• Print


Thursday September 30, 2010 7:14 PM

Doubt Him If You Dare


Courtney Lee earning rave reviews during first week of training camp

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

AUSTIN - Every basketball player on the face of the planet has come face to face with a deluge of doubters over the course of their careers. No one is exempt – not even the great ones like Kobe and LeBron. They all have heard criticism – both real and contrived, legitimate and absurd – and they all say they use it the same way: as fuel to propel their desire to dominate. In fact, at times it seems as if the entire NBA is powered purely by the fossil fuel of doubt.

So to hear Courtney Lee describe himself as a career underdog is not particularly newsworthy. He’s certainly got plenty of company in that category – many of whom wear the same Rockets’ red jersey that he does, in fact. Far more interesting and revelatory, then, is what he’s done with the doubt levied in his particular direction. Fuel, after all, doesn’t do you much good if you use it to immediately throw the car in reverse and drive right off the edge of a cliff.

Clearly, Lee has done no such thing. Ask around – to players, coaches or management – and his name comes up time and time again when those in the know list the players who have stood out in the early going. As advertised, he’s been a demon defensively, but he’s also impressed on the offensive end; draining shots from deep, creating off the dribble and excelling in the open court. He’s even taken a somewhat surprising turn manning the point guard position at times.

Add it all up and it’s no shock that Lee’s all-around game is earning raves in Austin while simultaneously showing that notions of him being little more than a limited utility player are pure poppycock.

“He’s probably better than I thought he was,” admits Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman. “I always thought he was a good player but he’s been very good here.

“We really liked him in the draft when he came out. We watched a lot of film and he was very good. He played so well for Orlando that year they went to the Finals and watching him here, he’s definitely a guy who’s a very good player. He’s really solid.”

Lee’s versatility figures to make Adelman’s job at least somewhat easier, given that the Rockets’ Coach has readily admitted that his biggest challenge early on in the season will be figuring out how best to use the impressive allotment of talent at his disposal. With so much depth on the roster, minutes could be hard to come by for some, meaning those capable of manning several different positions figure to be able to maximize their opportunities for playing time.

With that in mind, Lee is certainly bolstering his case by showing himself capable of handling spot duty at the point guard position. The reality is it will likely be a moot point – at least the Rockets hope so – with stalwarts Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry already on the squad and fellow training camp standout Ish Smith potentially joining them. What Lee’s point prospects do show, however, is that he’s perhaps better with the ball in his hands than previously given credit for – an ability which would serve him well and be a boon for the Rockets regardless of whether he finds himself at the 1, 2 or 3.

“That just shows you how smart of a player he is,” says Kevin Martin, a player who knows Lee’s game inside and out after having spent several summers training with the third-year Western Kentucky product at David Thorpe’s Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Florida. “He doesn’t try to overdo things. He gets us in the offense and he just reads off whatever he do. He gives us a bigger guard at the 1 and he’s not going to make any mistakes and he plays within the system. He’s a great addition to our team.”

Lee, of course, isn’t nearly as interested in where he plays as he is in simply ensuring himself a chance to get on the court and help his team win. He knows his position is largely irrelevant in a league that’s increasingly evolving into a game featuring nothing more than guards and posts. Wherever he lines up, his role is likely to be the same – so, too, will be his approach toward those who question his ability to make a significant impact.

“I have a sense of what my role is going to be. First and foremost, just because of who I am, I like to play defense. So I’m going to be a guy they can count on on the defensive end. Then offensively, Coach Adelman has given me the most freedom I’ve ever had in the league, where if I’m open I’m shooting it, and if I have a drive I can drive, and if I feel I can create a play, then I create a play for others.

“I’ve been the underdog my whole career. Coming out of high school I was overlooked. I went to college at Western Kentucky which a lot of people didn’t give a lot of respect to. I still play with that chip on my shoulder. A lot of people have doubts but I let all that motivate me.”

Yes Courtney Lee, like each and every one of his NBA brethren, has his share of detractors from whom he can extract fuel whenever he finds himself in need of a refill. Let’s be clear, however: he’s now playing on a team full of believers. He was brought here for a reason and with every passing day he’s justifying the faith Houston had in him when bringing him aboard. From what everyone has seen thus far, it’s only a matter of time before any remaining jeers turn into cheers. And what, then, would he use for motivation?

Rockets’ fans can only hope he gets a chance to find out.

And 1s: Good news for the Rockets’ walking wounded today. Kyle Lowry returned to practice after missing two days of camp with a hyperextended knee. He was in good spirits afterward, saying he was sore but that his knee felt good. Also, Chase Budinger took another step forward in his recovery from a sprained ankle. The second-year swingman took part in some of Thursday’s workout, and there’s a chance he could be a full participant tomorrow. That leaves Brad Miller, also suffering from an ankle sprain, as the only player on the roster unable to go. He's still experiencing some swelling in his left ankle, so no definitive comeback date has been set for him just yet.

More good news: one day after rolling his ankle in practice, Yao Ming was back in action Thursday, just as he said he would be, making Yao 6-for-6 in terms of his training camp participation. As Yao continues to make slow and steady progress in his comeback, questions persist about how Head Coach Rick Adelman will utilize him. The actual answer to that query, however, is something that only time can answer.

“It’s going to be hard with Yao,” said Adelman. “The decision will be (based on) how well is he playing; how can he help the team? It’s not that he can’t help the team, it’s just is he ready?

“So far he’s done ok – the game’s going maybe fast for him right now because he’s just trying to catch up. So you have to give that time and then once you get through exhibition then you’ll know where he’s at at that point.”

The last word belongs to Kevin Martin, the subject of Tuesday’s feature, who continues to be effusive in his praise of the Rockets’ team chemistry.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s crazy. The first day you usually try to get the kinks out but our first group is so unbelievable in how we came in on day 1 and just started clicking in the offense. Even a couple coaches pointed it out. It’s also fun because we all put in hard work and we know where we want to be this year, and we know what we have to do to get there.”

Got a question for Rockets.com? Send it to Jason Friedman. And for up to the second news and injury updates follow the Rockets and Jason on Twitter.