Commentary

C's Lee aims to cement rotation spot

Updated: November 12, 2013, 11:44 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Courtney Lee shot a career best from the field during his first season in Boston, but you'd never know it.

Even after shooting a more-than-respectable 46.4 percent overall, including a strong 44.2 percent clip on corner 3-pointers, Lee spent much of the offseason trying to figure out why his shot had failed him last season.

[+] EnlargeCourtney Lee
AP Photo/John RaouxCourtney Lee has regained confidence in his shooting stroke.

So when he arrived back in Boston this past summer, he sought out video coordinator/assistant of basketball development Kwame Graves-Fulgham and asked him to splice together clips of his jump shot from throughout his career.

What Lee saw on film stunned him. At some point last season he developed a bit of a hitch in his shot that hadn't existed before, and it was obvious on tape.

"I don't know where it came from, I was swinging the ball from my left side to my right when I shot," said Lee. "In the years before, I never did that. I had to get back to working on not doing it."

Like a golfer tweaking his swing, Lee refined his stroke entering the season and said he felt as confident as ever in his shot. It helps that he's been able to take it on the course, shooting 65.5 percent overall (and 75 percent from beyond the arc) during Boston's past five games, averaging nine points per contest in that span.

Lee is doing his part to infuse some offense into Boston's second unit, which was inconsistent at the start of the season as Boston lost its first four games. Aided by a tweaked reserve unit, the Celtics have won four straight to pull back to .500, and Lee finally feels comfortable with his shot.

"I'm back to playing with confidence," he said. "Taking my shots, playing within the flow, pretty much back to playing the way I was playing before I came to Boston last year."

Lee was supposed to be the steal of the 2012 offseason, a midlevel talent acquired from Houston for nothing more than end-of-the-roster flotsam and a pile of second-round draft picks. He was supposed to pair with fellow offseason import Jason Terry to give Boston's bench a much-needed jolt, particularly after the departure of Ray Allen.

But outside of a stretch late in the first half in which he paired with Avery Bradley in Boston's backcourt and helped the team play perhaps its most inspired ball of the season, things didn't go the way Lee expected. His playing time eroded late in the year and an ankle injury essentially made him an afterthought in Doc Rivers' playoff rotation, as he played just 39 minutes over four games.

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Lee arrived for camp to find an overhauled roster, but one that's overstocked at the shooting guard position. With renewed confidence in his shot, he has carved out a small role here at the start of the season, averaging 17.5 minutes per game in eight appearances.

Lee's advanced offensive numbers are quite glossy. He's averaging 1.119 points per play, according to Synergy data, ranking him in the 92nd percentile. Of all players with at least 50 offensive possessions, Lee ranks 19th out of 200 qualifiers (one spot ahead of LeBron James). He currently owns the best individual offensive numbers on the Celtics' roster.

Lee has actually done most of his damage around the basket this season, connecting on 15 of 20 attempts (75 percent) inside the paint. He's 4-of-10 on 3-point shots (non-half-court heave variety).

The only negative for Lee at the moment is that the team's performance over the past four games isn't as good as his individual numbers might lead you to believe. Boston's offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor during its wins is 99.8, about 6 ½ points less than the team average (and it jumps to 109.1 when he's on the bench) in that span. What's more, the team's defensive rating is 103.4 when he's on the floor (dipping to 98.5 when he's off).

Maybe it's just the small sample. Maybe it's running with reserve-heavy lineups. Either way, Lee admits there are strides to make in his game.

"Everything, all-around," Lee said when asked what his next step is. "When I get into the game, I like to affect the game from different areas, whether it'd be from defense, getting steals [or] trying to get rebounds, block shots. And knocking down shots. I try to attack the game all-around."

When Rajon Rondo returns later this season, it's going to further crowd an already tight guard rotation. Players like Lee have to put their best foot forward now while there's an opportunity (heck, someone like MarShon Brooks can't even get on the floor at the moment).

With three years and $16.4 million remaining on the four-year sign-and-trade pact he inked when acquired by Boston, Lee's play will dictate whether he emerges as one of the Celtics' building blocks for the future, or whether he's available to contenders looking for their own jolt at the trade deadline.

Lee's 2012-13 season didn't play out like he had hoped. But his shot is back and it's on him to ensure his 2013-14 season has a happier ending.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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