How Important Is David Lee for the Warriors Moving Forward in the NBA Finals?
Not long ago, David Lee was one of the NBA's most consistent two-stat players, racking up points and rebounds at the power forward position.
In four of the five seasons spanning from 2008-09 to 2012-13, Lee finished top seven in the league in rebounds per game and boasts a 9.5 boards per game average.
But this year, Lee mustered just 18.4 minutes per game in 49 contests after averaging 35.9 minutes in the past six seasons.
With offensive issues in Game 3, the Golden State Warriors turned to Lee, who saw Finals action for the first time. He racked up 11 points in 13 minutes on 4-of-4 shooting from the field and posted a plus/minus of plus-13.
Steve Kerr, Golden State's head coach, plans on giving Lee more run in Game 4 and the rest of the Finals.
How has Lee impacted Golden State this season? And how has his on-court presence affected the rest of the starting five?
The Warriors played the majority of their possessions without Lee, of course, but they did play 1,997 possessions with him this year (compared to 7,785 without him), according to NBAwowy.com.
Here are the splits in each situation.
Without Lee, the Warriors scored 1.119 points per possession, which was nearly their mark on the whole season (1.116). That Offensive Rating (multiplying their points per possession by 100) of 111.9 -- coincidentally Golden State's Offensive Rating when Matthew Dellavedova has been on the bench this series -- would have ranked them second in the NBA behind the Los Angeles Clippers (112.4). At 108.4, they'd have still ranked eighth.
The team also shot the ball better in terms of Effective Field Goal Percentage without Lee -- despite a slightly worse three-point percentage.
Over the large sample, the Warriors' offense fared just fine without Lee, but given his reputation on defense, did their marks slip with him on the floor?
Yep. The Warriors led the NBA in Defensive Rating (101.4) this year, and without Lee, their 100.2 points allowed per 100 possessions would have just widened the gap they had over the rest of the league. Their with-Lee Defensive Rating of 106.2 would have landed on the wrong side of the league average (105.6) and tied with the Phoenix Suns for 17th in the league.
So, offensively and defensively, the team was actually better over the larger sample without Lee, but did individual players see upticks with Lee?
Stephen Curry - Curry played 840 possessions with Lee this year through and including the Finals (and 5,960) without him, but there are some modest improvements during the smaller sample with Lee.
Curry had a high usage rate regardless of Lee's presence, which is totally understandable. He did have a little more success shooting the ball with Lee on the court, but Curry was still pretty dang good either way.
Klay Thompson - More of the same is true for Thompson, but the jump in points per possession was greater for him.
We could analyze this more closely, but the next player in the Warriors' hierarchy has some more interesting splits.
Draymond Green - Green has been struggling pretty noticeably on offense in the Finals, but he -- unlike Curry and Thompson -- was better without Lee on the floor this year.
Green played just 486 possessions with Lee this year, so it's hard to know whether his dip in Effective Field Goal Percentage would continue over a large sample. Then again, three games into the Finals, large samples are out the window.
It's not even that Green attempts more above-the-break threes (only 8.5 percent of his threes this year were corner attempts according to Basketball Reference). Green shot 39.9 percent of his total attempts from above the break without Lee and 41.5 percent with him. His three-point field goal percentage, though, was just 25.7 percent with Lee and 32.6 precent without him.
The Warriors were a great team with Lee on the floor, based on the smallish sample from this season, but they were even better without him. That isn't to suggest that giving him more minutes isn't a viable option because he'll inherently shift Cleveland's defensive approach.
Both Curry and Thompson shouldn't see much of a change in numbers, but examining how more burn for Lee will affect the reeling Draymond Green could be the biggest storyline of Game 4.
Of course, Dellavedova has shown us that improved team play can come from unlikely candidates. Maybe Lee, who constantly flirted with double-double seasons for eight years prior to this one, will offer Golden State enough to steal Game 4 in Cleveland and take back homecourt advantage.