The underrated David Lee

Warriors forward is a perennial All-Star, according to league experts

Updated: December 28, 2012, 9:41 AM ET
By Chris Broussard | ESPN the Magazine
David Lee, Mirza TeletovicKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsDavid Lee is averaging 20 points and 11 boards this season for the much-improved Warriors.

For the past five seasons, he has been a top scorer, averaging 18 points a game; a top rebounder, grabbing 11 boards each contest; and one of the league's most efficient players, hitting 53 percent of his shots. Yet when the game's top power forwards are mentioned, his name never comes up.

There's no doubt about it: David Lee is one of the most underrated, underappreciated players in the NBA.

And while that characterization has been unfair, it has also been understandable. See, on bad teams, somebody has to be the leading scorer and somebody has to be the leading rebounder. On bad teams, the best mediocre player on a roster full of them will often put up All-Star numbers.

Lee has often been that player. In 2009-10, he averaged 20 points and nearly 12 rebounds for a Knicks team that won 31 games. In last season's strike-shortened, 66-game campaign, he averaged 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds for the 25-41 Warriors.

"

David Lee's got to be an All-Star. How can he not be with the way he's playing? I don't know why he doesn't get nearly the same hype and respect that a guy like Kevin Love gets.

" -- An NBA executive

So respect was hard to come by. Yes, he made the All-Star team in 2010, but he wasn't viewed as a legitimate star. Yes, he received an $80 million contract from Golden State in 2010, but many thought he was overpaid. Lee, after all, had never made the playoffs, so how good could he be?

That perception, however, may be changing. Lee is merely doing what he's always done -- averaging 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds on 53.6 percent shooting. If we round up, we'll find that Lee's the only player in the league averaging at least 20 points and 10 boards a game.

The difference, of course, is that this season, for the first time in his eight-year career, Lee is playing for a team with a winning record. In one of the biggest surprises of the season, the 19-10 Warriors are the fifth seed in the West.

To get a better sense of how those around the league view Lee, I asked a coach, two front-office executives and two scouts whether the Warriors' success was changing their perception of the Golden State big man.