Rookie Retrospective: Courtney Lee

Rookie Retrospective: Courtney Lee
May 22, 2009, 07:58 pm
In the latest feature of our “Rookie Retrospectives” series, we’re taking a look at the former Western Kentucky player, Courtney Lee; the last contributing rookie still standing in this year’s playoffs. Lee has been a DraftExpress favorite for several years, and his stellar college career is translating quite nicely at the NBA level. Playing for a complete and balanced Magic team, Lee started more than half his team’s games this season, and despite fracturing his sinus in the first round at the hands (or rather elbow) of Dwight Howard, Lee’s minutes have actually increased and is a major reason why the Magic are 3 wins away from the NBA finals. This will likely be the first of many successful playoff runs for Lee’s career, as he embodies all the characteristics of a winner including a high basketball IQ, a great work ethic and a selfless attitude.

Rookie Retrospective: Eric Gordon
Rookie Retrospective, Kevin Love
Rookie Retrospective, Brook Lopez
Rookie Retrospective, Greg Oden
Rookie Retrospective, Russell Westbrook
Rookie Retrospective, D.J. Augustin
Rookie Retrospective, O.J. Mayo
Rookie Retrospective, Michael Beasley
Rookie Retrospective, Derrick Rose

Courtney Lee , 1985, 6-5 , 200, Orlando Magic
25.2 minutes, 8.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 turnovers, 45% FG, 40.4% 3FG, 83% FT

Part One: Intangibles


“If you ask Courtney Lee how he can help an NBA franchise next season, his initial answer might surprise you.

‘Off the court I believe I have good character, I carry myself well and I don’t have any baggage.’
While most players are quick to point out their shooting prowess or ability to get the ball into the hands of a star player, Lee takes the more unconventional route by discussing his strength of character.

- Courtney Lee: "We knew we could play with anybody"
May 6, 2008


We’ll begin this installment of rookie retrospectives the same way that Courtney Lee began his interview with us a year ago, by talking about his character. We learned a lot about Lee and saw that he is a unique individual who brings a lot more to a team than any box score could ever show, going about his business the right way and conducting himself similarly to guys like Chauncey Billups or Shane Battier.

Lee rarely complains to the officials, always puts forth the effort, and does exactly what Stan Van Gundy asks of him; he just “gets it”. Starting for a Stan Van Gundy team doesn’t happen too often for a rookie, which speaks volumes of the trust and confidence he has in Lee to get the job done. It’s certainly a testament to Lee’s talent level, but it has a lot to do with his maturity as well and his unselfish nature, which is critical on a team with many elite scorers. He carries himself well on the court, exuding a quiet confidence and a positive demeanor which allows him to shine without taking away from the stars.

Part Two: NBA Role

“He also showed great confidence over the summer going up against Lebron James at his skills academy, showing no fear while displaying his full offensive repertoire. Lee could be a little more dominant against the competition in the Sun Belt Conference if he played a little less passively, and that’s something he could work on showing this season. If he keeps his current pace, though, he should be firmly in draft discussions, possibly even creeping up to the first round if he makes some noticeable strides with his game. His potential is probably that of an 3rd/4th option type player, such as what Anthony Parker plays for the Toronto Raptors.”
- Top NBA Draft Prospects in the 'Other Conferences' (Part One: #1-#5)
October 29, 2007


As high as we were on Courtney Lee after his junior season, perhaps we should have been even higher on him. Eventually drafted at 22, the Magic got a player that will compliment their star Dwight Howard for years to come. Winning organizations always have selfless players like a Bruce Bowen, Raja Bell or Tayshaun Prince, and Lee fits that mold perfectly.

Lee has a simple role on the offensive end and isn’t asked to do much. With Howard anchoring the paint, Van Gundy surrounds their All-NBA first teamer with shooters in order to spread the court and keep the paint open for their star. The majority of their offense consists of post-ups for Howard, high pick and rolls, or isolations from the top of the key for either Hedo Turkoglu or Rashard Lewis. With those sets, Lee is primarily stationed in the corners or roams the perimeter to draw his defender away from the help. He does a terrific job of moving without the ball and flashing to open areas when the defense rotates to help or doubles up on the post.

On the defensive end (which will be examined further in Part 5), Lee is often asked to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player. His size at 6’5 and slight frame was a concern coming in to the league, but Lee’s toughness and good lateral quickness has turned him into a defensive hound.

Part Three: Shooting - Spot ups and off the Dribble


“Most of Lee’s offense is based around his jump shot, showing close to textbook form, aside from a slight tendency to push the ball forward at times, which really isn’t much of an issue. His form is consistent, his release speed good, and his release point high, which is a large reason he shot so well as the focal point of his team’s offense. “
- Top NBA Draft Prospects in the 'Other Conferences' (Part One: #1-#5)
October 29, 2007
“A part of Lee’s game that continues to show tremendous potential as far as the NBA is concerned is his pull-up jumper. When Gonzaga decided to go underneath the screen defending the pick and roll, Lee punished them instantaneously by pulling up fluidly from behind the arc and creating excellent separation from his defender by elevating off the floor for his picture perfect jump-shot. He then proceeded to do the same on two more occasions, this time from mid-range, showing an uncanny resemblance to DraftExpress favorite Anthony Parker in the process.”
- NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/05/2007 -- Part One


One of the main reasons for Lee’s insertion into the starting line-up and his 25.3 minutes per game (13th amongst rookies) is because of his ability to shoot the ball, especially spotting up, which is essential in this offense. Lee is shooting 40.9% from behind the arc, which is 3rd amongst rookies and 34th overall in the NBA. He displays nice mechanics and does an excellent job of setting his feet. He doesn’t have the quickest release, but his preparation before he receives the ball and his lack of wasted motion on the catch enables him to get his shot off. He’s always on balance with his feet under him and he elevates forward, carrying his momentum and his shot to the basket. This is important for him because almost all of his misses fall short, and this movement assures the necessary arc on the ball.

Off the dribble, Lee has had less success, but he’s also had fewer opportunities. When he looks to create for himself and pull-up, he shows the ability to get to his spot quickly and with great fluidity – although he’s not converting on those chances at a great rate thus far. Lee is currently shooting 38.6% as a jump shooter off the dribble according to Synergy Sports Technology, a percentage that is solid, but will surely increase as his career progresses. The lack of success in this part of his game could be a result of his new role. At Western Kentucky, he had the green light to pull-up whenever he pleased, whereas in Orlando, he’s the 4th or 5th option on the court, and thus the ball isn’t coming his way on every possession.

Nonetheless, Lee has proven that he can score in this league. He’s averaging 8.4 points per game, translating to 13.3 points per 40 pace adjusted. With added minutes, his production will increase and he it wouldn’t be out of the question to see Lee become a 14 or 15 point a game scorer down the road. His versatility suggests that he can produce those numbers, especially with defenses focusing on the other big scorers.

Part 4: Slasher/Ball Handler


“Most impressive might be the way he’s putting the ball on the floor and creating shots for both himself and others. He’s handling the ball well with either hand, showing no hesitation going to the basket, and even executing advanced ball-handling moves like splitting traps off the pick and roll before dropping in a beautiful floater, complete with excellent body control. Never one to force the issue (his patience and maturity is really unique), Lee did a terrific job finding teammates for open looks on the drive and dish too, even if they did a poor job finishing. His unselfishness is pretty uncommon for a mid-major draft prospect, particularly a talented scorer.”
NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/05/2007 -- Part One


Lee’s strengths offensively are not limited to the perimeter, as he has proven that he can get to the basket and do something once he’s there. He’s quick off the bounce and incredibly smooth as he covers a lot of ground on very few dribbles. In game three against Boston, Lee took the ball from his own free throw line and layed it in on the other side of the court in two dribbles – an impressive feat. He has outstanding body control and is able to absorb contact, due in large part to the way he utilizes a two foot jump stop in the paint which enables him to stay on balance. He’s very effective when he gets all the way to the basket, and elevates extremely well once he’s there – showing that he’s a much better than advertised athlete.

When he doesn’t get all the way to the basket however, Lee resorts to floaters or tear drops, a shot he hasn’t had much success with this season. He settles for this shot too often which is part of the reason, coupled with his simple role on offense, as to why he’s only attempting 1.2 free throws a game. It would benefit him greatly to create more attempts at the line, where he is an 83% shooter. He's not an overly creative shot-creator, sporting just average instincts in this part of his game, which goes along with the notion that he projects mostly as an excellent role-player.

Furthermore, he has to mix up his driving patterns more as he heavily favors driving to his left (72.6% according to SST). Nonetheless, Lee is currently finishing at the basket at a respectable rate of 57.4% (SST), and with a year under his belt, and improved ball-handling skills, he should be able to increase that next season.

He hasn’t been asked to handle the ball that much for the Magic, but he’s certainly taking care of it when he does. Lee is top 20 in our entire NBA database in fewest turnovers per possession (#2 amongst rookies behind Anthony Morrow), only coughing the ball up on 11% of the time. He’s also sporting a solid 1.33 assist/turnover ratio, further adding to his value.

Part Five: Defense


“Defensively, Lee’s team plays a lot of zone, making him a little tougher to evaluate, but you could clearly see how intelligent he is with everything that has to do with awareness and positioning on this end of the floor. In the man to man setting, he puts really nice pressure on the ball, and has really pesky hands, as his 3.2 steals per game this year so far would indicate. He’s even blocking a decent amount of shots, thanks to his superb timing, activity level, and also his nice physical profile (he has an NBA body already.)”
- NCAA Weekly Performers, 12/05/2007 -- Part One

“On the defensive end, Lee has great raw tools and a solid fundamental base, getting into a good defensive stance and almost always playing up on his man in man-to-man defense. He shows good lateral quickness and instincts as well, though he’s not a lockdown defender, as he can be beat. He also uses his length and athleticism to disrupt in the passing lanes, averaging 1.5 steals this past season and 2.6 the season before. The biggest gripe to be had with his defense at this stage is that he can get caught out of position when his man doesn’t have the ball, but he’s not much worse there than the average 22-year-old prospect.” –
Top NBA Draft Prospects in the 'Other Conferences' (Part One: #1-#5)
October 29, 2007


More often than not, the biggest adjustment for players entering the league is on the defensive end, due to the enhanced speed of the game. For Lee however, he’s had a fairly smooth transition on this side of the ball and has proven that he has a chance to become an elite defender in this league. Surely things are a bit easier with the NBA’s defensive player of the year patrolling the paint, but Lee’s attention to detail, effort, and athleticism have made him a pest to go up against.

There were question marks about Lee’s size prior to last year’s draft, but because of his toughness and ability to compete at a high level, he’s able to overcome any limitations. He has a solid frame, playing much stronger than he looks. He fights through screens, competes in the post, maintains good a stance on the ball and displays good lateral speed.

As a help defender, Lee possesses great anticipation skills, although they can be seen as a weakness at times. He can get caught watching the ball - overplaying passing lanes and almost acting like a free safety, again due in large part to Howard’s influence. With that said however, he’s bouncy and alert and is able to close out well and help on rotations. As a result, he’s averaging 1.6 steals a game, per 40 pace adjusted, 15th in our database amongst shooting guards.

Overall, our prediction of Lee has come to fruition, and he’s even exceeded our lofty expectations to a certain extent. He brings many great intangibles to a team and has found his niche as a lockdown defender and a savvy offensive player. His value goes well beyond numbers and it’s going to be interesting to watch him develop in the coming years.

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