2006-03-10 / Sports

Rookie Lee Waits For His Chance To Shine With Struggling Knicks

By John J. Buro

NEW YORK -The rookie talked about waiting for his chance to play. But, the statistics would make the reader believe otherwise, that he was a constant in the New York Knicks' line-up. How else could David Lee have led or shared the team rebounding lead in 11 of the team's first 56 games?

"Everyone wants to play more," Lee said before the Knicks tipped off against the Chicago Bulls last Friday evening at the Garden. "That goes for Channing [Frye] and Nate [Robinson], as well. We've all had times where we've started, then been inactive. It's just the way it is."

Upon further review, there was enough validity in his words to warrant a raised eyebrow. In thirteen of those games, Lee was either a 'DNP-CD' [Did Not Play-Coach's Decision] or listed as 'Inactive'. Thus, those 56 games are really 43.

And, that, tells a whole new story. In this new light, Lee has either led or shared the team lead in rebounding better than 25% of the time. Further, he has only played 20+ minutes in 14 of those 43 games. And, though he averages 16 minutes per outing, he has already failed to play that much on 24 occasions; 13 times, he didn't even crack double-digit minutes.

"I can't do anything about it," he lamented. "So, I've stopped concerning myself about playing time. Some nights it will be 25 minutes; other nights, it will be two minutes. Instead, I focus on my contributions. And, when I do get in, I look to play with the utmost intensity."

Lee, New York's third First Round pick of the 2005 Draft [No. 30] has posted 192 rebounds in 704 minutes, or one every 3.67 minutes. He averages 13.1 rebounds per 48 minutes, which would be 17 th in the NBA if he was either on pace to play 70 games or collect 800 rebounds.

Among rookies, he trails only the Philadelphia 76ers' Shavlik Randolph [14.3] and the Los Angeles Clippers' James Singleton [13.9]; Frye, who the Knicks selected seventh, is tied for 8th with 11.3.

The 6'9", 235, forward from Florida University -who was the 2001 McDonald's Slam Dunk Champion during his days at Chaminade College Prep [St. Louis]- has become a throwback to the days when diligence and hard work were in vogue. In today's game, substance is often overlooked in favor of flash and style.

"I think the fans appreciate my effort," he said. "I bring energy and effort because that's something I can control. I can't control whether or not the shots fall, or even if I get the ball. But, I can control rebounding, and making the effort plays. That's what I bring every time out."

Lee was inactive for the team's first two games of the season, then made his pro debut against the Golden State Warriors on November 6 with 11 boards and eight points. His first start, against the Orlando Magic on December 28, began a string of 13 consecutive such games. In that 13th start [Game No. 39], he contributed seven rebounds and six points in just 17 minutes. But, in the 19 games since, he has yet to start again and has been a DNP twice.

He broke out, against the Phoenix Suns, with career highs of 23 points [10-11 from the field], 15 rebounds [12 defensive] and 52 minutes in a 140-133 triple overtime thriller at Madison Square Garden on January 2. The win triggered a six-game winning streak to open 2006, during which Lee averaged 27+ minutes.

In spite of his roller-coaster season, Lee remains loyal to Larry Brown. "I've learned a lot from Coach," said the rookie, who also averages 4.5 points per game. "His attention to detail is remarkable -in every repetition of every drill. He will say something until it's done right. At first, I got annoyed by it, like, 'why is this guy so into this?' "But, after a while, I realized how much I'm concentrating. On every drill. And every part of every drill. I know, when I do get into a game, those are the things that will make a difference." The hope is, that in this lost season, the opportunity to be that difference will be there more frequently.

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