I’m going to interrupt my “Looking Forward” series today with a quick post on a free agent stuck in limbo, David Lee. Why am I doing this? To be completely honest, it’s because of this three-man podcast featuring ESPN’s Bill Simmons, Ric Bucher, and Marc Stein. As I listened to Simmons and Bucher go back and forth about Lee, I found myself getting angry. Not just a little angry; I wanted to scream. Instead of waking the neighbours, I went online and sent a friend a few IM’s with the liberal use of caps-lock. Then, I calmed down and decided to write about it here in more detail.
In the podcast, Bucher claims that he doesn’t want bloggers to say that he’s “killing” David Lee. He says that he loves David Lee’s energy, but he can’t be a starting 4 on a championship team unless the other four players are All-Stars. Bucher says that Simmons’s claim that he’s better than Shawn Marion is ridiculous and thinks that giving him more than the mid-level exception is a mistake.
Well, the last thing I want is to be seen as “killing” Ric Bucher. I respect his ability to get scoops on NBA transactions and I generally like to hear his opinions. I often agree with him. In this case, though, he is frustratingly wrong. Simmons’s main point, when discussing Lee, is that the guy has proven to be an elite rebounder in the NBA and should be compensated for it. Lee is more than just an energy guy; he’s a guy you can count on to get you a double-double every night. Bucher argues that Lee’s rebounding statistics are deceiving, as he plays at a fast pace on an inefficient team in New York and thus there are more rebounds available to him than to other players. He argues that if you rely on statistics here, you miss the point because the stats are inflated in New York’s system. The problem with this is that it shows an ignorance of or lack of respect for advanced stats.
As I am going to do often on this site, I’m now going to direct you to David Lee’s basketball-reference page. What do you see there? Well, first of all, David Lee is the illest. Second of all, David Lee boasts well above-average per-36 and advanced statistics. He has been remarkably consistent throughout his career, shooting a high percentage and dominating the defensive boards. Take a look at David Lee’s PER, which accounts for minutes played and pace. Lee’s PER was 20 in 2006-2007 ,18 in 2007-2008, and 19 in 2008-2009. Next, have a look at his rebounding percentages. The man grabbed 28% of available defensive rebounds when he was on the court last season. This was good for 5th in the entire league. If you use defensive rebounds per game, he was 3rd in the league. So, if you want to be technical about it, his stats were inflated. He’s only the 5th best defensive rebounder in the NBA, not the 3rd.
If you ask me, a guy who is amongst the best of the best in the NBA on the defensive glass is worth more than the mid-level exception, especially when the guy also scores efficiently and has a sweet jumper that extends out to 16-18 feet. Have I mentioned yet that he’s only 26 years old and any long-term deal now would secure him for the duration of his prime? It irks me that he’s still out there on the free-agent market, being hurt by his restricted free-agent status and the fact that people buy into this “inflated statistics” nonsense. It seems likely now that he will return to the Knicks on a one-year contract and hope to get his big payday next summer. I hope that by then he will have shed his undeserved “system guy” reputation.