By Marc D'Amico
December 3, 2012
Courtney Lee has been soaring in transition during Rajon Rondo's absence.
Jared Wickerham/NBAE/Getty Images
WALTHAM, Mass. – It’s been an eventful week for one of the Boston Celtics’ most important guards. A suspension and a one-on-one conversation with Doc Rivers have seemingly turned his season around.
Curveball: Rajon Rondo isn’t the subject of this conversation. We’re talking about Courtney Lee.
Lee has been a different player – a more confident player – over the past week. His statistical incline has coincided with a surge in positive energy and body language. He is playing like the explosive 6-foot-5 guard that Boston assumed it had signed this past offseason.
It hasn’t always been that way. Lee scored in double-figures just twice in Boston’s first 15 games of the season. He had struggled to find his niche, his shot and his confidence. All of that began to change when he sat down with Rivers about a week ago.
“He just told me to go out there and stop thinking so much,” Lee said as he recalled the conversation. “He said, ‘We want you to be aggressive.’ He said, ‘We know you’re going to play hard on the defensive end, we just need you to play with the same energy and focus on the offensive end.’ And that was enough said right there.”
Point taken. Lee processed Rivers’ message and has since asserted himself at the offensive end of the floor. He can also give Rondo some thanks for helping that happen. Rondo is really good at making his teammates better, but this occasion is unique. Rondo helped Lee become a better Celtic by not being on the court.
Lee averaged 38 minutes per game during Rondo’s two-game suspension, which began Friday night in Boston and ended Saturday night in Milwaukee. The C’s watched Lee average 11.5 PPG on 47.6 percent shooting during those two contests.
More playing time led to a drastic spike in Lee’s offensive aggression. Those two double-digit scoring efforts doubled his total for the entire season in that category. He attempted at least 10 shots in both games, which he hadn’t done a single time prior to Friday’s win over Portland. It must also be noted that many of those shot attempts came in transition, where Lee is beginning to thrive.
“People are beginning to understand how fast he is in transition,” assistant coach Armond Hill said on Monday. “He’s getting to two or three layups, and-ones, a game.”
Lee’s transition game is symbolic of his growth as a player this season. He now looks like a player who is reacting rather than thinking, and that is one of the greatest signs of a guy who is comfortable in his surroundings. Lee is playing smart, aggressive basketball, and that is leading to productive all around statistics.
Rivers played a vital role in unleashing Lee’s aggressiveness not only on offense, but in every facet of the game. The guard has averaged 5.0 rebounds a game, 3.5 assists per game and 1.5 steals per game over the past two contests. How impressive are those numbers? There are only three Celtics who average more than 5.0 boards a game this season, only one who averages more than 3.5 assists per game this season, and there are none who average 1.5 steals a night. That, in short, is overall production.
Lee did not shy away from admitting that Rondo’s suspension has had a lot to do with his recent emergence. The increase in playing time has allowed Lee to play more freely.
“That’ll help anybody out when you know you’ll be out there playing a lot of minutes,” Lee said. “So you can play through your mistakes, you can play aggressively, and you’re going to have a lot of reps at it.”
He also noted that we shouldn’t expect his play to drop off once Rondo returns to the court Wednesday night.
“I think with Rondo coming back the play is still going to be the same, we’re just going to have our primary ball handler and playmaker in,” he said.
Rondo may be the primary guy, but Lee has also asserted himself as an all-around force. That force starts and ends with Lee’s aggression, which was unlocked by Rondo’s suspension and Rivers’ words.
“That’s what Doc wanted me to do,” Lee said of his aggressive play. “It took him to sit down and talk to me for me to realize that, but from now on that’s how I’m going to go out there and approach it.”