The Knicks Should Keep an Eye Out for Courtney Lee

Dec 8, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Courtney Lee (5) drives against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) in the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 8, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Courtney Lee (5) drives against Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) in the first half at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

Secretly, one of the better New York free agent targets got moved early on the NBA trade deadline. The Knicks should target Courtney Lee in the offseason.

With Arron Afflalo holding a player option in his contract and the 2016 cap number projected to leap to $92 million at last projection, the Knicks will most likely lose Afflalo, opening a hole up at the shooting guard position. The market doesn’t have much fruit, either. Nicolas Batum and DeMar DeRozan both appear to be max-contract players, and the next guy up – Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore – seems to be first in line to get overpaid as a 3-and-D wing.

However, the Knicks should keep an eye out on Courtney Lee.

Traded from Memphis to Charlotte, Lee will most likely provide the Hornets with another capable shooter on the outside, who can also defend multiple positions on the perimeter. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back on the mend with shoulder surgery and P.J. Hairston going back to Memphis in the trade, that wing position is wide open for Lee to come in and try to maximize in a contract year.

On the New York side of things, the “3-and-D” player will be their biggest need heading into the 2016 offseason. Arron Afflalo is due $8 million next season, but he also holds a player option, which he’ll most likely opt out of. With the new money coming into the NBA next season, Afflalo opting out of his deal and cashing in for his final deal at age 31 makes sense.

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The Knicks would probably like to make an upgrade at that position as well and Afflalo, who had a good start to the season, has slowly tailed off. His defense, which was overrated for many years now, has finally crept into that below average territory.

And outside of Afflalo, the Knicks don’t have much on the roster, or in the development area. Thanasis Antetokounmpo has played in Westchester but didn’t play much in his New York stint. Cleanthony Early never got a fair shake and was never sent down to Westchester to work on his game. Entering restricted free agency, there’s nothing that suggests the now 24-year-old Early should be retained as a 3-and-D option.

That’s for another day, though. The Knicks are going to have to solidify a chunk of their cap space towards a ready wing player who can provide scoring and defense. Courtney Lee seems like someone who can do that for a “cheaper” rate on the market.

Lee, like Afflalo, will become 31-years old later this year and is also looking at his final big NBA contract. So far this season, he’s averaging 12.4 points per game on 45.8% shooting from the floor. Lee doubles down with 37.0% shooting from beyond the arc and solid defense. Lee has a 42.1 percent defensive field goal percentage, 1.5 percent below the league average. He also sports a 0.13 defensive real plus minus, good for 15th among shooting guards.

Among Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, I think Lee fits into what the Knicks would need from an ancillary option. He doesn’t control a ton of possessions – just a career 16.5 usage rate and after a season where he sported a 17.0 usage rate, his numbers dipped back down to the 15 range, sporting a 15.6 usage rating this season.

Lee’s best attribute is that he can score on several different plays without the ball. He’s also a great cutter, even at his “advanced” age. Lee currently has a PPP – points per possessions – of 1.64, hitting 78.6% of his cuts. When working off of screens, Lee did a good job, but not a great one, hitting 40% of his shots with Memphis, but a 0.91 PPP. Those little things, plus the ability to provide a catch and shoot option, makes him a nice addition.

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The only problem with the addition of Lee would be that he fits Anthony’s timeline, rather than Porzingis’. Signing Lee this offseason for four years gives you his age-31 to age-34 seasons. You can cut some of the risk by only guaranteeing a part of the fourth year, effectively making it a deal worth three and a half years, but it still adds another older player at a premium price.

Kevin Durant is a pipedream, Nicolas Batum will have other, more enticing offers, and DeMar DeRozan is already on the radar of the Los Angeles franchises. The Knicks will have to be “creative” to fill in the 3-and-D hole at the top, which leads them into the Kent Bazemore/Courtney Lee group.

Next: Knicks: Free Agency Target Mike Conley Wants a Big Contract

Lee should be a target for the Knicks, who’ll be in the market, and should be under the microscope now that he’ll be on a playoff team in Charlotte.