Last season, under former Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson, David Lee averaged 33 minutes per game and started 67 of the 69 contests he appeared in. However, this year he fell out of new coach Steve Kerr’s rotation, and there was constant speculation he’d eventually be traded.
Instead, the Warriors decided to pay Lee $US15 million to sit on the bench. Lee saw only limited action in the first three rounds of the playoffs and even received the dreaded “DNP (Did Not Play) – COACH’S DECISION” in games one and two of the Finals.
Now, after a spectacular Game 3 performance which saw Lee record 11 points on a perfect 4-4 from the the field in just 13 minutes to nearly steal the win from the Cavaliers, the decision to keep Lee looks like it’s paying off.
“We’ve talked all season about this — my job as a pro is to be ready,” Lee said after the Warriors’ failed comeback resulted in disappointing in a 96-91 loss. “I have confidence in myself. My teammates have confidence in me, and my job is to be ready when my number’s called.”
Lee’s number has rarely been called this postseason. Heading into Game 3, Kerr benched Lee in four of the Warriors’ previous seven games, dating back to the start of the Western Conference Finals. The number of minutes Lee played when he did enter the game? Four, five, and three.
Lee’s initial fallout from the rotation began after he suffered injuries to his hamstring and leg early on in the season. During his absence Draymond Green played so admirably that Kerr and the rest of the coaching staff decided he should remain in the starting lineup even after Lee returned. Over time Lee’s minutes continued to dwindle to the point where he eventually fell out of the rotation completely.
Kerr explained the “tricky” situation to NBC back in March after Lee went another game with zero minutes of playing time:
“David’s a great player. He’s been an All-Star. He’s still in his prime. …What’s been tricky is that we’ve developed a formula while he was out that has been very effective for us. And you compound that with the fact that the whole league is going small at the 4-position and every night you’re playing a 3-point shooter at the 4 spot. We’ve adapted to that. We’ve adapted to our early-season lineups. Draymond has obviously grabbed that position. So it’s tricky.”
However, after Green got into early foul trouble in Game 3, and Kerr still refusing to play Marreese Speights after his ridiculous failed dunk attempt in Game 2, Lee saw his first extended action since the Conference Semifinals against the Grizzlies. He went on to record the highest plus minus out of any player on the court with a +17.
Lee’s stellar play, albeit in a losing effort, earned him the praise of his fellow teammates and plenty of speculation that he will have a more prominent roll moving forward in this series.
“I think we found something there with David Lee that’s working for us,” Andre Iguodala told Pro Basketball Talk after the game. “So he’s going to get some more minutes, I would like to think, going forward, and then other guys will see how effective he is and they will do the same. So we’ll have a steady diet of something we found that can work throughout the rest of the series.”
“I mean, [Lee’s] a play-maker,” Stephen Curry told Yahoo Sports. “It was great to see him out there, playing the minutes that he did, and giving us a big spark, especially in that fourth quarter … So I assume he’ll have a huge role in our play going forward.”
The Warriors will now count on their former $US15 million bench warmer to avoid a 3-1 deficit. Game 4 is Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.
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