Disclaimer: Before we get started, this isn't a post about Ryan Anderson. He will not be mentioned here, and I don't expect to see his name in the comments. If you read this and still feel like telling me that Ryan Anderson is a better player, send me an e-mail, it is on the site. This is just an evaluation of Courtney Lee.
Onto Courtney Lee. The season is 17 games old. It is nearly a quarter over already, and I thought that now is as good as a time as any to take a look at Courtney Lee's game. Oh and yes, I am in fact serious about the title by the way. Courtney Lee has been getting bashed by Nets' fans for his poor performances, but I really do not know why. When I sit down and think about it, there are two reasons. The first, people tend to just look at the shooting numbers and the points. The second reason is that people have expected him to improve greatly from his rookie season right away (I fall into this group), not really taken into consideration he left a really good team where he was the 4th, 5th, or 6th option and went to a team that he is the third option where defenses focus on taking him away. Courtney taking Vince Carter's (and in some fans eyes, being traded for him) roster spot probably has something to do with it too, no matter how unfair that is.
The numbers aren't bias though, and what the numbers tell us is that if you exclude the shooting (don't worry I have an explanation for this) Courtney Lee is doing everything else better than he was doing in Orlando. It isn't because he is getting more minutes either. Through 11 games this year, Courtney is averaging the same minutes per game as he was in Orlando during the regular season (25.2 MPG).
All other data used in this post is from Hoopdata.com
All of Courtney Lee's offensive numbers in terms of handling the ball have been better in New Jersey than it was in Orlando. Despite seeing his Usage % increase (albeit a small increase) Courtney Lee has been able to limit his turnovers. On the surface, it might not look at it (his Turnovers Per Game is at .8 vs. .9 last year), but if you look at the Turnover Rate (I tend to think of this as a more accurate metric because it measured the percentage of possessions that end in a turnover) those numbers show he has been taking much better care of the ball. Last year Courtney Lee was turning it over 9.29% of his possessions. As a Net, Courtney is only turning the ball over on 6.90% his possessions. To give you some perspective on this, the league average is 11.98%. In fact, Courtney is currently rated 14th in TOR of players playing at least 20 minutes per game. Also improved is Courtney Lee's passing game. Not only are his turnovers down, but his assists are up. Lee's assist rate (percentage of possessions that end in assists) has gone up from 12.39 to 13.04 that it is this season. When your turnovers go down and your assists go up, it is only natural for your assist to turnover ratio to go up. Add the fact that Lee has gotten to the foul line more often (his Free-throw rate has jumped from .17 to .39), and you have a lot of positives on the offensive end.
Courtney Lee was billed as a defender, and he hasn't really disappointed on that end. Now there are no real advanced statistics out there, but the per-game stuff tells a pretty good story. Lee has seen his steals per game go up from .99 to 1.73 (league average is .76), his blocks go up from .19 to .55 this year, and his charges taken per game went up from .06 to .09. Lee's defensive rating which is a combination of those three numbers is 2.36 this year, jumping from 1.25 last year (league average is 1.5). All of this while seeing his fouls per game go down from 2.0 per game to 1.7 per game from last year to this year.
So What's Going On With The Shooting?
Back to what Nets' fans have been pointing and looking at when it comes to Courtney Lee, his shooting. Before we continue, here is a chart I put together using HoopData's numbers.
Courtney has seen significant drops at every spot except one (the 10-15 foot range). Now everyone was expecting a drop off when Courtney came to New Jersey because he would be taking more shots, and he would be seeing his usage increase. The thing is, for whatever reason, his shot attempts hasn't really increased all that much (went from 7.0 to 8.1 per game) and his usage increased, but it still isn't all that high (it has gone from 15.49 to 18.45 - the league average is 19.30). So what does that tell us? That Lee's early season struggles are flukey more than anything else. I mean, like I have said a number of times, his form looks on point, and I can remember 5-10 shots that have gone all the way in and all the way out.
Also, another telling stat is the percentage of Courtney Lee's makes that are assisted. Last year, 67.9% of Lee's shots were assisted on. This year? 53.3% of Courtney Lee shots are dropped. That is a pretty significant drop off in my opinion. What does that mean though? It means one can assume that Lee is taking more shots off the dribble than he is just catching the ball and shooting it. Everyone who has played the game knows that it is a lot easier to catch the ball and shoot it rather than shoot off the dribble. Also, it means that Lee has been forced to create his own shot more in New Jersey than in Orlando. This is because if you are scoring more baskets that are assisted, you are theoretically taking more open shots, because most times you wouldn't catch and shoot if you aren't open. All of this means that as Courtney Lee becomes more comfortable creating for himself and as the ball starts bouncing his way, you can see his shooting percentage rise, probably not to the level of last year, but to a level where he can be a very productive scorer (you may already be seeing this - 6 of 9 last game - I had this post all geared up before the game by the way)
When watching Courtney Lee, you can tell that he is a smart player, who knows what he is doing out there, and when he is out there, he does show a lot of poise. All of that is reflected in the numbers. It is crazy to think about it, but Courtney Lee's PER is higher this year in New Jersey than it was in Orlando. It has increased from 10.04 last year to 12.01 this year. Granted, this is still below average (average PER is 15), but I like to think the numbers I have highlighted above show the well-roundedness of Courtney's game and I think as the shooting percentage starts to take its natural course and increase, you should see this number go up even more.
Nets' fans need to hold off on any Lee bashing. Seriously. Like I said before, part of the disappointment could be that he isn't duplicating Vince Carter's numbers and that he isn't the proven scorer we expected him to be. The truth of the matter is that expected him to produce like Vince did here is just plain crazy, and as Nets fans we need to realize that Courtney Lee is only a season and a quarter into his pro career. Becoming a proven scorer in the NBA usually (there are some rare cases) takes a while to happen, especially when you go from a team where you get a lot of baskets created for you to a team where you need to create for yourself.