On the surface, nothing about Courtney Lee’s season jumps off the stat sheet. His 7.9 points per game is 0.1 point higher than his career-low (logged last year). You don’t come out of many games talking about “Courtney Lee-fueled runs.” Sometimes you might forget that he’s even playing.
In fact, Lee is playing less than he ever has. His 17.6 minutes per game this year is nine minutes below his career average and more than seven fewer minutes per game than he saw last season.
But he’s making the most of those minutes. His offensive production is up almost across the board. His PER is currently 16.3, the highest of his career and, for the first time ever, above the league average of 15. His true shooting percentage of .578 is also at a career high and about 4 percent higher than his career average. He’s also shooting a blistering 47.6% from behind the arc, 10% better than he shot last year, and 9% better than his career average.
Extrapolate those numbers out to Per 36, and Lee’s looking at 16.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.
It’s not all that surprising that Lee is having a good year. His career has been marked by alternating good and bad seasons. Last year was a bad year for him, so the easy prediction to make was that he’d rebound well this year.
And he has, but not in the way you might have expected. His limited minutes are due to a glut of guards that will only get worse when Rajon Rondo returns, yet he is still in 6 of the top 10 5-man units when it comes to +/-, and the top 2 5-man units in terms of field goal percentage. He’s genuinely having a positive impact on games, regardless of the minutes crunch.
So what happens when Rondo returns? It will certainly push Jordan Crawford to the bench, but does Crawford take Lee’s minutes? Crawford and Lee are second and third on the team in PER (18.2 and 16.3 respectively. Jared Sullinger is tops at 20.3), so both can make a case for more minutes… or at least a case to hold onto the minutes they have.
It’ll be interesting to see what Brad Stevens chooses to do in that situation. He’ll definitely start Rondo and Bradley, leaving Crawford, Lee, and Pressey to fight over minutes. All three have staked legitimate claims to roles on this team, but there are only so many minutes to go around. There are 96 minutes to be split between the two guard spots and five guys looking for a piece of that action. There’s little doubt Rondo will get at least 36 of those minutes when he’s 100%, so four guys are going to be going after 60 minutes of playing time. Someone is going to get some undeserved bench time.
Lee is making a strong case to hold onto the minutes he’s been playing. One potential side effect is an increased trade value, which, considering the season, is always a way to frame the discussion. If he helps the Celtics by playing well enough to be attractive to another team, so be it. One way or another, he’s helping this team.
The numbers aren’t jumping off the page, but there’s no doubt, Lee is quietly having one of his best seasons in the NBA.