Wednesday, December 31, 2008

David Lee: Blue-Collar Baller

Our extraordinarily large fan base requested a biography/piece about this man (what's up, baconator?), so here it is. Another one of those serious write-ups. Again, if anybody has any requests, I would more than love for you to tell me. In fact, I need them in order to keep writing serious stuff, so they would actually be much appreciated. And, on this post, please pardon the pretty terrible title.

By Moose

An ugly, somewhat desperate two-handed layup is hurled up into the air below the basket, seemingly a shot, although barely more than a prayer to fall into the donut hole that most call the hoop. The basketball harmlessly bounces off of the backboard and starts on a downward trajectory to the ground, leaving the four determined players underneath the hoop to compete for the ball, jumping, elbowing, clawing and reaching for the brown orb.

The original shooter of the ball is the only blue-and-orange uniform in the mosh pit, clawing for the ball while getting elbows to the face and getting kicks in the shins. He comes up with the ball, putting up another layup, recovering from his own fault while the rest of his slightly lazy team awaits the opponent to come up with the defensive rebound on the other side of the floor.

The ball falls in the net, and David Lee hustles down the court to join his own lackadaisical teammates' defense, and he receives a high five offer from point guard Chris Duhon, which he takes, slapping Duhon's outstretched hand as he goes to his position, waiting for the opposing team's post player to join him on the block for the half-court play.

The crowd roars as the PA announcer at the Madison Square Garden proclaims that Lee had the basket, and he tries to suppress a smile as the opposing point guard starts to bring the ball up the floor. TV colormen, radio announcers and fans alike turn to the person next to them to rave about Lee's play, all happy about his latest deed. It may be scrappy, it may be slightly ugly, but this is the game of the (slightly) undersized, underrated, undervalued, and underwhelmed (playing for the Knicks) forward, and it works out pretty well for him.

David Lee was born on April 29, 1983, in St. Louis, Missouri. His main focus in the sports environment for a good deal of his younger years was tennis, which he played until he was 12 years old. After switching to basketball, he attended Chaminade Prep in St. Louis while he played AAU hoops on the same team as the slightly more hyped Larry Hughes, a fellow Missouri native. He entered as a high school freshman at 6'2", and between 9th and 10th grade, Lee met fate.

There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the slightly mysterious word and concept that is "fate". The actual definition of this distinguished word is, "destiny: the ultimate agency regarded as predetermining the course of events." Many people reject this belief, refusing to believe what it implies, these people like to think that they have control over their own affairs (Myself included.-Ed.). These people have their opinion, though many others believe in fate as a religion, what they are meant to do, what is meant to happen to them, and that they have no control over it.

Something makes me think that David Lee believes in this abstract and divine concept. Lee grew from the slightly scrawny (by NBA standards) 6'2" to 6'9", and into the build of a prototype power forward between his freshman and sophomore year. Not a bad summer; having grown like bamboo in the thick of the Chinese forests. Many question whether or not this luck was controlled by fate itself, but it undoubtedly helped David for the better. Not fazed by the growth spurt by coordination loss, it looked like Lee was set to dominate in his sophomore year at Chaminade.

When, (perhaps) fate struck again.

During his 10th grade year in high school Lee broke his left arm, and, being a natural left-hander, be it writing or playing sports, it looked like it would be a definite hindrance to David's game. Determined to not have it set him back, he started dribbling and shooting with his right hand, doing everything with his non-dominant in order for him to develop the strength in that arm to be able to play with it as comfortably as he would with his left. He worked on it to the point of ambidexterity, and it became an asset for the rest of his athletics-playing life.

Lee cruised through high school, shining most brightly as a senior at Chaminade Prep. He was selected to play in the 2001 McDonald's All-American game as a senior, also being named as a Second Team Sporting News All-American. As part of the Mickey D's festivities, the dunk contest was participated in- and won by- David Lee, sporting a few trick dunks that didn't fail to impress (Video here: sorry Hursty, Hodge gets owned). After being part of the National Honor society as a junior and senior, Lee chose to attend the University of Florida, and he traveled to Gainesville to play under coach Billy Donovan.

David Lee started out off the bench with a respectable freshman outing as a Gator, averaging 7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1 assist, 0.7 blocks and 0.6 steals per game while being restricted to a slightly diminutive 18 minutes per game, although it was on par with most unproven freshmen. He maintained an above-average field goal percentage, shooting 54.9 percent from the field over the 31 games of the season. But, interestingly, his free throw percentage was lower than his shots from the field average, at a horrid 54.9, definitely a place for improvement. Because of his efforts, Lee was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team by the coaches.

Coming in for the 2002-03 season, David was expected to pick up significantly more minutes than he did in his freshman campaign with a starting job, and he got what he deserved with an increased 26.2 minutes per game. With more minutes Lee was more effective, and it allowed him to get into his own little herky-jerky groove, averaging 11.2 points, 6.8 boards, 1.8 assists, 1.5 blocks and 0.7 steals per game over the 33 game season. He led the team in rebounding and field goal percentage with a borderline-ridiculous 64.8 percent, as he was to do for the whole of his career at Florida. His free throw percentage also improved somewhat dramatically at 62.4 percent.

With expectations that he could live up to his soph year coming into the 2003-04 season as a junior, he delivered as he once again got more minutes than the year before. Lee averaged 13.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.5 blocks per game, finding improvement in every category barring blocks and rebounds (which he matched). Again, his free throw percentage climbed to 77.2 percent, and he also shot 58.8 from the field for the season while he averaged 27.5 minutes per contest in 31 games.

He was recognized for his consistent play, being named to the All-SEC Second Team by the coaches and All-SEC Third Team by the coaches. Like the year before his Junior outing, he led the team in rebounding as well as field goal percentage, and he became the 7th player in Gator history to notch 1,000 points, scoring in double figures for 22 games of the 31 that he played. On December 23, 2003, Lee went 12-12 from the field against Vanderbilt, tying an SEC one-game record for most shots taken without a miss, showcasing his knack for getting the ball in the hole once again.

David Lee entered his senior year in college as the captain of the Florida team, with high expectations placed on him and his squad. This Florida team showcased a plethora of acclaimed talent, among these players Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah, Taurean Green and Al Horford, and they were immediately labeled as a potential powerhouse. The whole team delivered pretty well, going 24-8 in regular season play while maintaining a 12-4 record against the conference. Florida won the SEC for the first time, en route to matching up with Ohio University in the first round and barely getting by with a 67-62 victory. Florida then met Villanova in the second round, losing to the eventual Sweet Sixteen Wildcats.

Despite the tournament woes for the Gators, David Lee capped off his career at Florida in great fashion. Lee averaged 13.6 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 blocks and 1.1 steals per game in his senior campaign, as well as shooting 52.5 from the field in 28.0 minutes per contest over a span of 32 games. He was awarded All-SEC Second Team honors as well as All-SEC Tournament Team honors during his last year in Gainesville. Lee led the team in rebounding as well as field goal percentage, which he led for his entire career at Florida University. He finished within the top 15 players in career scoring in Florida history with 11.3 per game, eighth in career double-doubles with 22, fifth in career field goal percentage with 58.1 percent, sixth in blocked shots with 109 and third in dunks with 157. A great career in college was bound to get him the best spot possible in the NBA even if that meant that he'd ride the bench, so he decided to declare for the 2005 NBA draft.

The New York Knicks liked what they saw in David Lee, and they saw what they would get in the NBA: A hard-working, blue collar, dive-for-the-rebound type of player that always gave 110%. In the words of Knicks' assistant coach Herb Williams, "David Lee is a worker. He's a guy you put in the game (to be) your blue collar worker. He's gonna rebound the basketball, he'll fight guys for you, he's gonna battle. He's a guy that you need on the team; you need those guys on the team who are going to fight every minute on the court." The Knicks decided that he'd be a key player in their rebuilding after a few subpar years, and they selected him with the 30th overall pick in the draft, signing him on July 1, 2005. New York was excited for Lee, but he was a hidden gem to the Knicks' fan base, with the small-yet-mighty Nate Robinson and stat-producing Channing Frye getting most of the hype from the draft on the Knicks part.

His rookie year for 2005-06, Lee came off the bench for New York, getting typical rookie minutes at 16.9 per game. He played 67 games all season, surprisingly starting 14 of them. He had a nice rookie year, posting on-par averages of 5.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists while shooting .596 from the field, while staying a semi-tragedy from behind the charity stripe, shooting .577. He had a good rookie year; he even played small forward for a short stretch of games. The Knicks did not have the same fortune as the versatile Lee did, however, going a horrid 23-59 and finishing last in the lowly Eastern Conference. With presumably increased minutes locked up for the 2006-07 season, Lee was ready to try and revive the teetering Knicks Franchise.

Lee got the increased minutes that he deserved, although he only played in 58 games, he did average 29.8 minutes per outing, starting only 12 of them. David capitalized greatly on the plethora of valuable minutes, averaging 10.7 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, winning Rookie-Sophomore game MVP honors along the way (30 points, 11 rebounds). He sprained his ankle while landing on Australian center Andrew Bogut's foot on February 23, causing him to miss about three weeks at the end of yet another rebuilding season, and he played inconsistent minutes for the rest of the season. The Knicks finished at 33-49, a large improvement on the year before yet still not enough for the playoffs, tying for 11th in the Eastern Conference. His free throw percentage increased dramatically, finishing with .815 from the line.

In the 2007-08 season, David proved that he was one of the best bench players on the subpar Knicks' team, showing that the year before wasn't a fluke. He averaged 10.8 points, 8.9 boards, 1.2 dimes and 0.7 steals per game, finding himself with career highs in games played (81), games started (29), free throw percentage (.819), blocks (.4) and points (10.8). He played with a passion that was eerily absent among his colleagues, and that showed on their final record; New York again went 23-59, remaining in the bottom half of the NBA, finishing 14th in the Eastern Conference.

For the 2008-09 season, the Knicks hired highly acclaimed coach Mike D'Antoni in hopes of reviving a franchise that has hopes of being on the rise. They traded their two best players for cap space mid-season in hopes of getting LeBron James in 2010: Out is Crawford and Randolph, and in their place they have veterans Al Harrington and Tim Thomas, lesser players, yet they bring a veteran feel to the team while keeping salary cap space open. This year, Lee is having a career season. David is starting most of the games (23 of 30 through Wednesday, Dec. 31) and he is experiencing potential career highs in many statistical categories, including points and rebounds. At the moment, Lee is averaging 14.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1 steal in 33.7 minutes while shooting 56.2 from the field.

As a player, Lee is the blue-collar tough guy who gets the dirty work done. He is very athletic, able to play from small forward to center and be effective at each position. He likes to dunk and to do so with authority as a 6'9", 240 pound athletic wonder. His ambidexterity and soft hands give him a good advantage in the post, versatile from all positions under the basket. He is a very gifted passer from the block, finding the open man and able to kick it out to the wing easily. Lee gives extra effort on each play and never takes a possession off, unlike many higher-paid players on his team. A humble player, in his own words about his hustle game, “In the end, I get a lot of loose balls and rebounds just by giving the extra effort. If you come into this league as a rookie expecting to score 20 points a game, you’re going to have a rude awakening. I have to affect the game without getting a shot. And when a scoring opportunity comes along, I can take advantage. It’s just not the first thing I look to do.”

It looks like David Lee will succeed as a steady big man for years to come. Will he get the due recognition? That is to be seen. But the deserving of it will be there perpetually for this gifted and versatile 25 year old.



Justin Walsh said...

Lengthy, but a good read. worthy of anyone's time :) good ish Moose, good ish.

Eboy said...

New Years Resolution #1: kill the word ish!!!!!!!!!!

That shit is ghey.

While I'm at it:

New Years Resolution #2: kill the word ghey, 'cause that shit is gay.

Oh, and while I'm at it,
New Years Resolution #3: kill the word swagger.

How liberating!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh yeah, pretty thorough piece on Mr. Lee, Moose. Make's me feel even worse for him being on that Knicks squad. Nice work.

Justin Walsh said...

new years resolution number 1: keep the word ish, shit is fresh.

number 2: i am all for killing ghey, but I like the word swagger quite a bit.

Moose said...

Thanks guys. New Year's Resolution #1: Prove my basketball prowess to Eboy.

Anonymous said...

Whew, I'm with Justin- that was quite the lengthy read. But I loved every minute of it. Great piece on one of the few bright spots of the Knicks. Thanks a bunch, and I'll make sure to give you a shout-out on the blog!

Eboy said...

Look Moosepump, I'm not doubting you have some basketball ability, I never do of anyone I've never seen play. And I long ago gave up trying to prove myself through words on how I play, so I get where you're coming from. But I was sought out by a few divison 1 schools to play ball coming out of high school, I have since played college ball (under different circumstances) and have about roughly 25 more years of game experience under my belt (including consistent runs over the last 12 years with NBA players- current and past), so trust me when I tell you I know what I'm talking about. And I'm not trying to be braggerish (can that word be killed too for 2009?) just putting it out there since I know you're kind of new to the SLAM world and alot of this has been gone over with some of our other SLAM fam commenters.

I would like to critique your court work, as I do with your written work, so I'll be looking forward to it, if you are able to get it together. Matter of fact, I coach dudes in your age range, so it would be similar to that.

Eboy said...

Oh and here's the SLAMOnline Dream Team (literally) just working off of what everyone has said since they been posting.

Our one is really that tall, so I'd put TADOne in that spot since he seems bulky and I know he can't handle the ball.

PF......Eboy, yes me, just call me the white Charles Barkley.

SF.....I don't many guys can be in this (Shia), Hursty (well I know he's sorry so he'd be off the bench), AR, DP, BET. I don't know, you guys can shoot it out for the spot.

SG......I don't know.....B-Long and his combover seems to think he can be KobeLite....but there was a commentor that's not around to often that says he can fill that role, Bodie-jbn274, who claims to shoot 30 footers with ease (well Shia says that too, but I saw video of him and I swear it was from the Special Olympics archive)and can take it to the rack. Whatever....they'll both choke in the clutch like the Mamba.

PG.....the only guy screaming about this spot was Jukai.....but I could only imagine how that would go, he'd be like the more annoying Stephon we could be in trouble.

Eboy said...

Actually, Tariq says he's tall, so maybe he can be the center and TAD goes to the bench like his boy Kwame.

Moose said...

You'd like to critique my court work . . . I'm interested, E. But what does that mean? How would you do that? Elaborate. And thanks, guys, for the good feedback.

Moose said...

Eboy, why don't you tell me your email address and we can communicate that way?

B. Long said...

Kobelite! I like that. But I'm too streaky jumpshooter and my game is more based off taking people off the dribble and making great passes. I played the one and two in high school and got recruited by a couple of division II and III schools to run the point. Believe it or not I had a 38 inch vertical my junior year of high school but my knees fucked up fall of my senior year and it dropped about 10 inches. Defense was always what I was best at. I'll pester somebody like Sasha. Normally I get called either Pistol or Manu at the gym. Anyways good article Moose, David Lee was a beast in high school and I still remember that All-American Dunk Contest. New sh!t on W.B.B.L.!

Hursty said...

Moose- he means by videoing yourself in a game, something like that.
Eboy- Im the starting 2 guard. No doubt about. Unlike the majority of guys online, I can actually shoot the ball and handle it. I'm 6'3 too... theres footage of me from 2005 or so on youtube when we filmed a rep game (think AAU). I played PF/C that game, and I was thin... so I got the nickname Tayshaun that year. I put on 20 pounds the next season, so that got shedded eventually.
youtube, Parramatta Wildcats vs. Norths basketball... see if you find anything. I might film myself a bit, post it on youtube/hibachi... then we could actually have a fantasy dream team for slam.

Justin Walsh said...

Folks, I am without a doubt your starting PG. I got the wet jumper, solid handle, good PG size at 6'2 205, a 6'8 wingspan, and court vision out the wazzoooo! & i played AAU ball with damion james of UT, so that gives u a range of my skill level.

Justin Walsh said...

Although truth be told my defense needs work. I'm like Jameer Nelson haha

BET said...

that ish is ghey as hell Eboy, you swagger jacker.

ryan said...

Lee is the kind of player who will have little difficulty playing well into his 30's at a high level.

Lee would fit nicely on most teams, but he'd be perfect playing next to Sheed.

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