Marcus Lee has finally become a real rotation player in his third year at Kentucky and pretty much confirmed what he was thought of to be as a player this whole time.
Lee has been productive enough this season that if he were to miss games, his absence would be felt. But he is no impact player, even at the college level, and projects as a specialist in pros – a pick-and-roll diver and switch defender who needs to be put in the right context to bring something to the table.
What’s appealing about Lee is his athletic ability. He combines a six-foot-nine, 224-pound frame with coordination and agility moving space.
That’s best maximized on offense when he runs the floor in transition and when he gets the opportunity to dive down the lane to finish plays at the rim with explosiveness and crash the offensive glass in the half-court.
Lee would be perfect for a spread pick-and-roll attack. He is a poor screener at this point – rarely drawing contact and possessing a thin frame in the context of his height that does not make it tough for on-ball defenders to navigate around. But he can cut to the basket in a pinch and has proven able to play above the rim as a target for lobs. Even though he lacks touch on non-dunk finishes, Lee has converted 77% of his 61 shots at the rim – according to hoop-math.
Kentucky does not run that sort of fluid offense, though, so most of Lee’s impact is felt when he creates second chances and converts those into putbacks, doing so in 18 of his 44 offensive rebounds so far this season. He plays with good energy tracking the ball off the rim and possesses a seven-foot-three wingspan to help him outside of his area – collecting 16.1% of Kentucky’s misses when he’s been on the floor, according to basketball-reference.
Defensively, Lee has excelled when required to contain dribble penetration in space. He’s shown able to hedge and recover smoothly high in the perimeter and cut off drives to the basket when Kentucky’s guards can’t keep the opponent from getting the middle. He has length to contest mid-range shots effectively and even flashed the ability to pick up smaller players on switches – impressively keeping pace with Brandon Ingram for an iso in the game against Duke.
Lee’s mobility also makes him an asset to play above the rim as a shot blocker, as he can rotate to the front of the rim coming off the weak-side and elevate off the ground in a pinch. He’s only so-so reading when his help is essential and often sells out for the block, leaving his man in prime position to collect a potential offensive rebound. Lee has, nonetheless, blocked 26 shots in his 14 appearances and Kentucky is allowing just 93.7 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup – the best defensive rating on the team.
Being a slimmer, more mobile big helps Lee in space but has hurt his ability to hold his ground in the defensive glass and in the post, though. He is already inattentive to his boxout responsibilities by nature but even when engaged, a mammoth like Marshall Plumlee can push him off his spot below the rim. Tony Parker, another mountain, also exposed how vulnerable Lee is trying to hold his ground in the low block.
Lee has not developed much skill to this point.
He lacks strength to set deep position in the post and even when he does manage to get the ball with his back to the basket, Lee rarely does anything of substance with it.
Kentucky also never really puts him in a position to flash his jump-shot – neither spotting up on the weak-side nor working out of the pick-and-pop, or show whether he can be an asset passing out of the short roll or help facilitate offensive from the elbows.
Lee has missed 14 of his 19 two-point jump-shots this season. He’s recorded just 18 assists in his 78 appearances at Kentucky and his 13.6% turnover rate is sky-high in the context of his 16.9% usage rate.
Lee has flashed a so-so handle to take opposing centers off the bounce in emergency situations and can go from the top of the key to the rim in just a couple dribbles thanks to his long strides but lacks touch on non-dunk finishes.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara