David Lee was electric all season for the Golden State Warriors, anchoring their offense in the paint and down low. He led the league in double-doubles, displayed a lethal short-range jumper and kept the Warriors’ offense in tact.
Maybe most importantly, however, Le became the Warriors’ first All-Star selection since Latrell Sprewell over a decade ago (though many of us feel Stephen Curry was snubbed). It seemed like a catastrophe when he went down with a hip flexor injury early in the first round. Some might have been ready to say the Dubs’ hopes of beating the Denver Nuggets were dead. But despite that major setback, they went on to win that round in six games and stay competitive with the San Antonio Spurs until the very end.
Lee also displayed exemplary toughness, returning to the lineup within the same round for minor minutes after being thought to be done until next season. The point remains, though, that the team did survive and play well without him. Not to mention his defense…but we’ll get to that. Those two things have landed him and his lucrative contract (through 2015-16) on the trade block.
One player that’s been thrown into the discussion for a Lee trade is the Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge. Occasionally called another All-Star snub in his own right, Aldridge has anchored a Trailblazers team that has been mired in mediocrity for a while now despite the Rookie of the Year in Damian Lillard. He reportedly wants out. So, is Golden State the place for him, and could David Lee end up wearing red and black next year? Maybe.
Let’s first compare and contrast them by the numbers:
LaMarcus Aldridge is seven years into his NBA career at 27 years old. He stands 6’11″ and weighs 240 pounds, a solid build and great height for a power forward who occasionally plays a flex center.
In his 2012-13 campaign, Aldridge averaged 21.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 2.6 assists per game. He turned the ball over 1.9 per game. To add to that, he shot 48.4 percent from the field and 81.0 percent from the free-throw line.
Over the entire year, he scored a total of 1,560 points for Portland. All this is good for a season Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 20.4, well beyond respectable. His contract currently goes through the 2014-15 season, worth $14.1 million this coming year and $15.3 million the one after, with $500,000 bonus opportunities for each year.
Lee is, by comparison, 30 years of age, eight years into his NBA career. He’s 6’9″ and also weighs 240 pounds. He’s well-built but not as tall.
Unfortunately, those two inches make him pretty much unable to play well in a center role. In 2012-13, he averaged 18.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, .3 blocks and 3.5 assists per game. He averaged 2.6 turnovers per game as well. He did all this while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 79.7 percent from the charity stripe. All this is good for a PER of 19.2, also quite good.
Lee’s contract is one year longer than Aldridge’s, going through to the end of the 2015-16 season. t’s worth $13.9 million this coming year, $15 million the next and $15.5 million the season after that, with no incentives.
So, let’s summarize those numbers against each other real quick:
Size: Advantage- Aldridge: He’s the same weight but two inches taller, allowing center play.
PPG: Advantage-Aldridge: He scores about three more points per game
REB: Advantage-Lee: Half why he was a double-double machine–a good rebounder–ripped down about two more per game.
AST: Advantage-Lee: A number of times, he showed exemplary passing skills, good for about one more per game.
BLK: Advantage-Aldridge: It’s partly due to height, but Aldridge averaged 1.2 blocks per game to Lee’s .3 per game.
FG%: Advantage-Lee: He shot a very nice 51.9 percent from the field to Aldridge’s 48.4 percent.
FT%: Advantage-Aldridge: He shot 81.0 percent to Lee’s 79.7 percent. Both excellent for big men.
TOV: Advantage-Aldridge: He lost the ball to the other team almost one less time a game, 1.9 to 2.6.
PER (Overall Efficiency): Advantage-Aldridge: 20.4 versus 19.2
Comparable salaries, minor differences in statistics (though there are definite edges to each player)…what’s the major difference here? Why should the trade even be considered? Contract length for one. Lee’s contract is one of the longest on the books for the Warriors, and a two-year deal might be preferred (and having bonus/incentive clauses is music to a front offices’ ears). But that’s a relatively minor issue.
The big thing between these two? If you read Grantland’s Warriors material or read up on Lee in general, you saw this one coming.
I’m not talking the difference in blocks, because that’s relatively small. I’m talking the difference in general interior defense. Lee commits cardinal sins of big man defense fairly regularly, including turning his body the wrong way towards his opponent heading towards the paint, allowing good looks. As efficient as he is offensively, he’s not just a mediocre or poor defender. He’s a defensive liability. Don’t believe me? Check out this graphic:
In case you missed that, David Lee allows an average opposing field goal percentage of 61 percent pretty much everywhere in the paint. Not good. When a player is used as a benchmark for poor interior defense, something is wrong. Aldridge, though he wasn’t measured in the study that produced this chart, is a far better interior defender. This all isn’t to disparage Lee. It’s just a glaring hole in his game, which doesn’t help when he plays for a team that already has defensive deficiencies.
So without further ado, it’s time to revisit the title. The grand question. Should this quite plausible trade be attempted or at least considered by the Warriors?
I believe so.
Golden State could essentially swap a gaping hole in their paint defense for a player who is taller, can back up center in small minutes (given the free-agency issues in losing Carl Landry), is younger with almost the same amount of experience and all without taking much of an offensive hit.