After days of frantic speculation about a blockbuster addition, the Phoenix Suns added a certain wing with championship experience from his time on the Golden State Warriors. That’s right folks, Damion Lee is heading to the Valley. Who did you think we were talking about?
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the 29-year-old Lee will be joining the Suns on a one-year deal. Because the signing is already official on the NBA’s transactions page, and because deals worth the veteran minimum can be signed before the moratorium period ends, it’s safe to assume he’ll be playing on the vet minimum ($2.1 million, in this case).
Granted, those clinging to their phones waiting for news of a Kevin Durant trade to break were likely disappointed by Woj’s update. But the reported additions of Lee, Jock Landale and Josh Okogie, not to mention securing the return of Bismack Biyombo, feel like a precursor to the franchise-altering move that could be on the horizon.
At that point, having able bodies who can produce on minimum contracts will be key to getting through the grind of another regular season. To that end (and because there’s nothing but time to kill until bigger news breaks), it’s worth taking a look at Lee’s game, what he brings to the table and what the Suns can realistically expect from him.
Damion Lee’s shooting
Lee is a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who’s been in the league since 2017. The Louisville product went undrafted in 2016, spent some time in the G League, and turned two 10-day contracts with the Atlanta Hawks into getting signed for the rest of the 2017-18 season.
That offseason, he signed a two-way contract with the Warriors, but wound up playing ample minutes because of all their injuries. Once his allotted 45 days with the team were up, Lee signed a multi-year contract, spending four years with Golden State and becoming a champion in 2022.
Anyone expecting Lee to become a high-level playoff contributor will likely be disappointed, but there are reasons to be optimistic about what he can contribute in a bench role, particularly in the shooting department.
His numbers last year weren’t anything special, as Lee averaged 7.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in 20.0 minutes per game. He shot 44 percent from the field but only made 33.7 percent of his 3.0 3-point attempts per game. Because of his shooting form that starts low and builds momentum as it swoops upward toward a high release point, he’ll occasionally swish 3s…and sometimes the misses will look pretty bad.
Last season, Lee only shot 32.9 percent on his catch-and-shoot 3s. He actually made a higher percentage of his above-the-break 3s (35.5 percent) than he did on corner 3s (32 percent), and overall he ranked in just the 44th percentile in spot-up points per possession (PPP).
However, this down shooting year may have just been an anomaly for a guy who typically made the most of his limited opportunities. The year prior, he posted similar scoring numbers in fewer minutes but shot a much more efficient 46.7 percent from the floor and 39.7 percent from 3.
NBA.com’s shooting data provides further reason to believe he can return to being an effective off-ball shooter in Phoenix. The two seasons prior to last year, Lee made 40.5 percent and 37.7 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s, respectively. He also drilled 44.4 percent and 37 percent from the corners, and according to The Bball Index, he ranked in the 70th, 90th and 94th percentile in spot-up PPP for three seasons before last year’s downturn.
Looking through all 187 of his 3-point attempts last year, a lot of it just came down to missing open shots. Over his first three seasons with the Warriors, Lee drilled 38.6 percent of his “wide-open 3s,” where the nearest defender was more than six feet away. Last year, that number shriveled up to 33.6 percent.
The vast majority of Lee’s 3-pointers were of the catch-and-shoot variety — 164 of his 183 attempts, to be precise. However, learning from his brother-in-law Stephen Curry clearly rubbed off on Lee, who does an excellent job moving without the ball.
According to The Bball Index, Lee ranked in the 84th percentile in movement attack rate, 85th percentile in movement points per 75 possessions and 93rd percentile in off-screen PPP. He missed a good portion of his open corner 3s, but he was good about drifting up into positions where the Warriors’ superb ball movement would find him, relocating to the corners for easy outlets on the baseline, and curling around screens ready to fire:
For a guy darting all over the court and building up a fair amount of momentum, Lee was also pretty good about using a steadying dribble to set his feet before launching. He’s smart enough to mix in shallow cuts on the perimeter to free himself up near the ball-handler, and he used that pump fake and power dribble combination to throw off defenders who closed out too desperately:
Lee’s constant movement and quick-trigger release will help him get shots off in Phoenix’s offense. Now it’s just a matter of shaking off a down shooting year and progressing back to the mean.
Damion Lee hustle
All that off-ball movement didn’t just help Lee as a spot-up shooter, because he was also effective as a cutter going to the basket. He’s a smart player who knows how to move into open space, which helped him rank in the 91st percentile in PPP off cuts (1.36).
The problem is, he didn’t get there very much as a low-usage player who created very little of his own offense. He’s not the kind of guy who will launch 3s off the dribble or attack the lane off the bounce very often, and a staggering 82.8 percent of his buckets were assisted.
According to Cleaning The Glass, which filters out garbage time, Lee shot an impressive 82 percent at the rim, which ranked in the 96th percentile at his position. Unfortunately, he only took 22 percent of his shots from that area, which ranked in the 41st percentile.
In fact, he fits the Suns’ midrange-heavy offensive profile fairly well. He took 12 percent of his shots from the long midrange (76th percentile) and 29 percent from the midrange overall (67th percentile). He didn’t shoot very well from those spots, however, making 29 percent of his long midrange attempts and 35 percent of his middies in total.
Lee tried to balance that deficiency out by racking up easy points off hustle plays. He crashed the offensive boards, got out on fast breaks and routinely made himself available around the basket for easy looks, putting himself in the 91st percentile in PPP off putbacks, the 66th percentile in transition and the 87th percentile on dump-offs.
Defensively, Lee works hard and has the basketball I.Q. to be of service on the wing, especially because he brings some much-needed athleticism to the table for Phoenix. According to The Bball Index, he ranked in the 81st percentile in steals per 75 possessions and the 89th percentile in defensive position versatility, which will be helpful to a team that may be shipping out multiple wings in a blockbuster trade here soon.
Damion Lee on a minimum contract isn’t going to make or break the season one way or another. With the Suns focused on a bigger fish they need to fry, most of their optimal targets for the mid-level exception have already agreed to deal elsewhere. There’s a good chance Lee sees very few playoff minutes in Phoenix, as was the case during the Warriors’ 2022 postseason run.
With that being said, Lee is more than capable of chipping in during the regular season as the 10th or 11th man, which is exactly where expectations should be set for a guy on the veteran minimum.
He won’t be the crown jewel of the Suns’ offseason by any means, but Lee is an effective role player who understands his assignment, stays ready, and by all accounts, is a great locker room guy. Rounding out the roster with a player like that — especially if Phoenix can land the biggest fish of the summer — certainly doesn’t hurt.