New York Knicks: Courtney Lee Made The Hornets Better In 2015-16

Sep 26, 2016; White Plains, NY, USA; New York Knicks guard Courtney Lee addresses the media during the New York Knicks Media Day at Ritz-Carlton. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2016; White Plains, NY, USA; New York Knicks guard Courtney Lee addresses the media during the New York Knicks Media Day at Ritz-Carlton. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports /

The Hornets acquired Courtney Lee at the trade deadline last season, and saw tremendous results. Read on to find out exactly how he improved the team.

If trading for Derrick Rose and signing Joakim Noah qualify as the New York Knicks making a big splash in the offseason, then signing Courtney Lee was akin to a raindrop in the Hudson River. Adding Lee has turned into a footnote to a highly publicized series of offseason moves.

Even foreign additions Willy Hernangomez and Mindaugas Kuzminskas seem to have energized the fan base to a greater extent. It’s strange. Rose and Noah both have obvious concerns between injuries and declining production, while Hernangomez and Kuzminskas have yet to play an NBA minute and are relative unknowns in terms of performance.

Lee, on the other hand, has a legitimate track record as one of the league’s most consistent 3-point marksmen and fiercest perimeter defenders.

In each of the last six seasons, Lee has shot at least 37 percent from behind the arc, including three seasons at 40 percent. His 38.9% clip since 2010-11 ranks 12th in the league amongst players who have attempted as many 3-point field goals as Lee has over that span.

He’s known as one of the league’s fiercest perimeter defenders and was a major contributor to Memphis’ Top 10 defenses in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Lee played most of last season with the injury-ridden Grizzlies before joining the Charlotte Hornets in a near-deadline three-team deal in which Charlotte sent PJ Hairston to Memphis and Brian Roberts to Miami.

Charlotte’s Improvement

Charlotte posted an exceptional 20-8 record (.714 win percentage) in Lee’s 28 games with the team. This stretch included a seven-game winning streak, the team’s longest of the season, as well as impressive victories over the Pacers (twice), Spurs, Heat, and Celtics.

The Hornets were only slightly above .500 before the trade and, at best, a fringe playoff team. Slightly above .500 basketball was not good enough for an 8-seed in the surprisingly competitive, albeit top-heavy, Eastern Conference last season. Just ask the 42-40 Chicago Bulls.

Charlotte finished the season with 48 wins, earning a 6-seed and a matchup with the Miami Heat.

CHA pre-tradeCHA post-tradeDifference

In terms of FG%, 3P%, eFG%, and TS%, Charlotte’s shooting improved across the board after Lee joined the team. Adding Lee certainly improved the team’s spacing, as they were able to trot out a shooting guard who simply couldn’t be left open, as opposed to Hairston, a career 29.5 percent shooter from deep.

Charlotte’s opponents remained relatively consistent, save for a slight drop in 3-point field goal percentage. Obviously, the drop cannot be entirely attributed to Lee, as he joined an already effective defense that ended the season as the league’s 8th best unit in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions.

That being said, he’s undoubtedly a strong perimeter defender and was the only substantial change to the team’s chemistry and composition.

Lee was also part of some of Charlotte’s most productive lineups despite only spending about a third of the season with the team. The team’s pre-trade starting five of Kemba Walker, PJ Hairston, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, and Cody Zeller posted a -2.3 point differential per 100 possessions in about 259 minutes.

The same lineup with Lee in Hairston’s place outscored opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions in about 407 minutes of game action.

In fact, every lineup featuring Lee, including all 2-to-5-man combinations, finished the season with a positive point differential per 100 possessions. Lee, Walker, and Zeller were the team’s most effective three-man combination, outscoring opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions in over 500 shared minutes.

Lee and Walker were the team’s most lethal duo, finishing with a +8.2 point differential per 100 possessions in nearly 700 shared minutes.

What Does This Mean?

The Hornets essentially swapped a struggling PJ Hairston for Courtney Lee and surged through the last 28 regular season games. The team’s offense undeniably improved, and an already exceptional defense continued to excel without missing a beat. This is not meant to paint Lee as some sort of incredibly talented missing piece who saved the Hornets’ season. Context is always vital.

Hairston is simply an ineffective, below average offensive player based on several metrics. One could argue that any shooting guard capable of average/above average offensive production could have replaced him with similar results.

Not up for debate, however, is the fact that the Hornets made a significant upgrade at the position and improved as a team, especially on the offensive end.

Let’s hope the Knicks enjoy similar results this season.