Gators product David Lee is a guy who flies under the radar but is putting up some big numbers.
By CHRIS TOMASSONFS Florida
His teammates say David Lee isn’t a flashy guy. That seems accurate until you ask what he drives.
“Bentley Mulsanne,’’ the Golden State Warriors power forward said sheepishly about a vehicle with a list price of more than $300,000. “I’m a car guy. I guess I should say Honda Civic ’96.’’
Oh, well. Lee is making $12.7 million this season. He’s got to do something with his money.
On the court, though, the former University of Florida star has a blue-collar image, one that hasn’t translated into tremendous popularity. Despite averaging 19.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game, Lee isn’t even among the top 15 listed in the most recent All-Star voting totals for Western Conference frontcourt players.
“That’s because he’s not a flashy guy,’’ said Warriors guard Stephen Curry. “He just gets it done every night. He’s just a fundamental guy. He’s not a guy flying at the rim.’’
Until recently dipping just under the 20-point mark, the 6-foot-9 Lee was the NBA’s only player averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds. Some big men in the Hall of Fame don’t have those kind of numbers.
But it hasn’t swayed too many fans. There are 36 frontcourt players on the ballot, with the league listing the top 15 vote-getters. Lee’s name has not been seen in any of three All-Star voting returns.
There is a University of Florida alum listed in the latest return in Houston forward Chandler Parsons, who is 15th. But he’s averaging just 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds.
“People are just voting for their favorite guys,’’ Lee said about getting such little respect in the balloting. “As far as that subject goes, we’ll see how it goes when coaches vote for the reserves.’’
When the reserves are announced Jan. 24, Lee is hoping to earn his second All-Star Game trip in his eight seasons, but it would mark the first time making it as a coaches’ selection. He was an injury replacement with New York in 2010.
“He’s a guy who flies under the radar for whatever reason,’’ said Warriors guard Jarrett Jack.
Looking at Lee’s career statistics, you’d think he would have had multiple All-Star selections and not have had to wait for any last-minute phone calls from David Stern. He’s averaged more than 10 rebounds per game in three previous seasons and more than 20 points in two.
A big problem, though, is Lee has been on plenty of bad teams. He never won more than 33 games in any of his five Knicks seasons before heading to Golden State in a 2010 sign-and-trade. The Warriors went 36-46 in Lee’s first year and 23-43 last season.
But this year has been different. Heading into Wednesday’s home game against the Miami Heat, the Warriors are 23-13, putting Lee in line for his first playoff appearance
“That’s what people notice is winners,’’ Curry said. “He’s an important guy on this team and if he can keep it up, there’s no reason why he won’t be going to the All-Star Game this year.’’
Curry, averaging 19.3 points, also could make it as a reserve. Curry is at least listed in the most recent voting totals, ranking ninth among West guards.
But Curry, who leads the NBA in 3-pointers made, can woo fans with long shots. When it comes to Lee, apparently he’s not throwing down enough dunks.
“All-Star voting is very stupid,’’ Warriors forward Richard Jefferson said when asked about Lee’s case. “Being a big guy that’s very efficient on the block is not very sexy (to the fans).’’
But coaches get a kick a kick out of it. No wonder Denver’s George Karl will give Lee strong consideration when he votes for West reserves.
“He’s a pretty versatile player,’’ Karl said. “David Lee is a good player. He’s capable of being one of the top 12 players in the Western Conference. I think he’ll definitely be on that list.’’
Karl said the NBA is moving toward versatile power forwards such as Lee who can be playmakers and shoot from the outside in addition to performing the inside work required for the position. Lee, shooting 53.4 percent, has developed a nifty mid-range jumper. About the only thing statistically he doesn’t do is block shots and hit 3-pointers.
Lee has had an impressive career for a guy drafted in 2005 with the 30th and last pick of the first round. He was selected behind such forgettable players as Yaroslav Korolev, Julius Hodge and Wayne Simien, who went one pick ahead of him to the Heat.
“I’m a guy that was the 30th pick in the draft, and the biggest thing has been just trying to work up each step of the way,’’ Lee said. “That’s why the guys (on the Warriors) say that I’m not a flashy player. I didn’t come in as a lottery pick and as a guy that got minutes right way. I had to come from being inactive to being a being a bench guy to being a starter and then being an All-Star, and hopefully I’ll make another one this year.’’
When Lee joined the Knicks in 2005, he earned $861,360, which was nice but didn’t exactly provide immediate Bentley purchasing power. The money to splurge came when he signed a six-year, $79 million contract as a restricted free agent in the deal that got him to Golden State.
Lee now has three cars in his fleet, although he offered no details on the other two. Neither, though, is a Honda Civic.