COMMENTARY | It can be difficult to peg anyone on the Golden State Warriors roster as overrated. But identifying those players and coldly upgrading them is exactly what good teams do to improve their odds of success.
All-Star power forward David Lee, the reliable 20-10 guy with veteran savvy, is the most overrated Warrior. And in light of Adrian Wojnarowski's recent report that David Lee has been offered in a trade for Andrea Bargnani, Golden State agrees: David Lee might not be worth the money.
Salary and Contract
Many people believe David Lee is overpaid, but that's not the only concern, here. Truth be told, on the surface his 11.6 million salary last season was quite fair for what he brought to the table. But his salary is getting worse by the year: $13.9 million this coming season, $15 million the following season, and another $15.4 million in 2015-2016, when Lee will be 32 years old.
David Lee may not have been tragically overpaid last season, but he certainly will be going forward. Also, despite his sterling injury record and consistent play, his salary is increasing annually while his skills are unlikely to do the same. NBA big men rarely get better past age 30, and that fact along with his pay grade makes David Lee a tough player to ship out should the Warriors want to change direction.
There's also the value over replacement factor. David Lee's 18 points and 11 rebounds sound impressive and tough to replace, but they don't have to be. For example, take JJ Hickson and Carl Landry (the former was an offseason free agent target last year, and the latter eventually signed on with the Warriors). Let's compare all three players by per-36 minutes and see what happens (statistics per basketball-reference.com).
Player A: 16.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, .541 effective-FG%, 17.5 PER
Player B: 18.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, .519 effective-FG%, 19.2 PER
Player C: 15.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, .562 effective-FG%, 19.7 PER
Would you be surprised to know that two of those players made a combined $8 million last season (each on one year deals!), and the other player made $11.6 million? Per-36 minute stats aren't perfect: some players get less efficient the longer they play. But Hickson averaged 29 minutes a night, and Landry clocked in at 23 minutes. We're not talking about guys who looked great in eight minutes a night--these guys would do fine at 36 minutes. Is David Lee (player B) really three times as valuable as what you can easily find in free agency?
The Roster and the Defense Matter, Too
With an injury to Festus Ezeli, the Warriors are now forced to depend on Andrew Bogut's ankle to hold up for 35 minutes a night. Bogut, as we saw in the postseason, is a critical part of the Warriors. But Lee's inability to defend the rim or his position effectively make the pressure on Bogut and the rest of the squad even worse.
Although David Lee posted a gaudy +6.2 points per 100 possessions last season (the best figure on the team), his defense will become problematic in the postseason. Playoff possessions are more deliberate and effective, and teams astutely exploit mismatches. The Warriors already cover for Stephen Curry defensively, and they can ill afford to protect two negative defenders while maintaining their defensive integrity.
The Warriors offense is contender quality as it is. For the Warriors to improve on last season, their defense has to be up to the task. Although players like Thompson, Barnes, Green and Ezeli have made strides as defenders, Lee will hold this unit back in the playoffs when the Warriors have to face the same great teams over and over. Lee is a great player and a deserving All-Star but he's overpaid, not an adequate defender to get the Warriors over the top, and he's the most overrated Warrior.
Jared Stearne lives in San Francisco and is a lifelong Warriors fan. He enjoys using advanced statistics as well as game footage to create basketball analysis. You can follow him on Twitter @JaredStearne. Is there another member of the Golden State Warriors you think is overrated? Tell us in the comments section!
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