If you could describe Steve Kerr’s first few months as an NBA head coach in two words, it would be picture perfect. Leading the Golden State Warriors to their best start in franchise history, longest win streak in franchise history with 16, and wins in both dominating and gut-wrenching fashion, Kerr has coached well beyond expectations. He has not faced any major challenges, yet. His first major one will begin Monday night against the Sacramento Kings.
David Lee is finally expected to return for the Warriors after coming back prematurely from his injury earlier in the season to barely play in one game. It’s no secret that the Warriors have done well without him, yet still lack a true interior scorer. This causes some problems for the Warriors. The team is very perimeter-orientated. This is not a bad thing at all, however when the shots are not falling, it’s crucial to have someone you can give the ball to in the low post and be able to create their own shot. Andrew Bogut cannot do that. Mo Speights has improved his range on his jumper, but is not capable of scoring in the post consistently enough. Draymond Green is too small to bang with some of the bigger forwards and centers in the paint. Lee can do all of that. He has proven to be able to score on the low block and the Warriors need that.
The front office loves Lee. Mark Jackson praised Lee last season and refused to put him on the bench in favor of Green in the starting lineup. Green has had to fill the void for the Warriors this season without much choice due to Lee’s injury. Green has played out of his mind during his contract season. Putting up career-highs in nearly every statistic, Green has stepped up his game and has transformed into arguably the best player on the team not named Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry.
Kerr can potentially be pressured to eventually start Lee and keep Green on the bench as a rotation player like he was last season. The Warriors defense is noticeably better when Green is in the game compared to Lee. The floor is also more spaced out which gives Curry and now Thompson room to operate.
Lee will come off the bench Monday night. Kerr says he will play the veteran power forward around 12-15 minutes, hoping he can get some shots up with the second unit. The Warriors' main concern now is where Lee can fit in with the cruising Dubs.
Lee should come off the bench with the second unit and Green should remain the starter. The combination of Bogut and Green on the defensive end gives them an upper hand, especially in the Western Conference. They will have to defend some of the best bigs in the league, especially come playoff time. Lee is a good offensive player, but gives the Warriors nothing close to what Green does on the defensive side of the ball.
There are not many bench players who are capable of scoring the way that Lee can. Many players on second units are not used to defending offensive players as skilled as Lee. The Warriors run their offense through Bogut in the first unit and can do the same with Lee in the second group, especially since he is one of the best passing big men in the league. Andre Iguodala gave up his starting spot in the lineup in favor of Harrison Barnes. That should set a tone for the whole team. Kerr is preaching unselfishness and Lee playing with the second unit off the bench would symbolize it.
It can be difficult, though. In 2013, Lee was the Warriors’ first All-Star since Latrell Sprewell in 1997. He is still a fan favorite among Golden State fans. But it’s tough to ignore how much he struggled at the end of the season and in the postseason last year against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors second most reliable scorer looked all but that. Giving him a less pressured role with the rotation guys off the bench can actually benefit him and is worth the shot. Lee is still one of the more talented and smartest players on the team. Kerr can take advantage and make the Warriors even better with their best scoring big man officially healthy.