Upgrading the backcourt was a publicized focus for the Knicks this offseason. The trade for Derrick Rose did that, and it was the first wow move of the NBA summer, offering the Knicks a former MVP and literally their most talented point guard in decades. Rose will be on heavy watch throughout the season for developments, but thinking deeper about what success looks like for the Knicks this season, the acquisition of Courtney Lee might be just as important.
At 30 years old, Lee can realistically thrive in any setting because of his ability on both sides of the ball. Jeff Hornacek will have the Knicks playing with more tempo, and Lee is fit for transition basketball as a finisher and a shot maker. His intangibles as a scrappy and efficient off guard has made him a respectable rotation player for his entire career.
Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Derrick Rose will hoard most of the attention for these new Knicks, as they should. They are the talent nucleus. But you simply don’t win games without players like Courtney Lee, who ranked first among eligible Hornets players in offensive rating (111.4) last season. He also posted the highest net rating (+6) and true shooting percentage (57.6 percent) on the team.
Lee seems to have that New York pride brewing already, as he explained his expectations for next season when talking to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders:
“We’re contenders, man. They didn’t make the playoffs last year, but we’re looking to change that and win big. The ring is the ultimate goal for everybody on the team; I know it is for me. When they talked to me and told me about the pieces they were adding alongside the players who were already there, I didn’t think anything less than a championship [was the goal]. We’re trying to get the Knicks back into the playoffs and win big.”
He wasn’t bold enough to put the Knicks in the same breath as the Warriors, but that’s still some pretty big talk.
To Lee’s advantage, he won’t be held to the same public standard as Anthony, Porzingis, Rose, or even Joakim Noah for that matter. He’ll be doing his intangible, low-volume dirty work to the benefit of winning basketball games and to the eventual appreciation of Knicks fans.
The best players need to perform, and the ceiling for the Knicks, much like any team, is still dependent on that. Courtney Lee is the kind of player who quietly and productively fills gaps. Along with Rose, Lee did help upgrade the Knicks’ backcourt, and while he’s not the elitist talent the Knicks wished for, he’s the unsung key to helping them return to competitive legitimacy.