Throughout this summer’s offseason, the Golden State Warriors have inconsistently been shopping their All-Star forward David Lee. Last season, Lee had a tremendous season, averaging 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game and leading the league in double-doubles.
With that portfolio, it may be hard to understand why the Warriors would shop a gifted player like Lee. But there are many factors that have unraveled to show that the Warriors can have a future without him.
First, Lee is coming off a torn hip flexor injury that may hinder his athleticism. One of his priorities on the floor is to gobble up rebounds. However, with an injury to the hip, his vertical explosiveness will be affected and he may not be as great of a rebounder.
With the injury to Lee coming in the first game of the postseason, the Warriors were forced to play without him for the majority of the playoffs. Coach Mark Jackson shifted to a smaller lineup by moving Harrison Barnes to the four slot. Barnes flourished in his new role and improved his numbers in all categories. He was a key contributor to the Warriors’ run through the playoffs.
The biggest problem of keeping Lee on the Golden State roster is his heavy contract, which has him due roughly an average of $14 million per year over the next three seasons. The investment in Lee may not be financially the best of interest for the Warriors, or is it?
If $14 million is too much to invest in a player of Lee’s magnitude, then owner Joe Lacob must be out of his mind. Entering his prime, Lee’s best basketball has yet to be seen. Although he is coming off a serious injury, he played decent in the playoffs with his limited athletic ability.
We know how dominant Lee can be by observing his numbers that he produces. So disregarding his stats, the influences and intangibles of keeping the Florida alumnus are what are important to keeping him around a young Golden State roster.
By acquiring Andre Iguodala in the offseason and Barnes’ outing in the playoffs, the Warriors may be sold on the idea of keeping Barnes at power forward for the future. He has the size and strength to keep up with the top forwards of the league, but also the athleticism to give him an advantage.
However, there is a downside to playing Barnes at power forward. His post-up game is subpar and would give the Warriors a lack of variety in scoring the ball.
In the playoffs, Barnes was often matched up with players much smaller than him like Tony Parker and Ty Lawson. Although he did score a lot on those matchups, he did not score at an efficient rate. For example, in Game 4 of the series with San Antonio, Barnes exploded for 26 points but shot 9-of-26 from the field. For the majority of that game, he saw a smaller Parker but was unable to take full advantage of that match-up.
Where does Lee come into the picture with Barnes being the future power forward?
In today’s game, the top forwards of the NBA, in no particular order, are Tim Duncan, Kevin Love, Lamarcus Aldridge and David Lee. All of these top forwards have established a consistent and threatening post game.
To be a top power forward, Barnes would need to improve on being an option in the post. Learning from a mentor and leader like Lee would have a positive impact on Barnes’ growth. Lee’s devotion toward progress is what makes him a great leader on and off the court.
Aside from the scoring and rebounding, leadership is the biggest asset that Lee offers. Many people observed the success of the Warriors in the playoffs without Lee, but there is a question that should be asked: how much further could the Warriors have gone with a healthy Lee?
The infamous story of the Warriors’ playoff run was Game 1 against the Spurs that resulted in a two-point loss in double overtime. Analysts dubbed it as one of the greatest playoff games ever, but in the eyes of the Warriors, it was a debacle.
Golden State was in command throughout the game and had a 16-point lead with four minutes remaining in the game. However, they were unable to capitalize and ultimately lost the game. The lack of leadership and youth are what prevented a crucial win in a series that could have gone either way.
The presence of having Lee on the floor brings more than just points and rebounds. He is a player who would have played his hardest to the last minute. His devotion to winning would have influenced other players to not get comfortable with the double-digit lead.
The value of Lee is more than the numbers. He nearly sacrificed his body to contribute to the playoff run. Though he is a terrific basketball player, his leadership and character is what makes it worth the $14 million invested in him.