At first glance, David Lee appears to be a player in rapid decline. Last season was his worst since his rookie year in terms of points, rebounds, and minutes. An early injury cost him his starting spot, and the emergence of Draymond Green kept him on the bench. With one year left on his contract the Warriors dumped him to save money. But it's not time to write him off just yet. David Lee can still play basketball at a high level, and the Celtics will benefit from it this season.
Inside scoring is the most obvious skill he brings to the table. Per Basketball Reference, Lee made 69% of his shots within 3 feet of the basket last year. This is an excellent number, and the second highest of his career. Lee won't overpower most opponents with his size, but he has nice touch around the basket. He can finish with both hands, and absorb contact. He can put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop too, especially if has some space. This makes him a nice pick and roll option. The combination of Lee and Isaiah Thomas could lead to some good scoring opportunities this season.
He can shoot a bit from midrange, but he's been moving away from those shots over the last few years. His numbers really dropped off in 2015, so that trend might be for the best. The Celtics have plenty of shooting big men as is, so they could use a forward that stays closer to the paint.
The other prominent feature of his game is rebounding. Although his per game numbers went down last season, his per 36 minutes numbers stayed consistent with his past years in Golden State. Lee actually would have been one of Boston's best rebounders in 2015. His Rebound % numbers were dead even with Jared Sullinger, the top rebounder for the Celtics. Boston was just average last year in rebounding, so the addition of Lee will help. A few extra possessions here and there from offensive boards can add up over the course of a season.
He's competent playmaker too. Lee's passing ability is often forgotten due to his scoring and rebounding numbers. But, he can make some quick decisions that will fit right in with Brad Stevens' offense. Out of the pick and roll, Lee has the vision to make some crafty plays.
This play against Memphis is an example of that. He receives the pass from Curry and whips the ball over to Iguodala in the corner for a three. Now, Steph Curry has a lot to with this. The defensive attention he draws creates more space for everyone. But Lee's decision making shouldn't be overlooked here. Lee doesn't force a shot or turn it over. He takes advantage of a defense that's stretched out of position, and it results in a wide open corner three.
Even outside of pick and roll sets, Lee is an effective facilitator on offense. This play is a bit of a mess, but there's something to be taken from it.
The pass isn't perfect by any means. But it's a clever one and it shows his offensive awareness. The process is the important thing to look for here. Lee sees his teammate trapped by the double team, so he cuts to space. He then delivers the pass almost immediately after catching the ball. Knowing where the open player will be is a valuable skill, especially in a motion heavy offense like Boston's. Lee can act as an outlet when the play breaks down, and start a secondary action to create a scoring chance for his team. With the defense scrambling around, Lee actually scores a nice put-back basket to finish the play. That doesn't happen without a nifty pass to keep the offense moving.
The knock on Lee has always been defense. At 32 years old, nobody is expecting a career renaissance on that end of the floor. It will be an issue for Brad Stevens, but it's not a death sentence. Boston's defense was 14th in efficiency last year with Tyler Zeller as the only semblance of rim protection. The addition of Amir Johnson will help balance out Lee's subpar abilities. Zeller and Johnson won't be able to cover up for him like Andrew Bogut did, but Boston's defense should be able to survive with Lee on the floor.
If David Lee can play at the level he did last year, then his impact on offense will outweigh the negatives on defense. He can be a steadying presence for a team that lacked a consistent scoring threat at times last season. He might even impart some veteran wisdom on the team. Maybe he convinces Kelly Olynyk to cut down on those increasingly infuriating pump fakes, or inspires Marcus Smart to drive the basket more. Worst case scenario everyone gets Chipotle. Considering they acquired him for basically nothing (sorry Gerald Wallace), that's a pretty solid deal.