David Lee: 3 Defensive Issues He Needs To Fix

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Pick-and-Roll:

April 17, 2013; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) shoots over Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee (10) in the first half at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

According to mysynergysports.com, Lee allows only 0.6 points per play to roll men, 10th best in the league. However, this disguises the damaging effect of Lee’s pick-and-roll defense.

Over the last couple seasons, the Warriors have reconstructed their defense to compensate for Lee’s poor pick-and-roll defense. I covered the reconstruction of the Warriors’ pick-and-roll defense when describing how assistant coach, Mike Malone, affected the Warriors:

“To limit the damage wrought by their big men’s lack of lateral mobility, the Warriors often defend pick and rolls with the “Ice “coverage.

In Ice, the guard attempts to prevent the ball-handler from using the screen, while the big man stays below screen-level on the side to which the ball handler is being forced. Notice how Stephen Curry has jumped in front of Tony Parker to prevent him from using Tiago Splitter’s screen while Andrew Bogut stays in the paint to contain penetration. Miscommunication may lead to wide open driving lanes and more defensive pressure is placed on the guards, but Ice allows the Warriors’ big men to effectively contain pick and rolls.

Another addition to the Warriors’ pick-and-roll defense under Malone’s tenure is increased help from wing defenders.  In the image, Klay Thompson has dropped into the paint, leaving his man in the corner open, in an attempt to contain Splitter’s role. This strategy has been effective in limiting the productivity of opposing roll men.  According to mysynergysports.com, the Warriors allowed only 0.9 points per play to role men, the second-best rate in the league.

The results of this strategy are entirely beneficial.  The commitment to shutting down role men often leaves opposing shooters open in the corners. Imagine Parker driving a few steps towards the left elbow, forcing Bogut to commit to containing him. Parker could then pass to a rolling Splitter. Thompson would attempt to deny Splitter’s path to the basket, and Kawhi Leonard would likely be wide open in the corner. That and similar scenarios play out several times per game versus the Warriors, who surrendered the most three-point attempts and corner three point attempts per 48 minutes this season

Lee is slow laterally and practically immobile when changing direction. He often struggles to contain ball handlers in “Ice” coverage, a strategy used to limit his weaknesses, and is slow to recover to his man, forcing the Warriors to compensate by having help defenders rotate down to the roll man.

Though a lack of athleticism may be the root of his defensive issues, much of Lee’s defensive futility is generated by poor positioning, footwork and awareness. It may be unlikely that any significant changes occur at this point in his career, but even minor improvements to the non-athleticism based components of defense will increase Lee’s value to the Warriors.

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