David Lee brings smarts, consistency, rebounding to Mavs

Mavs welcome David Lee

Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki comment on the addition of David Lee.

With the signing of David Lee, the Mavs have brought aboard another cerebral veteran big man who fits right in with what the club wants to do offensively. That Lee has been an excellent rebounder throughout his career is an added bonus.

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle would admit his team isn’t the fastest or most athletic in the NBA, so Dallas must rely on its collective brainpower and ball movement to beat opponents. Combined with employing no traditional “go-to” scorer and the goal — for lack of a better word — of no one player having to average more than 20 points per game to be successful, the Mavericks look for their five guys to be better as a unit than the five on the other side of the floor. Whereas many teams in this league roll out five independent players, the Dallas offense operates as five fingers all attached to the same hand. Everyone must score, everyone must pass, and everyone must move.

That’s how Lee fits into the picture. Although injuries have hindered his playing time the past couple seasons, Lee has remained a model of consistent production throughout his career. Even this season in Boston, where he played 30 games and started four, his per-36 numbers were right in line with his averages during his 11-year run in the league. With the Celtics, Lee averaged 16.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per 36 minutes, stacking up favorably to his career averages of 16.8 and 10.8, respectively, according to Basketball-Reference. Whether he’s playing five or 35 minutes, you know exactly what you’re going to get in terms of scoring punch and rebounding, and consistency like Lee’s is what the Mavericks have occasionally lacked from big men off the bench at times this season.

Carlisle said after Sunday’s win against Philly he expects Lee to play both power forward and center off the bench. According to Basketball-Reference, Lee has played 69 percent of his minutes this season at the 4-spot in Boston, and played as many as 81 percent of his minutes at that position in 2013-14 with Golden State. In Dallas, however, I’d look to see Lee play more center than power forward, as that would allow the Mavs to spread the floor with shooters around the big man and give Dallas the ability to use him as a fulcrum on the inside to work the ball around the floor both inside and out.

Lee really showed off his deft passing touch this season with the Celtics, averaging a career-high 4.1 assists per 36 minutes. According to Synergy Sports, Lee created 2.426 points per assist, meaning nearly half of his dimes resulted in three-pointers, reinforcing the notion that surrounding him with shooters of any size — whether it’s in an uber-small-ball lineup with three point guards, or with Dirk Nowitzki at the 4 — could create all sorts of positive scoring opportunities when he’s in space.

Short roll pass

But Lee can also operate at the top of the key and find cutters, similar to what we’ve seen Zaza Pachulia do time and time again this season. In that regard, Lee could conceivably fit seamlessly into a Pachulia-like role off the bench, giving Dallas the freedom to maintain the same offensive approach for almost the entire game if it so chooses.

In the play below, he connects with Isaiah Thomas, cutting back door, from beyond the three-point line. Replace Thomas with Devin Harris and you can easily see the Mavericks replicating this same exact play.

Backdoor pass

As far as scoring the ball goes, he averaged more than 18 points per game as recently as the 2013-14 season. Continuing the Pachulia comparison, Lee is also a solid mid-range shooter for a big man and he can finish around the rim as well — he’s shot 63 percent or better from within three feet in all but two seasons in his career. Additionally, he creates several second chances on the offensive glass, never averaging fewer than 2.7 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes in his career. Lee’s consistency is remarkable.

Usually when a team signs a new player, the club expects him to bring something new into the fold. It’s almost strange to say, but Lee doesn’t necessarily bring a “newness” to the Mavs. Rather, he’s a complement to the effective system Dallas already has in place. He can be plugged into either the backup power forward or center spot and immediately pick up on what the Mavericks want to do, and the team won’t have to adjust its offensive flow in order to accommodate him. That’s precisely the type of fit you’d hope for from a player acquired mid-season. He’s smart enough to get up to speed quickly, and he’s consistent enough to be relied upon to contribute to the playoff chase from here on out.

The Mavs play Oklahoma City on Wednesday night. It’s unclear when Lee will make his debut, but the goal is for Wednesday to be the day. If not, Dallas takes on Denver this Friday. Either way, it won’t take him long to get into the flow, and that’s good news for the Mavs’ second unit.