(Editor's Note: I don't know if you know this, but the Grizzlies had a lot of players this year. Like...more than any team ever. After taking volunteers to do player evaluations from the staff, I still had to farm some of these out to outside sources. Today's review has been written by Brandon C., aka @BallFromGrace on Twitter.)
With Marc Gasol’s season in jeopardy due to a foot injury and the trade deadline looming, the Grizzlies’ front office made the move to ship Courtney Lee and his perfectly coiffed hair off to Charlotte in a three-team deal. As a pure basketball decision, it was the right move, allowing the team to recoup something for Lee’s expiring contract rather than having him leave in free agency with nothing to show for it. But even the knowledge that the move was for the best in the long run didn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.
The blow wasn’t exactly softened by the return. In exchange for CLee, Memphis received: P.J. Hairston [trash emoji]; Chris “Birdman” Andersen [decaying corpse]; and four second round picks [yay!].
But there’s no use crying over spilled milk. For now, all we can do is smile through the tears and remember the season that was Courtney Lee’s last in Memphis.
Lee actually put together a couple of huge, game-saving plays for the Hornets in the postseason, but for our review, we’ll stick to Lee’s time with Memphis.
The season opened inauspiciously for Courtney, chock full of bad shooting performances, but he wasn’t without his moments. In an early contest with the Rockets, Lee came up big late. He scored 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, helping Memphis earn a nine-point victory over a division rival.
As his shooting eventually trended back towards his career average, Lee also made big contributions in wins against Washington, Portland, New Orleans, Orlando, and Sacramento. But Lee’s biggest highlight of the year actually came on a play where he wasn’t even the scorer.
Coming off an absolutely atrocious November, the Grizzlies were tied with a subpar Phoenix team with only eight tenths of a second remaining on the clock. The game looked destined for overtime until Lee, from his spot on the sideline in front of the scorer’s table, found Jeff Green cutting down the lane. Lee’s lob, a bullet with the sort of deadly accuracy that would’ve made even Tom Brady proud, found its mark. Jeff finished, and the Grizzlies walked away with a win.
The play was the perfect cap to one of Lee’s best games of the season. He ended the night with 18 points, going 7-of-12 from the floor with 4 rebounds, 1 block, and 6 assists, none more important than that one to Jeff Green.
After getting off to a blazing hot start to the 2014-15 season, Lee kicked off this year’s campaign doing the exact opposite of that. Through the end of November, Lee shot 22% from three, with an offensive rating in the low 90s.
Even more troubling was Lee’s proclivity to become detached from the offense. As Andrew Ford chronicled on GBB in January, Lee was passing up open threes or, worse, becoming a bystander on the offensive side of the floor. Maybe Lee lost confidence in his shot. Maybe he was just in his own head too much. Either way, he was far from the contributor that he’d been just a season ago when he’d been a key cog in the Grizzlies’ hot start.
You’ll notice there’s a lot more red on that first shot chart, particularly behind the three point line. Lee was also less effective finishing in the lane this season compared to last, and he shot 20% more midrange shots. Obviously, these numbers come with their own issues. This isn’t a huge sample size, and it happened while Memphis was going through the buzzsaw of their early season schedule. But they’re a decent visualization of how poorly Lee started off the season.
I guess Nick Young and Courtney Lee went to the same barber.... pic.twitter.com/8uYdKRcB19— Return of Vinsanity (@VinsanityGNG) January 13, 2016
For a few days in mid-January, Courtney Lee managed to burn our eyes with this. I’m not sure what exactly it is. Braids? Dreads? The beginning stages of becoming a clone of The Weeknd? Whatever it is, it looks bad. Thankfully, CLee eventually came to his senses and went back to the same old hairstyle that we know and love.
Please, Courtney, never do this again.
Season Grade: B-
After getting off to a dreadful start, Lee’s numbers trended back towards his career averages. By the time he was traded to Charlotte, Lee was averaging 10 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game, right at his career averages. His three point shooting was back to 37% after starting the year below 30%. His true shooting percentage was practically identical to last season’s. If there was any area where Lee’s numbers really looked down it was his defense, posting a defensive rating of 111 to match a career worst.
So, while the slow start ended up evening out in the end, it was Lee’s mental issues that ended up being the biggest problem. Mired in the funk of a protracted shooting slump, Lee allowed himself to disengage from the offense and succumb to some bad mental lapses. It wasn’t a good look, although not nearly as bad as those braids.
A Look to the Future: CLee Back?
As we’re all aware, Lee will be a free agent this summer. So, is there a chance that Memphis decides to give in to popular demand* and put Lee back into a Grizzlies uniform?
*Popular demand here is defined as “what the author wishes”
I asked GBB Senior Writer, Matt Hrdlicka, what value he thought Lee would get in free agency, and he estimated a contract of 3 or 4 years with an average annual value of $8-10 million. Given the cap situation for next year, and compared to Lance Stephenson’s option of $9.4 million, that sounds pretty reasonable, right?
Oh. Never mind.
That’s a fair point, though. Lee is no longer a spring chicken. He’ll be 31 at the start of next season, which would put him at 34 in the last year of a four-year contract. His numbers haven’t fallen off dramatically yet, but Father Time is undefeated, as they say. Even CLee is no exception.
Plus, for a team that’s on the verge of a major transition in terms of roster makeup, bringing back a known quantity with the potential for vastly diminishing utility in upcoming years just doesn’t make sense.
(Still, if the front office decides to run it back with CLee, I won’t be outraged. Just sayin’.)