On Blake Griffin vs. David Lee

USA TODAY Sports

With the All Star starters due to be announced on Thursday and Blake Griffin a lock to be voted into the starting lineup, it's time for the second guessers to propose alternatives. Today's subject: David Lee.

Last week I spent a few moments to debunk a little harmless "LaMarcus Aldridge is better than Blake Griffin" talk. Today the subject is David Lee.

David Lee is having a tremendous season. He's a terrific player who really does seem to be taking his game to a different level with the Warriors this year. He is very deserving of an All Star game selection and will probably get one from the coaches.

But in a 5-on-5 at ESPN today, when asked who should start at power forward in the West, Michael Wallace had this to say:

David Lee. The popular pick is clearly Blake Griffin. But dive into the numbers a bit and measure the impact. Lee clearly comes out on top.

This is the most maddening type of statement, the kind that makes the hair on the back of neck stand up. Saying something is "clear" or "obvious" without providing a shred of an argument. The argument he does provide -- "dive into the numbers" -- is actually completely the opposite of what Lee supporters should do. "Lee clearly comes out on top?" To whom is this clear? Honestly, if you want to skim the numbers and stay right on the surface, then you can make a case -- Lee is playing about 20% more minutes per game than Griffin, and his per game productivity (19.9 points and 10.9 rebounds) is commensurately better than Griffin's (17.7 and 8.6). BUT, as long as Wallace is suggesting that we dive in to the numbers, let's do that -- let's dive in.

Here are the stats for both players; pay particular attention to the per 36 minutes stats I've excerpted below.

Player

MPG

FG%

FT%

TRB

AST

STL

BLK

TOV

PTS

Blake Griffin

31.8

.534

.627

9.7

3.6

1.7

0.7

2.3

20.0

David Lee

37.6

.534

.796

10.4

3.5

0.9

0.2

2.5

19.1

On a per minute basis, Griffin is the better scorer and Lee's rebounding edge shrinks considerably. Lee, who grew up playing point guard before a growth spurt made him an NBA prospect, is a noted playmaker from the power forward spot -- but it's Griffin who gets more assists per minute. In fact, Griffin is better in every other raw stat category -- he gets more assists, steals and blocked shots, he commits fewer turnovers. They shoot an identical percentage from the field, though Griffin's effective field goal percentage is better because he's made a few threes while Lee's true shooting percentage is better because he's a better free throw shooter.

And let's face it, the relative lack of steals and blocked shots doesn't really begin to tell the story of what a poor defender Lee is. According to 82games, Lee has spent almost exactly half of his time at center this season, which is the Warriors most effective lineup by far (playing three guards with Jarrett Jack joining Steph Curry and Klay Thompson). Lee has been great on offense as the center, but he's allowing his opponents to shoot 55% and post a PER against of over 19. He's been better defensively at power forward, but while Lee gives you a lot, he gives a lot back as well.

Let me reiterate that David Lee is a terrific player who is having a terrific year and certainly deserves to make the All Star team. In a league that has difficulty recognizing the difference between good defense and bad defense he's more or less a lock to be included as an All Star reserve. That's all great. But for Wallace to suggest that "diving" into the numbers makes Lee a "clear" choice over Griffin is demonstrably fallacious -- that is unless you choose All Stars based on free throw shooting, in which case, sure, the choice is clear. You can't just say something and hope that no one actually cares enough to fact check you. There's also the small issue of team success, which, for right or wrong, has long been a major consideration in All Star selections. With the Clippers five games ahead of the Warriors in the standings, it's actually pretty clear that the fans are making the correct decision to have Griffin start in the All Star game.

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