New York’s swingman Courtney Lee, often traded around the league, has spent two seasons comfortably with the Knicks. Despite avoiding a cross-country move to another franchise, Lee will have to face the challenge of reduced minutes in favor of the Knicks’ younger players.
After Kristaps Porzingis went down with an ACL tear prior the All-Star break, New York’s coaching staff began to focus on developing the team’s youth more than they had all season. With the season winding down and the team almost certainly headed for the lottery, it only makes sense for the Knicks to finally buy into the youth movement and give veterans’ minutes away to young players.
New York biting the bullet and accepting the slow tank, while semi-popular with the fan base, meant a steep drop off in minutes for the vets of the roster, including 32-year-old guard Courtney Lee. Currently on his second season of a four-year deal, Lee has averaged 11.7 points per game on 44.9 percent shooting from the field in his time with the Knicks, and has been the premier perimeter defender for the team, often tasked with guarding the opposition’s best wing player, from Steph Curry to LeBron James. However, due to the Knickerbockers’ recent push toward playing younger players like Emmanuel Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina, and Troy Williams, Lee’s minutes have dropped from 32.6 per game before the break to 18.6, per Basketball-Reference. Courtney had this to say regarding his role augmentation:
“As a player, competitor, it’s definitely tough… I’m not the coach. I’m not in the front office. If that’s the decision they’re making, they’re going with, all I can do is be professional and control what I can control. That’s coming in every day and working hard, be positive.” (Newsday)
As he remains in the starting lineup (not that it’s definite), Courtney Lee’s minutes reduction, along with the benching of Jarrett Jack, has opened up larger roles for the rest of New York’s crowded backcourt. Tim Hardaway Jr., Ntilikina, Mudiay, and Trey Burke have all seen increases in minutes since the break. (Frank, for instance, made his first career start Tuesday in Portland in place of Lee, although reportedly Lee missed the game for “personal reasons.”) While the argument could be made that Lee is surely better than all four of those guards, it’s unequivocally the right move to give them minutes over the seasoned vet. The outcome of the Knicks’ season has been looking bleak for a couple of months now, and focusing on developing potential over experience is typically the right move for a team looking like they’re going to miss the postseason.
Courtney Lee with a beautiful move to split the hedge and gets the floater to drop
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) March 3, 2018
With New York’s young guards showing flashes of potential amid their newfound minutes, Lee looks destined to spend a good amount of the rest of the season on the bench. However, if youth remains a focus for the Knicks’ front office (and it should), they’ll have to explore long-term options for Courtney, since there likely won’t be enough playing time for him to split with a backcourt full of young talent by the next season. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020, but if New York wants to find him a new home before his deal expires, they shouldn’t have too much trouble doing so. Lee’s three-and-D skill-set makes him the type of role player that can fit in on almost any team, and his relatively affordable contract should make him a piece contenders look to make a move for if New York makes him available in the offseason.
It’s satisfying to see that the Knicks are finally making the right steps towards focusing on their young guys, even if it comes at the expense of the playing time of venerable players like Lee. It’s #TankSZN, let’s roll.