Courtney Lee is the best basketball player to come out of Western Kentucky perhaps ever. It’s a fact that’s not lost on those who attended rival schools in the Sun Belt during the Hilltoppers’ reign of terror (like this author). After a four-year run, he turned his collegiate success into a sustained NBA career. Now, with his career winding down, Lee finds himself at a crossroad after the New York Knicks traded him to the Dallas Mavericks last season. How he performs this season could very well determine whether he has a future in the league.
After joining the Mavericks as part of the blockbuster deal that brought Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas, Courtney Lee has been something of an afterthought. He appeared in 22 games but averaged only 12 minutes. A number of nights, he saw less than eight minutes on the floor. What’s more, his shot, something that remained consistent throughout his 11-year career, seems to have left him. Lee shot just 39 percent with the Mavericks and a paltry 28.2 percent from deep.
The question that the team and fans have to be asking themselves, as preseason gets underway, is whether Lee can recapture some of his past efficiency. If he can, then his veteran journeyman presence in the locker room will be a boon on a young roster. If not, then should Dallas try to move him and his expiring $12.7 million contract?
Lee will be a backup this season barring catastrophic injuries to all the other guards. In that role, he does have the potential to thrive. While he’s not likely going to see many nights logging 20 or more minutes, if his shot returns, he’ll have the capability of influencing games.
If his efficiency returns to what is was just a couple of years ago, he shot 45.4 percent overall and 40.6 percent on 3-pointers during the 2017-18 season, then all will be well. He might even see an uptick in minutes thanks to his outside shooting. The Mavericks need more shooters on the floor around Porzingis and Luka Doncic. Lee could be just the ticket.
That improved production would be a boost to his scoring as well. He averaged just 3.6 points with the Mavericks last season. Getting that number closer to his career average of 9.7, or beating it, needs to be a focus of the team. Those additional points will help ease the scoring burden placed on the team’s two stars.
It’s not hard to believe that last season was a fluke for Lee. Getting him back to normal will go a long way in helping the team and extending his career.
Head coach Rick Carlisle didn’t list Lee among the players that will see limited action during preseason due to injury. However, it’s entirely possible that the neck injury he sustained at the beginning of last season had a lingering impact on his performance. Lee never looked entirely comfortable on the court, even months after returning. A left him contusion late in the season didn’t help matters.
Lee hasn’t had a history of injury, but at 34-years-old, that could be changing. If his body isn’t right, then the possibility of him returning to form would seem dim. With the team focused on developing younger talent, any setback for Lee could mean spending many nights riding the bench. It’s unlikely he wants to wind down his career like this.
Lee still has the potential to be a solid contributor, especially if the Mavericks are serious about trying to return to the playoffs. However, his role on the team will depend a lot on how his shot looks, his health, and how much the young kids around him play.