Malcolm Lee’s NBA career began pretty humbly. Before the season even began, Lee had torn his meniscus and gone under the knife. He was an injured rookie point guard with three guys ahead of him on the depth chart, one of them a Finals hero, another a boy genius. But things happen strangely in a season as breakneck as this one. Thanks to the Wolves’ plague of injuries, Lee went from wearing a suit, to playing in Sioux Falls (where I guess even the basketball players wear camo), to sitting on the big club’s bench, to logging serious minutes in a matter of weeks.
When he did finally find himself on the court, he looked every bit the overwhelmed rookie. Running an NBA team is hard; Lee was not quite up to the task, not quite prepared for the speed and complexity of the pro game. His ballhandling looked a little shaky; he didn’t see the floor particularly well; in his decision making, he often seemed a step behind the action. When he was on the floor, the Wolves’ execution was noticeably less crisp, their offense noticeably more stagnant. Lee turned the ball over on 20.9% of his possessions, and the Wolves’ offense was 5.9 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the bench.
Luckily for him, Lee was drafted mostly for his defensive skills and in this realm, things were a bit more encouraging. Like most rookie point guards, Lee was a bit lost in the weeds when it came to defending the pick-and-roll–his low point in this regard was getting repeatedly shredded by Jonny Flynn in Houston. But he showed quickness, energy and, most importantly, desire on the defensive end (although as the Wolves careened toward their catastrophic end, these latter two qualities seemed to wane a bit).
Nevertheless, life is tough for a young point guard trying to make his way as a defensive specialist. Possessing neither the instincts nor the length of, say, Ricky Rubio, Lee will have to become a productive defender the hard way: through many minute and many repetitions. And for a player with so many offensive shortcomings, those minutes may be hard to come by.