truly an All-Star? What does All-Star even mean? Are we sure he was one of the 24 best players in the NBA those three years? Was he just voted into his third ASG as a starter because of some hometown cooking? Does it matter?
I had an epiphany last night. I was thinking about the All-Star Game and what it meant. Even though we all regard it as a meaningless exhibition, the majority of us still hold it in high regard. You can tell we hold it in high regard because weâ€™re outraged that Allen Iverson is starting the All-Star Game despite the fact that he received over one million votes.
Should we really be outraged though? What is the All-Star Game? Itâ€™s a celebration of basketball, right? Maybe it used to be the 24 best players from that year showing up to play a spirited exhibition at the mid-ish point of the season but it hasnâ€™t necessarily been that for some time now. Players no longer take it seriously unless theyâ€™re trying to win the MVP award for that game (see: Kobe, LeBron, Iverson).
Everyone gets mad at the fan voting system (myself included) because it often puts one or two guys into the starting lineup and therefore the game itself when they might not be completely â€œdeserving.â€ Does this upset us because itâ€™s a basketball injustice or because we keep confusing the term â€œAll-Starâ€ with â€œAll-NBA?â€
The All-NBA teams are meant to tell us who the best players in the NBA are for that particular season. The All-Star teams are supposed to tell us who the stars of each conference are. Thatâ€™s a huge difference. In fact, those are two different worlds altogether. With the starting lineups in the ASG format, there are already HUGE flaws for determining if these 10 players are deserving, most popular or a combo of the two.
The All-Star ballots are put together before the season starts and voting begins about two weeks after the start of the regular season. Why would you have voting two weeks into a 25-week excursion if it was supposed to truly reward the 24 best players of the first half of that season? With All-Star voting, itâ€™s never been about who is having the best season. Itâ€™s always been about popularity. And after this epiphany last night, I donâ€™t really have a problem with it. Weâ€™re mixing popularity with this celebration of the game. So why do we get bent out of shape about â€œAll-Star Snubs?â€
Does anyone honestly think that David Lee is one of the 24 best players in the NBA this season? Sure, he puts up some fantastic numbers and is one of the few bright spots on the Knicks this year but he doesnâ€™t play a lick of defense and Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™d have him in my Top Ten Forwards in the East list. Are we SURE that Josh Smithâ€™s snubbing is a bad thing? Matt Moore perfectly articulated what this could mean for his career by taking this personally. Well, isnâ€™t that more important to the game of basketball than giving him 18 minutes of play against the Western Conference this year?
You want your guy there because you want recognition for your team/player. People want to ignore the fact that Monta Ellis has more turnovers than a breakfast buffet or makes Troy Hudson look like Gary Payton on the defensive end of the court. Itâ€™s the reason that Chris Kaman is a snub. Itâ€™s the reason that Marc Gasol is a snub. Itâ€™s the reason that Andrew Bynum is a snub. Itâ€™s the reason that Derrick Rose making the All-Star Game in the East this year is â€œabsurd.â€
Is it really that absurd? Between Derrick Rose and David Lee, who would be more fun to watch in an All-Star Game? Itâ€™s Derrick Rose and itâ€™s not even close. Now, with Josh Smith you have a better argument. Josh Smith is one of the five players I make sure to watch every night. He always does some otherworldly ish on the basketball court.
So if weâ€™re celebrating the game of basketball this Valentineâ€™s Day weekend, maybe we DO need him in Dallas. Maybe Kevin Garnett will not want to risk further injuring himself in the All-Star exhibition and sit out, thus opening the door for Josh Smith to show his stuff.
Whatever happens, just know that itâ€™s a game we put too much thought into. We should be much more concerned with the All-NBA teams and the All-Defensive teams at the end of the season. This game is about fun and it will be fun for the most part. The pace will be fast, the shots will be plentiful and weâ€™re all going to get to see some amazing feats of basketball.
Itâ€™s not about who the best is. Itâ€™s not about who the most deserving is. Itâ€™s about giving those 10-yr old fans something theyâ€™re going to remember.
Now enjoy your weekend with some Dan Majerle highlights:
But the quest for food turned into an exercise in chemistry building, as the players watched football, talked trash, played cards, and rapped about having fun on the basketball court. No coaches were present. The Knicks lost their next two games, but gained confidence after playing well against contenders Denver and Orlando.
Then they won four of their next five games, including Mondayâ€™s 93-84 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers that pushed their season-long win streak to three.
â€œIt really started in Denver,â€™â€™ said Duhon, who had a game-high 9 assists against Portland. â€œWe sat down as a team, by ourselves, and got a lot of things off our chests. We talked about what we need to do to win, about being more relaxed. It was the first time in my two years here that we did something as a team where all the players were together.â€™â€™
On December 3rd, Tom Ziller penned another of his brilliant articles complete with trademark graph providing insight to this game we all know and love. His topic? Three point shooting frequency and efficiency. A central tenant? The Knicks suck.
Since that time, they are 3-0, with wins over Atlanta and Portland.
Why do I bring this up?
Mostly to screw with Tom, since he’s only wrong about three times a year and he’s not even wrong about this, the Knicks are terrible conceptually and usually in practice, I just found this funny.
It’s hard to put a finger on what the Knicks are doing well. I mean, Larry Hughes is at least scoring more points than the number of shots he takes, which is good (at least for him, anyway), and that’s an outlier. They’re trying really hard on both sides of the ball, and that’s an outlier. Nate Robinson’s not playing, and that’s an outlier. David Lee’s really found his rhythm, and that’s nice. Al Harrington’s been a leader, that’s an outlier. And they’re shooting well from the arc (50% last night). You have to figure this will be stopping soon, but for a group of guys who everyone trashes so consistently, it’s nice to see them put things together for a few games. So, thanks, Tom!
So what does this ultimately mean? First it helps when the defense is contributing. The team has done a good job of limiting opposing shooting percentage, which was one of Dâ€™Antoniâ€™s goals at the beginning of the season. But itâ€™s important to recognize that this roster wonâ€™t ever produce good results on that end of the court. I guess the Knicks just need not to play horribly on defense to have a chance.
Mike K breaks down this little winning spurt the Knicks have gone on, breaking it down by four factors and individual impact (short answer: David Lee, Al Harrington, Larry Hughes have been great). Looking at D’Antoni’s Suns’ hey-day, it’s interesting to see their defensive numbers. They were never elite, they were just never terrible. It’s the cost of sending your guards and swingmen constanly in a sprint every time there’s a shot, as well as the frenetic pace which causes more misses. But with the system, you don’t have to be elite. You just have to not be terrible. If you can avoid being terrible, you’re going to have a good chance to win some games. Especially if you catch Atlanta feeling too good about itself and the Nets.