Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Farewell to David Lee

It's been almost a week since the Knicks have sent David Lee packing for Golden State, and he never got his proper send off.

David Lee was drafted by the Knicks in 2005 out of the University of Florida. Being a reserve for his first few seasons, Lee became a starter and solid contributor once Mike D'antoni arrived on scene as the Knicks head coach in 2008. He had breakout seasons in 2008-09, and 2009-10 where he averaged a double-double.

Last season he became the first Knick since Patrick Ewing to average 20 points and 12 rebounds per contest. He was also awarded a spot on the East All-Stars, a feat that had not been accomplished by a Knick since 2001.

David Lee was not chased out of town but he was not welcomed back. During the signing of Amar'e Stoudemire, and the failed courting of LeBron James, Lee was lost in the shuffle and tossed to the curb like an afterthought.

The Knicks are a better team now than they were two weeks ago, but Lee, playing as an undersized center, held his own these past two years.

A fan favorite, Lee was a player who improved his game week-to-week. His range improved dramatically in 2009-10 and became a quandary to defend. Players who sagged off him paid the price with 15-18 foot jump shots. Those who played him tight were drove past with an array of scoops, finger rolls, and jump hooks.

Lee's game in the post was also high quality. His face up game from eight to ten feet out was deadly. Lee had an array of weapons including a smooth touch for baby jump shots, and the ability to drive middle with a quick first step. His ability to finish with both hands was also uncanny.

Lee thrived in D'antoni's pick and roll system. He became more adept as time wore on. Lee would often slip the defender with a decoy screen leaving him in a position to seal or catch a lob pass for an easy lay-in.

The high screen and roll also gave the opportunity for Lee to distribute. Catching the ball 18 feet beyond the basket, Lee would often hit cutters with point guard like precision bounce passes. His passing is one of his most underrated parts of his game as he is probably the best passing big man in the NBA.

His defense was his biggest criticism and the key reason why the Knicks did not pursue him more. Lee's natural position is a power forward but because of an undersized Knicks lineup, Lee was forced to play center. Lee was an average on-ball defender but was terrible in his rotations. Not only was he not a threat to challenge shots but he would often shy away from even stepping in the lane to disrupt the offense.

There were even instances where he would literally not move and allow players to get the hoop for unchallenged finishes. Had it not been for this aspect of his game, the Knicks might have been planning their free agency around him.

Despite this, Lee is still the best Knicks player of the last five years. It's sad to see a young star like Lee leave. He has not yet hit his full potential. If he works hard, and improves his defense, Lee could be a top five power forward. His scoring is certainly good enough.

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