Film Study: The Roll of David Lee, Part 2

VIDEO: Sekou Smith, Lang Whitaker and John Schuhmann recap Game 3

CLEVELAND — In early January of 2014, the Golden State Warriors beat the defending champion Miami Heat, scoring 123 points on 101 possessions. The Warriors weren’t an elite offense last season, but they chewed up the Heat’s aggressive pick-and-roll scheme in their only visit to Miami.

David Lee was a big key to the Warriors’ success that night. When the Heat took the ball out of Stephen Curry‘s hands with hard hedges, Lee was the guy who made plays and took advantage of the resulting four-on-three situations.

The San Antonio Spurs did similar damage against the Heat defense in The Finals each of the last two seasons, with Boris Diaw in the role of playmaking roll man. Diaw would get the ball from a trapped Tony Parker and keep the ball moving so that it eventually found an open layup or 3-pointer.

Lee was supposed to be the Warriors’ starting power forward again this season, but he suffered a strained hamstring in the final preseason game. Draymond Green took the job and never gave it back, finishing second in both Kia Defensive Player of the Year and Kia Most Improved Player voting. Lee came back to the fringe of the rotation (behind both Green and Marreese Speights) and played in only nine of the Warriors first 17 playoff games, receiving DNPs in Games 1 and 2 of The Finals.

The Cavs are defending the Warriors much like the Heat did, bringing their bigs out high to take the ball out of Curry’s hands on pick-and-rolls. They’ve also done a good job of locking and trailing on off-ball screens to keep both Curry and Klay Thompson from getting clean looks off the catch. That has put pressure on the other three Warriors on the floor to make plays and make shots.

Green coming up empty

Green can be a solid playmaker and has more range than Lee on his jumper, but has been ineffective offensively through the first three games, dealing with back pain since the middle of Game 2. He has shot 8-for-30, he has almost as many turnovers (6) as assists (8), and he’s lost confidence in his jumper, shooting 1-for-8 from 3-point range and passing up other open looks.

The Cavs don’t seem to mind leaving him open beyond the arc…



According to SportVU, Green has shot 2-for-16 on passes from Curry in the series, not exactly Dirk Nowitzki on the pick-and-pop. And his 15 drives to the basket have produced just 12 points for the Warriors, and more turnovers (2) than assists (1) from Green himself.

So Warriors coach Steve Kerr had no choice but to dust off Lee in Game 3 on Tuesday. Lee played 2:47 in the second quarter and 10:30 in the fourth, and he made a big impact.

Lee’s first pick-and-roll with Curry resulted in a dunk (for Lee himself), even though his pass off the roll was deflected Timofey Mozgov. But he didn’t really get going until the fourth quarter.

Pivot and pass

On the first Curry/Lee pick-and-roll of the fourth quarter, Mozgov was out at the 3-point line to contain Curry …


Curry gets rid of the ball quickly and (with Iman Shumpert out high to defend Thompson), and the Warriors have a three-on-two situation …


James Jones slides into the paint to stop Lee, who pivots and finds Andre Iguodala wide open in the corner …


Taking it all the way

The Warriors run another Curry-Lee pick-and-roll on the next possession, except this time, Thompson has switched places with Iguodala. Iguodala hit the last shot, but if the Cavs are going to help from the weak side, you might as well put the (much) better shooter over there.

But J.R. Smith doesn’t even think about helping off of Thompson …


LeBron James helps off of Leandro Barbosa, but is a split second too late, and Lee converts an and-one (when Mozgov was eventually called for goaltending).

Dropping it off

On the next possession, Smith denies Thompson on a pin-down, so the spacing isn’t ideal when Lee sets another screen for Curry…


But it works out when Shumpert steps up …


… because James fails to rotate over and Barbosa gets a layup.

Switch = mismatch

After getting beat a few times on the weak side, the Cavs started switching those Curry-Lee pick-and-rolls. Here, Shumpert stays with Lee and Cleveland doesn’t need to help from elsewhere …


But that leaves Tristan Thompson on an island with Curry, who creates space and steps back for the first of his five threes in the fourth quarter.

“What helped [Curry] was David Lee playing so well as the roll man,” Kerr said afterward. “That softened them up a little bit.”

Two possessions after Curry beat Thompson, Lee eventually gets the ball in the post against Shumpert after the same switch …


That mismatch gets Lee a trip to the line.

‘You’ll see more of David Lee’

Lee is a very skilled offensive player, and we haven’t even see him shoot from outside of two feet. But there’s no clear explanation for why Green hasn’t been able to do in 112 minutes against the Cavs what Lee did in 13 minutes on Tuesday.

According to SportVU, the Warriors scored 20 points on 13 possessions (1.54 per) in which Lee set a ball screen, but only 25 points on 40 possessions (0.63 per) in which other players set a ball screen.

In total, the Warriors scored 40 points on 28 possessions (1.43 per) with Lee on the floor and just 51 points on 62 possessions (0.82 per) with him on the bench. And they didn’t have any real issues defensively, holding the Cavs to 23 points on 27 possessions with him out there.

That wasn’t enough to win the game and the Warriors need to find more answers than just “play David Lee more,” but that will certainly part of the plan when they try to even the series in Game 4 on Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC).

Iguodala: “I think we found something there with David Lee that’s working for us. So he’s going to get some more minutes, I would like to think, going forward. And then other guys will see how effective he is and they’ll do the same.”

Curry: “I assume he’ll have a huge role in our play going forward.”

Kerr: “You’ll see more of David Lee.”

As we saw in that Warriors-Heat game last season, success with the Curry-Lee pick-and-roll will open other things up. But it would help if Golden State could surround those pick-and-rolls with more reliable shooting.

The Cavs will help off everybody but Thompson and force other guys — Harrison Barnes, Barbosa, Green and Iguodala — to make shots to beat them. The NBA championship could be in their hands.


  1. Baxter says:

    I think this article is pretty much in the money with the exception of the mention of Bogut’s play. As the starting Big and one of the playmakers for the Warriors, Bogut’s has been less than impressive and his effort seems lackluster. Hardly any contests of shots and not to mention a 0 FG for an entire half as a Big. Unacceptable really. I think because of this David Lee definitely needs to see more minutes and the minutes for Ezeli needs to be less as he contributes to too many simple turnovers. If Harrison Barnes, Green and Lee can find offense then GS will definitely rally back because let’s face it, Cavs haven’t shown enough to convince any one that they can win hands down. 20 and 14 point leads reduced to nothing…they don’t have enough, GS just needs to find their gear

  2. alexei says:

    if the two all stars of the cleveland are not injured i think warrior will not get a single win. Even these two all star players are injured and cannot play for the final..the measurement of the final games is the game of the king (ljames)..the warriors could not control james..they (warriors) had to sacrifice their players just to control if not stop james….still the cleveland had still matthew, smith and mozgov to support james….i think its also time that coach david blatt utilize jones to make sure for their victory.