In over 40 games this season, only two players in the NBA are scoring more than five points per game, grabbing over five rebounds, collecting over one assist and playing less than 18 minutes per game – 26-year old Kyle O’Quinn of the New York Knicks and 33-year old David Lee of the San Antonio Spurs.
For the Spurs and Knicks, both players are on bargain contracts in today’s NBA, as they’re both making less than $4 million this season. Considering Lee’s age and how much older he is than O’Quinn, he’s putting up 6.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 17.8 minutes per game, all while on a veteran minimum contract.
With the Spurs shipping Boris Diaw to the Utah Jazz in the offseason, Lee has filled the backup 4 spot quite nicely for the Spurs, as he’s been able to remain relatively healthy in playing in 42 of the Spurs’ 43 games this season. Lee also gives the Spurs another option in the starting lineup on night’s when either Pau Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge has to miss a game, as he continues to bring the same energy, rebounding, screening, and passing skills to the starting unit just like he would with the Spurs’ second unit.
When you really take Lee’s passing skill set and put it under a microscope, you’ll discover that Lee’s got all sorts of ways to get the ball to his teammates. Whether it’s running a fast break like a guard, or passing out of the high, low post, or elbow, Lee has found different ways to feed different teammates midway through the season, as he’s the Spurs’ 8th playmaker on the roster, with a usage percentage of 15.9%.
Some of the passes Lee can make might be considered quite difficult for some big men, but, as you’ll see, for Lee, he’s almost like a soccer player on the floor, as he’s got a natural instinct in seeing the next pass to the open man before he’s even received the ball in his hands. Let’s go through some of the passes Lee has in his arsenal.
Pass to cutter out of Pick & Roll
In the basic pick & roll, the big man as the roll man sets the pick, rolls to the rim and the guard usually finds him along the way. At this point, the big man will seek to score, but when the defense collapses and closes the paint, some bigs might freeze with the ball and get stuck, which puts the offense in a bind. Not Lee, he’s a big who is very comfortable passing on the roll, as he can find cutters near the rim for easy layups or dunk, just like the video below shows.
Pass to shooter out of Pick & Roll
Now, with the same action, Lee shows he can also make a pass that’s even more difficult for most bigs – finding shooters in the corners or around the perimeter. Take a look at the video clip below, where Lee shows his high basketball IQ in knowing where the Spurs’ shooters are spaced out on the floor before he even receives the ball.
Pass to shooter/cutter out of post
So, with Lee being able to comfortably pass in the pick & roll in full motion, passing out of the post is almost even easier for him. Because defenses know he’s not likely to shoot out of the face-up position within the post, Lee can observe what’s going on around him and find the wide open man for a shot or layup.
Pass to backdoor cutter
Lastly, and this is a very frequent type of pass Lee can make, is the pass to backdoor cutters. While I only included a few clips of Lee completing this type of pass, it’s one that he’s made quite often with different teammates on the Spurs, and especially Patty Mills. Lee can make the backdoor cuts from any angle on the floor – the post, above the arc or elbow.
Because Lee doesn’t take many threes or mid-range jumpers, defenders will usually back off of him to try to stay near the rim. While this cramps the spacing for the Spurs’ offense at times, Lee can take advantage of the defense giving him space to look around the floor and find players cutting in motion for easier shots. Another underrated way Lee gets his teammates quality open shots is with his physical screening setting ability whether on or off the ball, and with his effective dribble hand-off passes too.
In losing Diaw during the summer, the Spurs’ bench could have taken a real hit if the player who replaced his role didn’t have some of the qualities and skills Lee has in his game. But, for the Spurs, they were fortunate enough to not only get a player in Lee who has fit in seamlessly, but he’s playing even beyond that with the efficient productivity in his minutes on the floor.