It has been said year after year: The Memphis Grizzlies need shooters.
Courtney Lee was brought in last year to be one of those shooters, and ultimately fizzled down the stretch of the season after a hot start upon his arrival. As a result, when the 2014-15 season started, no one really knew what role Courtney would have. Would he still be a starter? Would he be the first to come off the bench? With a healthy Quincy Pondexter and the newly acquired sharpshooter Vince Carter, fans and media were happy to speculate how everything would play out.
Whatever his role may be, it optimistically seemed that the days of Lee being the only true three-point shooter on the Grizzlies would be in the past. As with most of the previous seasons' expectations, the 2014-15 season showed that Memphis was once again undermanned with shooters. Ultimately, underachievement and disappointment with Pondexter and Carter forced Lee to once again play the role as the primary outside threat for the Grizzlies — a role he did seem to embrace. Looking over his shot selection, his three-point attempts were the highest among all his shots.
For the regular season, Lee made 40.2% from three-point range. This was easily the best on the Grizzlies and 13th-best in the entire NBA. As expected, most teams would swarm Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the paint allowing Courtney to be the main benefactor of wide open looks beyond the arc. For a shooting-starved Grizzlies fan base, there were fewer things more rewarding than seeing "CLee for 3" light up on the jumbotron inside FedExForum. The feeling of a wide open Lee three was best summed up with this:
LEEZUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR pic.twitter.com/06iLmZUrgK— Austin Reynolds (@ReynoldsRant) April 9, 2015
However, any disappointment attached with Courtney Lee's season can best be attributed with the general lack of that feeling during most games. Despite the terrific three-point percentage, Lee only attempted 224 triples this year, which was one shy of his career high. But to put that in perspective, Vince Carter, who played less than half the total minutes of Lee, had eight more three-point attempts. Some of this can be attributed to Carter's gunslinger mentality and the need to provide more scoring for an offensively deficient Grizzlies second unit.
Lee was always the 4th option for the starters (5th with Jeff Green). However, even with all the mouths to feed in the starting lineup, there were plenty of opportunities for Courtney that he simply would pass up each game. This was rather unfortunate given the fact that the Grizzlies were 21-3 in the regular season when Lee hit 2 or more threes in a game.
Looking at the regular season as a whole, it is really difficult to describe Courtney Lee's consistency. During the beginning of the season, he got off to a scorching hot start. Even with a few brief injuries, Lee could be relied on for 11.2 PPG as he averaged 49.4% in both FG% and 3P% from Oct to Jan.
As the Grizzlies moved forward into 2015, Lee became streakier and less reliable. After a week in January where he averaged 16.2 PPG on 48.4 FG%, there was no idea what kind of performance you would get out of him. This included multiple games where he didn't score over eight points. Like most of the other Grizzlies starters, Lee struggled mightily after the All-Star break. The lowest points of his season came in March while his shooting percentage dropped noticeably. (34.4 FG%; 20 3P%)
It is hard to pin down what exactly caused the decline. Jeff Green was traded to the Grizzlies in mid-January and his presence certainly did take away some of Lee's scoring. Courtney also experienced a few injuries after the All-Star break. With his horrible March numbers and his streaky nature, it was worrisome wondering which player we would be getting going into the postseason. Luckily for the Grizzlies and their fans, Lee began to heat up once again in the playoffs. Against the Portland Trail Blazers, Lee's playing could only be described as fantastic.
Going into the 2nd round with an injured Mike Conley and the tough task of trying to keep pace with the offensive juggernaut known as the Splash Brothers, Lee was going to be needed to provide the same kind of play as in the quarterfinals. This unfortunately did not happen.
Overall, I think you can say Lee's season was successful based on what was given to him for help. Moving forward into next season, once again Grizzlies fans are left wondering if Courtney Lee will be provided any reliable shooting support where he wouldn't have to shoulder the entire three-point load. While fully capable of doing more, I think the Courtney we saw this season is what fans should expect to see for next season. He will always be a streaky shooter that should be given plenty of opportunities to attempt open threes. Whether he decides to take them or not remains to be seen.
For a fantastic in-depth look into Courtney's up and down season, you need to check out this article by Joe Mullinax.
And of course, one last time. Lee's buzzer beater.