Yesterday, Jay brought you an entertaining (and absolutely correct) assessment of Boston’s offseason. As a recently engaged young man myself, I applaud his commitment and urge him to give his proposal careful thought. After all, it would be a shame to break up with the 2007 offseason simply because 2012 has that new relationship sparkle.
But love and relationships aside (literally putting them aside; I’m ignoring my fiancee of three days as I write this article), today I want to take a more analytical look at exactly what the newest addition, Courtney Lee, adds to the roster.
When Ray Allen defected to the (Godless Commies) Miami Heat, he left a gaping hole at the shooting guard position. As a unit, the Celtics’ offensive roles were remarkably defined: Pierce was the one-on-one scorer. Rondo was the creator, a moody maestro who directed the offense and paced it as he saw fit, and perhaps, at times, as he felt like doing. Garnett anchored the defense and ran a deadly (and oddly reversed) pick and pop with Rondo, which often resulted in a Rondo layup, a Garnett mid-range jumper, or a corner three for Allen. These roles will be shifted, perhaps dramatically, next season, as the Celtics look to start Bradley and tinker with several new talented additions to the roster. But none of these new additions are so clearly a replacement of a departed player as Courtney Lee is to Ray Allen.
Anyone who watched Allen run through mazes of lung puncturing Celtics’ screens during his five year stint in Boston knows that the biggest thing Allen brought to the offense was his spot up shooting. No one could possibly replace Allen’s three point production, but Lee will be a very serviceable player in his place. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Lee shot .401 from behind the arc last season, which is a respectably high percentage, even if it does put him significantly behind Allen’s .453. This, of course, is an utterly absurd comparison, since Allen is likely the best long distance shooter in NBA history. It will suffice to say that Lee is a very good shooter from 3-point range.
Even better: .977 (85-87) of Lee’s three pointers were assisted, which indicates that he is extremely comfortable in catch and shoot situations. Indeed, it indicates that Lee doesn’t really attempt three pointers off multiple dribbles. Better still, Lee attempted 120 shots at the rim (layups and dunks) to Ray’s 101, confirming what we already knew: Lee will be more comfortable driving and finishing at the rim.
Lee has very little versatility as a player, much like Allen. Lee spent just 6% of his minutes at other positions besides shooting guard last season, and in those minutes, he recorded a PER of 6.9 at point guard, and 10.0 at small forward, both numbers comically below the league average. When Lee played small forward, his opponents averaged a PER of 21.1, meaning that Lee’s defense allowed them to achieve Kobe Bryant levels of efficiency. But it should be noted, of course, that Boston doesn’t need Lee at any position besides shooting guard. Pierce and Jeff Green (and perhaps Kris Joseph/Dionte Christmas? *crosses fingers*) can handle the small forward position more than adequately, while Rondo and a collection of other players don’t need Lee to contribute to point guard duties.
It is striking how similar Lee and Allen are statistically. Allen’s defensive numbers are considerably better than Lee’s, but Lee didn’t have the luxury of playing in one of the best defensive systems in the NBA. Lee is much younger and more athletic than Allen, especially the version of Ray we saw last year, hobbling around on bone spurs throughout the playoffs. So defensively, Lee will likely be an upgrade from Allen last year. Allen also averaged more assists per 36 minutes, but again, play-making is not why the Celtics acquired Lee. They acquired him to replace Allen as the backup shooting guard behind Bradley. If the numbers are any indicator, and they usually are, Lee will perform admirably in this role.
A small tangent, if I may: I am of the mindset that, as jarring as it is to see Ray in red and black, his contributions to this team are beyond reproach. This is the man who blew by Sasha Vujacic, who dropped 50 on the Bulls in the playoffs, who hit eight threes in Game 2 of the 2010 Finals. This is the man who played through excruciating pain for the entirety of the postseason last year. We are going to boo him next time he enters TD Banknorth Garden? Probably, and I understand why, but that doesn’t mean I approve of the action.
That being said, if any piece of the Big Four was expendable, it was Ray, and he was expendable because Boston could always find a similar, if slightly inferior, piece. Courtney Lee is that piece, and Celtics fans should look forward to a valuable, productive season from him next year.