Last year was mostly a lost season for David Lee but he's only two years removed from being an All Star. Before Draymond Green burst onto the scene Lee was expected to be the starting power forward for the eventual Champion Golden State Warriors. A hamstring injury to Lee in preseason allowed Green to "Wally Pip" him to the bench and the rest is history.
Still, it is fair for fans like us to wonder if the guy can still play after spending most of the year as a DNP-CD. It is fair to wonder if the "modern NBA" has passed by guys like David Lee.
But don't forget that the Warriors did call upon him during the Finals and Lee was able to step up and contribute on the biggest stage in the sport just a few months ago.
Lee stepped into the NBA Finals in search of being a spark for his team. He had an immediate impact, scoring 11 points on 4-of-4 from the field, helping lead a comeback that was nearly completed in the final minute, and even assisting for five more points. His number was called and he stepped up, just like he was expected to do.
"We've talked all season about this," Lee told reporters after the game. "My job as a pro is to be ready. I have confidence in myself. My teammates have confidence in me, and my job is to be ready when my number's called."
Barring any trades, the Celtics are going to have a very crowded bench. A lot of guys that can play are going to be caught in a numbers game. Brad Stevens is either going to have to pick 9 or 10 guys that he feels most comfortable with or find a way to rotate the rotation (going with different guys on certain nights for matchup reasons). Either way guys are going to play less then they normally would and certainly less than they'd want.
In David Lee we'll have a walking, talking example of a guy that played things exactly the right way and reaped the benefits of that attitude. He didn't just spit out platitudes about putting the team first, he walked the walk and cheered on his mates right on through the Championship parade.
He wasn't just an overpaid cheerleader though. He kept himself ready to step in when he was needed. For that reason, I can see him coming into camp with a eagerness to get back to proving he can be a difference maker on the floor. And yes, the guy can still play.
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.
Lee is also an excellent rebounder and an underrated passer for his position. He's famously limited on defense and that's always going to be a concern - in particular on a team that didn't exactly lock down the paint last season. However, the hope is that Amir can cover up some of his shortcomings and Lee's offensive contributions can outweigh the rest.
David Lee (for the most part) didn't fit the style of play that was most effective for the Golden State Warriors, but that was a unique situation with a very unique cast of characters. There's still a place in this league for guys that can score and rebound in the paint. Lee is just another weapon for Brad Stevens to weave into his system and I'm pretty confident that he'll utilize him effectively.
From an asset perspective, the Celtics traded a good locker room guy who could no longer play (Wallace) for a good locker room guy that can still play (Lee). He has just one year left on his contract so the team maintains the flexibility to keep him, trade him, or let him walk if they need the cap space next year.
When camp opens, David will be the only player in Waltham that can flash a Championship ring and talk about his experiences as an NBA All Star. He might end up being a starter and one of the better players on the team as well.
David Lee is still a talented NBA player and I think he's going to make a big impact on this team.