Count the Warriors among those looking to nab David Lee

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david_lee.jpgThe jury’s still out on exactly what kind of salary David Lee can command this off-season. Yet with Rudy Gay and Joe Johnson topping out on their earning potential, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see some team give Lee a max deal. Hooray for the Summer of 2010, where basketball paupers become princes (ahoy, Darko) and the middle class is elevated completely.

Lee has met with the Wolves, drawn interest from the Raptors, and been linked to just about every team with cap space (except the Knicks), and now the Warriors want to be a part of the fun and games. According to Marcus Thompson of Inside the Warriors, Golden State has their sights set on Lee and are looking to acquire him via sign-and-trade. Such a trade would practically necessitate Monta Ellis going to New York, which could actually be interesting for all parties involved.

The Knicks apparently have Amar’e Stoudemire locked down, but Mike D’Antoni desperately needs a point guard to run his offense. D’Antoni’s style is even more dependent on PGs than most, and as we’ve seen over the last few seasons, guys like Sergio Rodriguez and Chris Duhon just won’t cut it. Ellis would not only provide a stylistic fit (he’s been running and gunning with the Dubs his entire career), but also a far more talented alternative at the 1.

However, if New York was to take on Ellis’ salary, that would likely preclude them from signing another free agent. Monta and Amar’e would be an upgrade over last season’s Knicks in both talent and entertainment value, but is that really the future New Yorkers have been waiting for? Two talented but moody scorers, each a defensive liability in their own way?

Lee’s potential place on the Warriors would be a bit more complicated. Golden State has all kinds of bigs at the moment, and adding David to the rotation doesn’t make the picture any less muddled. Someone would clearly have to go. Ekpe Udoh, Andris Biedrins, Dan Gadzuric, Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, Ronny Turiaf, and Vladimir Radmanovic will all be vying for minutes at the 4 or 5, which doesn’t exactly leave room for Lee as a plug-and-play candidate.

However, such a move would be particularly notable for two reasons. The first is that it would demonstrate the Warriors’ faith in Stephen Curry as the team’s point guard. The second is that in Lee and Ellis, the Knicks and Warriors would be swapping two players who played in uptempo systems with very different results.

If given the keys to Mike D’Antoni’s offense, Monta Ellis could easily average 25+ points per game again next season. However, the problem with Ellis has rarely been the volume of his production, but rather its cost. Monta has been anything but efficient in his last two seasons with the Warriors, and while the team’s pace and the sheer number of scoring opportunities have still produced an impressive stat line overall, it’s a bit misleading.

If you look past Ellis’ per game numbers, his statistical resume starts to all apart. His PER last season was 16.7, which puts him somewhere between an average NBA player and a lower-tier star. He took 22 attempts per game to get to 25.5 points, which is fine but unspectacular. He turned the ball over quite a bit (which would be expected of a point guard, except that he didn’t generate all that many assists to balance them), didn’t get to the free throw line as much as he should have, and didn’t contribute much at all defensively. Ellis is good — and since his rookie season, that’s never been in doubt — but why isn’t he good enough to take advantage of an offensive system like that of the Warriors?

David Lee provides a very different case study in the effects of pace. Though is usage was high (though notably not as high as Ellis’) and the offense was fast, Lee actually remained a remarkably efficient player. His PER was an All-Star worthy 22.2, and Lee trumps Ellis in just about every significant per-possession metric. Some of those are inherent to their positional differences; obviously Lee is going to be the superior rebounder and shoot at a higher percentage, it’s just the a perk of being 6’9” rather than 6’3”.

Yet David also kept pace in the areas that were supposed to be weaknesses. His assist rate (per Basketball-Reference, “an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor,”) is actually pretty competitive with Ellis’, and his effective field goal percentage, a measure which is created to benefit outside shooters, blows Monta’s out of the water. Lee may not be a perfect player (his defense leaves plenty to be desired), but he’s shown himself to be a far more efficient offensive machine than Ellis.

Maybe it’s simply a Golden State parasite that’s made Ellis into a shot-eating machine, but there’s only one way to know for sure. Ellis and Lee need to swap places to eliminate as much noise as possible in their statical profiles. I can’t say the trade would radically change either the Knicks or the Warriors outlook for the better, but if neither franchise is going to make a serious playoff run in the near future, wouldn’t it be prudent to use them as a giant Petri dish?