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Evaluating Courtney Lee

This week, 3QC will take a look back on each Magic player's 2008/2009 season. Each day focuses on one position: Monday for point guards, Tuesday for shooting guards, Wednesday for small forwards, Thursday for power forwards, and Friday for centers. I'll evaluate each individual player at that position at regular intervals throughout the day, while Eddy will make a general survey of the position later in the afternoon.

Day 2 begins with a look at Courtney Lee. J.J. Redick is up next.

Courtney Lee
No. 11 Shooting Guard
Points Per Game Rebounds Per Game Assists Per Game
8.4 2.3 1.2
Points Per 36 Rebounds Per 36 Assists Per 36
12.0 3.3 1.7
PER Rebound Rate Assist Rate
10.8 5.2 7.7
FG% 3FG% FT%
45.0% 40.4% 83.0%
eFG% TS%
52.6% 55.6%

All statistics in this table from Lee's player page at basketball-reference.

Looking at Courtney Lee's statistics, an outsider might be surprised that there's so much objection to the Orlando Magic's decision to include him in a trade with the New Jersey Nets for Vince Carter. 8 points and 2 rebounds? Really? Sure the shooting percentages are excellent, but nothing on the above stat card jumps out. But the statistics belie what a solid player Lee is. It's not the numbers he puts up while playing, but rather the way he plays, that makes him so impressive.

Thing is, Lee's season didn't get off to such a great start. He was the last two-guard on the depth chart, behind Mickael Pietrus, Keith Bogans, and J.J. Redick. And when he did see time, he didn't do much with it. In fact, he hadn't made more than three shots in any game in which he appeared until December 3rd, which helped turn the tide of fan perception in his favor. He lit-up the Minnesota Timberwolves for 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, and he did it in a variety of ways: pull-up jumpers off the dribble, finishes in transition, and catch-and-shoot three-pointers. It's not as though people hated him, or anything, but there was a sense of ambivalence about him. Oh, that Lee kid. Another mediocre Magic draft pick. But he never looked back after the Minnesota game. He continued to assert himself offensively, while playing the same great defense for which he was heralded coming into the NBA.

Very steady, Courtney was, up until the final month of the season, when his efficiency dove off a cliff. Check this out: in February, he averaged 10.8 points, 2.1 boards, and 1.6 assists. March? 10.8, 2.6, and 0.9. Both months he shot well over 40% from three-point range. You could count on him for a solid, if not spectacular, performace.

We've spent some time lauding him, and with good reason, but he is not without fault. For all the good things he does offensively--space the floor, make the extra pass, rarely turn the ball over, and take smart shots--he could probably stand to make a few more plays for his teammates. And rebounding, on both ends? He's athletic and engaged enough to average more than 2.3 boards per game, although it's certainly possible that playing alongside Dwight Howard and Marcin Gortat eroded his rebound totals.

However, given his role on the team--5th option, defensive ace--it's hard to imagine him being able to do much more for it than he did. It's also not hard to imagine that Carter will at least double his production on almost as efficient shooting. Parting with Lee? Bummer. He's going to have a long career, and it would be nice if he could have spent more time in Orlando. Somehow, I believe Vince's performance next season will go a long way toward easing the pain of seeing Lee blossom in New Jersey.

But that's looking ahead. Right now, we look back and see an excellent rookie campaign. Three cheers for Courtney Lee.

Grade: B+