Ever since it was almost a given that when Tony Allen returned from his hand injury, that Grizzlies shooting guard, Courtney Lee would replace Allen in the starting lineup, there has been a disturbing trend. Lee has been having a less than lackluster spell of games, and his once boisterous 3 point FG percentage of %44.2 as a member of the Boston Celtics has now steadily cooled off to somewhere around %32 as a Grizzly. Lee, who’s scoring prowess, elite level pull-up jump-shot, and tenacious defense all came together to make it seem like a no-brainer that he should be a starter, now looks like that the only thing that truly justifies keeping Tony Allen on the bench is that him starting is the lesser of other possible evils. It’s evident that Coach Joerger has Tayshaun Prince cemented as his starting small forward and even with his recent scoring woes, Lee at shooting guard still is more appealing than combining Prince with Tony Allen, which would be an offensive disaster, (see Western Conference Finals against the Spurs) and Prince with Miller, which would provide offense but definitely a drop off on defense.
Before I proceed with this edition of Noise From The Sain Asylum let me first remind all of your that I am a big fan of Courtney Lee. I have long wanted us to have an actual shooting guard with size on this team that has the ability to knock down shots when called upon. Lee definitely fits that criteria even to the point where I personally coined the phrase “Leezy Money” every time he made a shot because not only was his shot “money” but if you were a betting man it would be an easy pay day to go all in on the chancing of him making a shot. Lately the money hasn’t been so “easy” for Grizzlies fans who are confident that Lee will make big time baskets, with the missed corner three that didn’t even hit the rim against the Heat in the 4th quarter being one of many recent examples. Lee has been struggling without a doubt and the only issue concerning money has been the fact that Lee has looked less like a quick payday and more like the player that had Boston fans complaining about his 4 yr./$21,350,000 deal that the Grizzlies are now still on the hook for 2 years and roughly $11 million. Lee has had some big games here and there sprinkled in with a few duds but his defense has still been pretty respectable. More alarming than his lack of making baskets in my opinion has also been his lack of a desire to even take shots. I have often see Lee hesitate after the ball is kicked out to him instead of being ready to launch a shot as soon as it hits his hands. This is clearly a confidence issue and one that needs to be addressed going into this upcoming crucial stretch of games and possibly the playoffs. Lee, who was the starting shooting guard for the Orlando Magic during their NBA Finals run in his rooking season, has irreplaceable deep playoff experience and we need everything that he brings to the table. Even though Mike Miller has turned the corner and has been knocking down shots at a high percentage and a high volume, we still need Lee’s production in the starting lineup to add to what Miller has been doing lately. Lee has the natural instinct to defer and be a glue-guy type role player but we need him not only to play smart and energetic but also look to score when possible and knock down open jump shots.
Lee, who was the former client of Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien, during his time as an agent, was never regarded as a Hollinger guy and his connections to Levien have always been assumed to be the reason why Lee was acquired in a trade for former Grizz combo guard Jerryd Bayless. Levien clearly favored his own personal opinion and experience with Lee as his client over the analytical opinion of John Hollinger who would probably call Lee’s early shooting successes more of an exception to the rule than the norm. I still think that we by far won the trade with Boston especially considering the fact that Nick Calathes has more than emerged as a great backup point guard. Lee potentially gives you something that this team has not hand in many seasons. He has a combination of size and basketball IQ that the Grizz probably have never seen at the shooting guard outside of maybe Eddie Jones who was well past his prime or a younger Mike Miller who never had Lee’s defensive ability. Some even say that Lee is everything that we envisioned OJ Mayo to be with similar ball handling and shooting skills, but of course taller, a better defender, and less demand to be a scoring option. Lee has had several jaw dropping buzzer beaters that have made him a fan favorite as well that have won him over even to Jerryd Bayless’ biggest supporters. I’m personally pulling for Lee because I want to see him succeed with this team, not only this season but for the next two seasons on his contract as well. I, like many other fans definitely don’t want to see us go back to having a starting lineup that starts games 10 points down and Lee has definitely been an upgrade in that area before his recent inconsistencies. Lately the less than lack luster Lee, has definitely been more than a tongue twister, he’s been a true head-scratcher. We all know what he brings to the table but we all just wish that he would snap out this funk. Even though he suffered an ankle injury earlier that was also re-injured, I think more of Lee’s woes have been mental. He was never the same after missing a key alley-oop layup in game two of the finals against the Lakers in 2009 and was once seen as a mentally weak player by his teammates before in Boston. This season he was not even a starter on a struggling Boston team to which he backed up Jordan Crawford of all people. Lee has been very good for us and I’m fine with him starting and also think that he is more of the player that Levien envisions, more so than the person that recent stats and analytics suggest. Will Lee push past this recent cold spell and mental block or will he continue to struggle to produce? If I were a betting man I would take my chances that Lee will be back to his old productive self but its just not Leezy Money like it would have been earlier this year when he starting off averaging over 14 ppg. for us. Lee hasn’t had a 20-point game since January 14th against the Thunder, and has had 3 games where he hasn’t scored a single point. Lee is due for a breakout stretch of games and hopefully it will happen just in time for us, but in the mean time don’t try to say that we have seen a Less Than Lackluster Lee Lately three-times fast!
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