Anthony Lee was one of the most sought after graduate transfers this offseason, and the 6'9 forward made waves Saturday afternoon by committing to play the final season of his collegiate career with the Ohio State Buckeyes after visiting Columbus and meeting with coach Thad Matta Thursday and Friday. The move undoubtedly bolsters a depleted Ohio State front line that only included Amir Williams among its competent members in the 2013-14 season (sorry, Trey McDonald), and doesn't add any freshmen that will be ready to play in 2015 (sorry, Dave Bell).
So needless to say, Lee will be a major piece of the Buckeyes in 2014-15 no matter what happens. However, it's worth taking a look into how Lee will fit with the rest of the returning roster. So let's dive into his numbers, shot chart, and some tape and see what he brings to the table.
Lee put up pretty solid counting numbers on the surface this season, averaging 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, with slightly under one block and assist per game. A more in-depth look at his numbers reveals solid rebounding rates, but extremely poor scoring rates. Here's a more complete look at his stats, both per-40 and advanced:
Here, we see what could be considered somewhat "empty" scoring stats. But let's look at what he brings to the box score outside of scoring first.
Lee is by every stretch of the word an excellent defensive rebounder, as evidenced by his 20.2% defensive rebounding rate. That was good for third in the American Athletic Conference this season, and his 26.2% defensive rebounding rate led the Atlantic-10 in 2013. Lee possesses a huge wingspan as well as a strong ability to track the ball in the air. Let's take a look at a couple of examples.
Here, Temple is matched up with NCAA Tournament-bound St. Joseph's, and Lee is charged here with defending the post. He does a good job pushing his man off the block with his lower body strength. As the shot goes up, he displays good fundamentals in blocking his man out with a low center of gravity, and keeps his eyes on the ball as it ricochets off the rim. Here's an example of his skill tracking the ball on longer, less predictable rebounds:
Again, Lee does a great job of boxing out his man and pretty much pinning him between the baseline and the backboard with the way his body is pointed. Then, as the ball rolls off the rim, Lee smartly doesn't try to time the leap with the ball off the rim. He watches where the ball goes, then directs his leap towards the ball. He gets the ball, and outlets it immediately to a guard.
Lee should be an excellent fit with Williams in the front court as a rebounding partner. Williams tends to excel on the offensive boards, whereas Lee is excellent at tracking down defensive boards. Their strengths in this regard complement the other's weakness, and playing with each other should not be a problem when rebounding the ball.
I would call Lee an average to slightly above average defensive player. As mentioned and shown earlier, he is pretty good at pushing players off the block and not allowing them to get good post position. However, he provides little-to-no rim protection despite his long wingspan. He tends to not have the best footwork in small spaces -- which we'll get to in even further detail when discussing his offensive scoring ability -- and that makes him not only struggle with blocking shots but also staying on the floor.
Lee has averaged nearly five fouls per 40 minutes throughout the approximately 2200 minutes he's played in his career, and only marginally improved in his ability to avoid fouls as he's aged. He still averaged 4.5 fouls per 40 last season. It tends to be easy for defenders to get Lee off of his feet in the post, and his inability to quickly shuffle his feet tends to lead to bad positions for him. Here's an example of a defender getting Lee out of position and off of his feet easily.
Here, Lee exhibits pretty quick feet in space to stay in front of the ball handler attacking the rim, but then struggles once the offensive player gets close to the rim. Lee never resets his feet to get himself into better position to contest the shot after sliding down to the circle. Notice the way his body is still turned with his left shoulder closest to the ball handler instead both of his shoulders turning parallel towards the offensive player -- now in a precarious position -- to use his verticality to contest. The offensive player simply uses a pump fake, which Lee almost bites on, then a second pump fake, which Lee absolutely bites on, to draw the foul and get cheap foul shots.
Lee does not -- and never does in most defensive possessions near the rim -- show any indication of going straight up and making the defender finish over him. In order to become better around the rim, he needs to learn to allow his long arms to do the work instead of leaping. It's difficult enough to finish over a 6'9 guy with a 7'0+ wingspan as it is for most collegiate players. Instead of wildly leaping and biting on shot attempts and fakes, Ohio State's coaching staff should work with Lee on going straight up with both arms in order to create more difficult looks for offensive players. He has potential around the rim, but he hasn't come close to fulfilling it yet.
Having said that, Lee does do a good job, as he shows above, of moving in space and staying with sometimes smaller ball handlers. It is, however, difficult to tell how Lee will fare in coach Matta's defensive system. Temple tended to go under most screens with the big men, whereas Matta tends to prefer hedging rather hard with his big men on perimeter pick-and-rolls. Lee hasn't really ever done this, but he looks to have quick enough feet in large spaces to where he should not have many issues against smaller players.
Lee provided quite a bit of offense for Temple last season, scoring nearly 14 points per game, and that appears to be what the Buckeyes are looking for most out of him this upcoming season. When Land-Grant Holy Land's own Miles Joseph interviewed Lee for this post after he signed, Lee said that the coaching staff specifically told him he would be a large part of Ohio State's offense this coming season.
"(Matta) is going to use me as a stretch-forward inside and out," Lee said to Joseph. "Coach Matta was showing me footage of Jared Sullinger and Kosta Koufus and told me he needed me to do that. He saw clips of me doing that in flashes, but he wanted me to do it consistently."
While his counting/box score stats looked pretty good, the underlying efficiency numbers paint a drastically different picture. His true shooting percentage of 52.5% is rather low for a scorer in the NCAA. His effective field goal percentage of 49.7% was good for 8th among qualified players in the AAC, however, he tends to not create his offense in efficient manners. It is worth mentioning that a lot of Lee's inefficient looks did come from substantially weak guard play, as none of Temple's guards were able to create easy looks for Lee in the way that Shannon Scott might be able to next season.
Lee's shot chart tells the tale of his inefficiency last season, and you can kind of see how he didn't really receive the ball in the best spots.
Lee got a majority of his shots on the left block where he either posted up, or was used cutting to the basket. While he tends to be a strong player cutting to the rim once he gets a full head of steam, Lee was not a particularly efficient post player, as he struggles with his footwork in small spaces. Here's a good example of where Lee struggles in the post.
Lee receives an entry pass on the left block, where he is one-on-one with the defending post player. Here, we start to see some of the things that get Lee in trouble when he's on the block. First off, it must be pointed out that he doesn't have a particularly great first step or fast feet in general. Next, we see that he doesn't exactly have particularly have great fundamentals with his feet, as he takes choppy, weak steps that allow his defender to knock him off of his position. Then as he tries to turn over his back shoulder, he takes an extra step that allows his defender to recover and contest the shot. This is one aspect that I'm not sure Lee can do much to improve. His feet tend to be too slow in closed spaces. My guess is that Matta and the coaching staff see this, and don't want him in the post trying to create for himself often, which is why they stressed to him that they want him more on the move and in space as a stretch four. That's where Lee shows the most potential on offense, and it's also the place where he needs to do the most work this offseason.
As seen by the shot chart, Lee was pretty good from the top of the key and 18 feet out, but bad everywhere else in the midrange. Here's what he had to say about his jump shot when Joseph asked him about it.
"I shot a lot more this year," Lee said. "At times on offense, I wasn't really being looked at to shoot. There would be times when I shot it where I wasn't really in the flow. Sometimes I shot it because I hadn't touched the ball in a while and was like 'Man I haven't shot the ball and how about I take this shot.' It shouldn't be like that on this team though. The coaches are letting me know they want me taking those shots, and I feel like I'll be shooting more in peace, instead of shooting and looking over my back at the guards all the time."
What Lee said there is borne out in his jump shot. A lot of the time, his mechanics seemed rushed. It wouldn't be uncommon for Lee to shoot before having his feet lined up at the rim. Particularly, his release point seemed rather inconsistent for a guy that will be counted on from the midrange. Having said that, his jump shots tended to not come with in the flow of an offense -- in fact, most of Temple's shots seemed to not really come in the flow of any sort of offense. His shot did tend to look better -- as in, more fluid and confident -- in the flow of a pick-and-roll, such as this:
This was one of the few times that Temple utilized Lee in a pick and pop. He almost seems surprised that he actually got the ball back from his guard here. After faking the swing pass, he sets his left foot directly towards the rim, and takes a good, confident jumper. This is the type of video that Lee should study in order to work with Scott in the pick-and-pop. If he's able to replicate this more often instead of rushing his mechanics and jumper, he can be an effective member of the offense.
If he continues to show the inconsistency in his jumper that he portrayed this season, I struggle to see the way that he and Williams can fit together on offense. The Buckeyes would then have two non-shooting big men on the floor, and that would result in similarly disastrous spacing to this Ohio State season.
Outside of the spacing issue, it's also worth mentioning that Lee has similarly poor hands as Williams does. He turned the ball over 2.0 times per 40 minutes, but a majority of those tended to happen on the catch on a pass from a guard. Featuring both Williams and Lee on the floor at the same time if Lee isn't being utilized as a floor spacer could result in a lot of flubbed passes at the rim.
But overall, I'm quite optimistic for Lee's season as a Buckeye. For me, the worst cast scenario is that he plays 20 minutes per game, mostly when Williams is off the floor as his backup, and takes the minutes that McDonald played this season. As much as I love what McDonald has made of himself in his three years as a Buckeye, getting him off the floor is, in and of itself, a coup for Ohio State. Anything on top of that which Lee can give them is icing on the cake. If he can expand his game to include a consistent midrange jumper, then that completely revolutionizes Ohio State's offensive potential this season. I don't think that I would count on that happening, but it's worth the risk of giving him the scholarship that both LaQuinton Ross and Amedeo Della Valle gave up by going professional.
Anthony Lee's transfer undoubtedly makes the Buckeyes better next season. Even if it's only a marginal maneuver, it's still a smart move by the coaching staff.