Is David Lee the Most Underrated Player in the NBA?

In the conversation of the most effective players in the NBA, the same names come up; first the undisputed superstars in Lebron James and Kevin Durant come up, anomalies in the sport that possess the attributes that allow them to dominate virtually any position on the court. The aging stars, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwayne Wade generally get brought up, the relentless veteran quality in their game, mixed with a little nostalgia justifying their inclusion.  The dynamic youngsters, rough and raw, in Paul George, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Damien Lillard, John Wall, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Lance Stephenson and Michael Carter Williams et al are unfinished articles but can dazzle when glimpses of their future greatness shine through. Then there are the players who are pure positional men, who have perfected their skills to become the impeccable example of their place on the court; Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, Roy Hibbert, Dwight Howard, and many, many more unmentioned others. There is however a category of the so called ‘underrated’ player which occasionally doesn’t get brought into the discussion. Even when those workman-like, unfashionable players who perform an inconspicuous but vital part in every game get their due praise, Golden State’s David Lee is rarely among them. There is a strong argument to be made for Lee being the most underrated player in the league.

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Looking at the current Golden State player’s salary packages, Lee is due to make the most over the next 3-4 years. Lee will earn more than Stephen Curry, soon to be an All-Star in 2014 and more than Andre Iguodala, a USA team member and coveted free transfer acquisition for the Warriors this season. There is a reason for this. Lee, so far this season, averages a double double per game, and last season led the league in double doubles. And I don’t mean had a couple more than the guy in second place, Lee had 56 double doubles last season and was followed by Dwight Howard with 48. So far this season he is again inside the top ten for double doubles. On top of that, Lee averaged 3.5 assists last season. He is only behind Lebron James and Kevin Durant in terms of active streaks of consecutive double-digit scoring. The numbers that Lee has consistently put up places him among exalted company. But more than the numbers, it’s the way Lee goes about his business on the court that makes a bigger impression. He can finish better than anyone on the Warriors team and when the perimeter shooting upon which the Warriors rely isn’t working, the ball ends up in Lee’s hands to post up and dig them out with points in the paint. He is so often charged with steadying the ship for Golden State and when Klay Thompson is having a cold night it is an invaluable asset to have such a consistent scorer, aside from Curry, on the court. Other aspects of his game also show the strength of his mentality; he shoots over 80 per cent from the foul line (more than Thompson and Iguodala). He is ambidextrous, having been forced to learn to finish with both hands because of an injury in his youth. He averages less than 3 personal fouls a game. The only aspect of his game that is less than stellar is his defending, yet in the recent game against Portland, he successfully shut out LaMarcus Aldridge, limiting him to well under his points average this season.

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It’s strange because every telecast of a Golden State game that I’ve seen this year, Lee’s value to the team, his discreetly great numbers and his general underrated status is almost always mentioned by the commentary team. He was the Warriors first All-Star for 16 years last season, albeit as a reserve. The commentators know how good he is, the numbers back that up, yet he is still rarely brought up in the ‘effective players’ conversation, even when ‘underrated players’ as a category is. Curry and Thompson are the “splash brothers” at Golden State and certainly Lee has enough star quality to compete with at the Power Forward position in the league but even these factors withstanding, Lee deserves more recognition as a consistently effective player in the NBA.

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