Despite posting the worst rebound percentage of his career in 2010-11, David Lee was still an above-average rebounder for his position, grabbing 15.3 percent of all available rebounds. (The average power forward was at 14.3 percent). Having Lee on your team--especially a team that finished last in rebounding like the Warriors--would figure to lead to improvement on the glass, but that hasn't been the case. In fact, over the past three seasons, Lee's teams have posted a worse rebounding rate (both offensively and defensively) when Lee was on the court.
According to 82games.com, with Lee on the court, the Warriors grabbed 27.6 percent of all offensive rebounds, 66.8 percent of all defensive rebounds which is good for 47.2 percent of all rebounds. With Lee watching from the bench, the Warriors grabbed 30.7 percent of all offensive rebounds and 67.7 percent of all defensive rebounds, which is 49.2 percent of all rebounds. To figure out why this happens, I think it is important to look at both sides of the ball individually:
The first reason why the Warriors are a better offensive rebounding team with him off of the floor is Lee's shot selection. Over the past three seasons, Lee's game has drifted to the perimeter and the percentage of shots he has taken outside 10 feet has increased:
Why is this important? Well, the farther Lee is away from the basket, the less likely he is going to be following up his own shot and getting the offensive rebound. Because of that, Lee's teams become worse in terms of offensive rebounding:
When Lee is taking jumpers, the rest of the team has no real chance at securing the offensive rebound because the only one who does seem to crash the glass when Lee is on the court is Lee himself. That brings us to the second reason why Lee's teams are better offensive rebounders when he is off the court. When Lee is out of the game, offensive rebounding is more of a team effort and is more successful:
When watching the Warriors try to grab offensive rebounds, I really do think there is a noticeable difference when it comes to Lee's presence. When Lee is on the court, he's usually crashing the boards himself, and most of the time there is either nobody else or one player in the paint with him. That means Lee is trying to fight two or three defenders himself to try and get the offensive rebound. However, when Lee isn't in the game, you have a completely different mentality. Guys are crashing the glass, guards are getting in there, and there are multiple bodies in the paint trying to get their hands on the basketball.
On the defensive end, David Lee is a ball watcher, and a pretty bad one at that. Most possessions, he gets caught watching the ball instead of his man and as the shot goes up, his man usually slides in position to grab the offensive rebound. To make things worse, Lee doesn't really box out much either. Lee relies on his length, athletic ability, and timing to grab defensive rebounds. Because of his abilities, he is able to grab a lot of defensive rebounds. However, there are a lot of times where he doesn't box out and it hurts him and his team:
Without boxing out, you are giving up positioning and allowing offensive players to get to the ball without much resistance. So how does this hurt the Warriors? Well obviously, if your best rebounder isn't boxing out, the team's not going to secure a fair amount of defensive rebounds.
David Lee is a very talented rebounder, but he has started doing a number of things that not only his rebounding, but his team's rebounding when he is on the court. Taking more jumpers and not boxing out on the defensive end allows Warriors opponents to get their hands on more rebounds. This isn't all Lee's fault, however. The reputation Lee has developed as a very good rebounder seems to get in his teammate's head and when he is on the court, they stop crashing the boards, thinking that Lee can do it all on his own. He can't.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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