New York Knicks: Courtney Lee delivering in career season

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29: Courtney Lee #5 of the New York Knicks shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat on November 29, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29: Courtney Lee #5 of the New York Knicks shoots the ball during the game against the Miami Heat on November 29, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

New York Knicks shooting guard Courtney Lee has unexpectedly posted career highs across the board during the 2017-18 NBA regular season.

In a season filled with pleasant surprises, Courtney Lee’s career-year has been among the most unexpected. The 32-year-old New York Knicks guard is averaging 13.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.4 steals—all of which are career-highs.

In the wake of Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose’s departures, Lee has stepped up to fill the offensive void. In 77 games last season, he scored 20 or more points just four times.

He’s already done so on just three occasions in 24 games in 2017-18, and he’s doing it in a variety of ways.

Creating Offense Off The Ball

Lee has always been a quality perimeter shooter, but he’s taken it up another level this season. A career 39.0 percent shooter from beyond the arc, he’s currently connecting at a clip of 46.5 percent from three-point range.

In particular, Lee has feasted in catch-and-shoot situations, posting a ridiculous 69.0 eFG%. For context, that’s the ninth-highest mark among all players attempting at least three such shots per game.

Playing alongside a player with as much gravity as Kristaps Porzingis affords him plenty of these  opportunities.

In this clip, the defensive attention Porzingis commands when rolling to the rim forces Dillon Brooks to help off of Lee. He takes full advantage by burying the 3.

It’s not just on spot-up looks that Lee is doing work, either. He’s excellent at working free off of screens to create openings for himself. The Knicks utilize this frequently by executing sets designed for the express purpose of working him free for a quick-hitting jumper.

Lee has also been excellent at scoring in transition. He currently ranks in the 86th percentile in transitino, which helps to address a longstanding Knicks weakness.

He’s been aggressive in looking to attack the rim before the defense can get set.

He also hunts for open threes with defenders still scrambling.

These are all areas in which Lee has excelled throughout his career. It’s what he’s done when tasked with creating off the dribble, which has come as a surprise.

Increased Playmaking Off The Dribble

In the absence of a dynamic primary ball-handler, Lee has been asked to shoulder more of a playmaking burden. Lee has shown an increased willingness to penetrate off the dribble.

He’s averaging 3.8 drives per game this season after attempting just 1.9 in 2016-17. He’s scored efficiently on his forays into the paint, shooting 56.5 percent on drives. Lee is also converting on 69.1 percent of his attempts at the rim overall.

Lee’s ability to create for himself and others through the pick and roll has provided the Knicks’ offense with an invaluable boost. 

To be clear, he’s not a James Harden level playmaker out of the pick and roll; he can’t pick out shooters with eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head type of passes. Nor can he slither his way to the rim.

He’s not going to consistently create efficient offense for a team on a high volume of pick-and-rolls.

True as that may be, the Knicks don’t ask him to play that role. Instead, he runs it a couple of times per game to help grease the wheels offensively and keep things flowing. Lee has been efficient when called upon. As a ball-handler in pick and roll, he’s scoring in the 77th percentile.

He’s shown an ability to create his own shot in these situations that he hasn’t always flashed before.

He’s also been adept at making the pocket pass to set up the roll man.

Here he actually rejects the screen from Enes Kanter and spins back to probe the baseline. Dwight Howard is forced to take a step to cut off the drive and Lee hits Kanter on the short roll for an easy, in rhythm jumper.

Leading by Example

Lee’s value to the Knicks doesn’t end with his box score contributions. In his second season in New York, he’s established himself as a veteran leader in the locker room.

Voted as one of the team’s captains alongside Lance Thomas, Lee’s role as a mentor in shepherding the Knicks’ young core is a key component of the franchise’s rebuild.  

He has seen it all during a 10-year career in which he’s bounced around the league with seven different teams. Through all the ups and downs that Lee has faced, his professionalism, focus, and dedication to hard work have remained constant.

It’s these qualities the Knicks hope he can help to impart upon and instill in the team’s youth. That contribution would be even more valuable for the Knicks’ future than his surprising performance this season.

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Between his individual performances and his leadership behind the scenes, Courtney Lee has been a revelation for the New York Knicks.