Part player, part gamer: Warriors’ David Lee on video games, hoops and more
SI.com recently had a chance to chat with David Lee about the Golden State Warriors and Lee’s love for video games in an interview to help promote ‘Call of Duty: Ghosts’, which hits stores today. Click here for more highlights from Lee’s interview and further analysis on the Warriors’ prospects.
SI: You’ve had an offseason to deal with a pretty nasty hip injury and a surgery to follow. What did all of that mean in terms of the way that you went about preparing for this season?
David Lee: It really was a 6-to-8 week deal, and that’s kinda the time I take — about six weeks off — to start the summer anyways, just to let everything heal up even if I didn’t have an injury. I got back into things a little more gradual[ly] this summer but it made being in shape to start this training camp an even bigger priority. I really wanted to start off strong, and not have any lingering effects from the injury. So thats why I came in such good shape this year. I’m excited about that.
SI: I understand you’re a bit of a gamer. Did some of that time off the court give you a chance to log a few hours on the couch?
DL: Yeah, for sure. I am a gamer, but specifically, Call of Duty is really the only Xbox game I keep up with. A lot of guys during the season, especially, play a lot of NBA 2K and things like that. But for me — we play sports all day, so I try to do something else when I can get away from it. Really I go from one Call of Duty game to the next Call of Duty game as they come out.
SI: Are you strictly playing at home, or are you the type to bring your whole setup with you on the road during the season?
DL: It depends. If we’re on a long road trip, I usually don’t bring my whole setup but one of the guys will have it and we’ll play on the road. But no, I usually play 90 percent of the time at home — just get a little in after practice and before I go to sleep at night.
SI: The inevitable question when any athlete talks about playing video games is: Are you any good? Are you and your teammates pretty good Call of Duty players?
DL: Yeah, you know I got started playing — Nate Robinson was a teammate of mine forever in New York, and then also in Golden State for a year. Yeah, we’re pretty good. We had a pretty good clan going for a while. Tell you what, though: Just about the time you think you’ve got Call of Duty figured out…I took about a month off from the last game that came out. Then I went back on, and literally had a time where I got snipered from about five different directions in Team Deathmatch. So I was like “Man, I’ve gotta give it a break for a minute.” I get really frustrated when we don’t win. But yeah, I’m pretty solid. I usually end up with a pretty positive kill-death ratio.
SI: With an offseason like this one, do you approach your workouts with specific goals in mind? Are you looking to improve certain skills, or is it more just a comprehensive training to get up to speed for the season?
DL: I always give myself two or three goals in the offseason. This offseason was really: get in the best shape of my career — I just turned 30 years old, so again, best shape of my career — and also working on my outside jump shot. Of course, you can improve all your skill level stuff. You can have comprehensive workouts, like you said, but those are the two goals I gave myself and I think I improved on them immensely this summer. It’s about fine-tuning things you see in the previous season. You want to make sure you’re better, so that’s what I did.
SI: It seems like you’re moving pretty well out on the floor. Is there any kind of lingering pain or inhibition — physical or mental — as far as your injury goes?
DL: No, I haven’t had any. I feel like I’m moving real well. I haven’t had many things that I haven’t been able to do. And mentally, between practice and the games I’ve taken plenty of hits and hit the deck a bunch of times already. there really hasn’t been any pain or any tightness. It’s something that I’m constantly continuing to strengthen, and will for the rest of my career. Any time you have an injury in a joint like that, you’re always gonna — I do a lot of rehab work before and after practice just to strengthen the things around it and to pay attention to the area. You’re naturally kind of weaker after having it repaired.
SI: You guys added both Andre Iguodala and Toney Douglas over the summer, both of whom will be handling the ball a bit this season. How is playing off of them different from playing off of [former Warrior] Jarrett Jack?
DL: I mean, Jarrett was an unbelievable player for us. He was a huge reason why we had success last year. Toney Douglas, I think defensively is the best guard that we’ve had in a while. He’s one of the better on-ball defenders in the league, and when he’s in, on offense we’re going to really push the ball and go up-tempo. He’s a guy that likes to get up and down the floor. And then also, with Andre handling the ball, he’s a guy that can see the floor really well because of his height, and he’s a guy that can also post up smaller guys that’ll be guarding him. So every player — whether it’s those two or Steph Curry — every player’s going to give a bit of a different look, and it’s my job just to help them — whether it’s in the pick and roll, or in my post-ups, things like that — make everybody on the floor better.
SI: This will be your third year under Mark Jackson. Given that he came in as a first-time head coach, how do you feel that he’s grown over these past few seasons?
DL: The thing I can say about Mark — and I’ve said it before — is I think he’s a perfect fit for this team and the personnel we have. We all respect him and love him as a coach, and I think his x’s and o’s and his knowledge of the game from the coaching side has improved each season. But the number one thing he brings — and he brought it from day one with our team — is that he’s been a player. He understands what we’re going through, on and off the court, and he does a very good job of relating to all the players and getting the most out of each guy. He’ll be the first one to tell you that motivating me may be different from motivating Steph Curry, may be different from motivating Andrew Bogut. Each player has a different way they need to be treated, and his job is to get the most out of each guy and get the most out of the team. I think he does an unbelievable job of that.
SI: So what goes into motivating you?
DL: Well, I’m a guy that’s naturally gonna overthink everything. You don’t have to motivate me to work hard or to care about the game of basketball. For me, it’s a lot of times [about] reducing stress — keeping things light and easy. I’m always going to watch a lot of film and I’m always going to get the work in off the court. Sometimes it’s almost telling me to relax and enjoy the game more than having to make things serious, because I naturally take them very serious.
SI: As a guy who works from the post pretty often, you have an up-close view of these really oppressive help schemes from all across the league — with extra defenders kind of tilting in your direction. How does that complicate what you do when you’re working from the block, and how do you overcome that?
DL: Well, I’ll tell you one of the best ways to overcome it is having shooters like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on the floor. That makes my job a lot easier. It’s a very interesting part of the game that the average fan may not see by just watching, but going into a game — knowing that I’m going to get the better of the two post defenders usually — and knowing that probably over half the teams last year sent either some kind of double team or committed a second defender to at least dig and help a lot in the post. It’s just really interesting how different teams scheme and certain teams will let our big guys go to work where others will get the ball out of my hands right away. It makes for an interesting chess match, and as you know I’m a very willing passer. So a lot of times it’s a matter of finding out where the help’s going to come from and making the right play — whether that’s scoring or setting up a teammate for an open shot.
SI: Then in the pick-and-roll, I’ve always been kind of amazed by your ability to pass after making the catch in the middle of the lane. You read the floor very quickly; where does that sense of timing come from in terms of making the right pass when on the move?
DL: I grew kinda late. I was actually a point guard my freshman year of high school and I wasn’t always the biggest guy growing up. So I played some wing and I played some guard, and I think some of those principles are still around. I appreciate that. Fundamentally, our team is a team that plays its best when all five guys on the floor are dangerous. The only way that’s possible is by having everybody be willing passers. And last year, one of the strengths of our team was sharing the basketball. I think with the makeup of the team this year, it’s going to be a similar result.
SI: With Bogut looking healthier and claiming to be the healthiest he’s been in a long time, do you feel like as a team you’re in a position — with, as you said, you drawing the primary interior defender most nights — to rely on him as more of a scorer this year?
DL: I think so. I think being healthy is the biggest thing for him and he’s moving great he’s in great shape. And I think that brings confidence on both sides of the ball — for anybody, and specifically for him. Our goal this year with both of us being healthy is to outplay the other team’s big guys every time we step on the floor. There’s a lot of good big-guy tandems — the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers — in the West a lot of teams have great bigs. We have our hands full this year but I think that we can be as good as anybody if we’re healthy like we are right now, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
SI: With you being a good passer and ball-handler for a big, have you guys kicked around the idea of doing more big-to-big pick-and-rolls? Like with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in L.A. last year, or Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in Detroit — is that something you’ve experimented with?
DL: We have a couple little wrinkles in the offense where we can do that. One of the biggest things we’ve changed with Andrew and I both being ball handlers is that coach has encouraged us when we get defensive rebounds to push the ball up the floor and let our guards run. And we want to be a fast breaking team and that’s a pretty dangerous move when one of us gets the defensive rebound and we push the ball, and we have guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison [Barnes], [and] Andre [Iguodala] filling the lanes. Now, their men have to help on us driving and now they’re wide open for threes. So it can create some difficulty, and it’s something that coach has really stressed. So when we get the ball, especially on long rebounds, we’ll go ahead and push the ball and try to make good decisions for the team.
SI: It that unusual relative to the other coaches you’ve had in your career?
DL: Not so much for a power forward to push the ball. I’ve usually been given that green light as my career has gone on. Once again, it goes back to personnel. There are a lot of centers where you wouldn’t want them — where that wouldn’t be good for the team. But with both of us being able to handle the ball, coach gives us the freedom. I think his rule was that “Until you throw a couple of ‘em into the first row trying to make a pass,” that we have that green light. As long as we make good decisions.
SI: When you reflect on your team’s playoff run last season, how does it strike you? I’d imagine it has to be pretty complicated with your injury and the team doing so well at the same time.
DL: Absolutely. If I wasn’t a team guy, you could look at it in a negative way. But I was happy to come back and at least play a couple minutes. The timing of the injury was bad, but if you look at it in a positive way — like I have — I was able to really work on my leadership last year…Things weren’t going well for me, [but] I was able to still be a big part of the team emotionally and be a leader. A guy like Harrison got an opportunity to step up not only at the power forward but also at the small forward spot, and guys like Carl Landry stepped up and he’s another guy that we’ll miss this year. They played very, very well. That’s only going to help us this year when we have an even better chance, in my opinion, to go further. The one regret I have is not being able to get in there and play against San Antonio more. I think people forget that Steph Curry, although he really didn’t miss a shot, rolled his ankle and was in a considerable amount of pain, as well as Andrew Bogut couldn’t play big minutes toward the end of that series. I think in the final game he played 12-15 minutes at the most. I think if we would have been healthy, we would have had a chance to win that series and hopefully we’ll get that kind of opportunity again this year.
SI: With the team running a lot of small ball while you were out and Harrison Barnes filling in at power forward in spots, does how well they played in those situations worry you at all? Especially given the way you play and the differences between you and a guy like Barnes?
DL: Well, I mean it was a perfect scenario to go small. I think even if I were healthy, we would have gone small with either myself or Bogut at the 5 playing Denver, because they’re a team that traditionally mixes up their lineups a lot. It didn’t quite work as well against San Antonio as the series went on. And not to mention, when we were winning some of those games the way we shot the three-point ball was incredible. With Steph and Klay it was just unbelievable shooting.
We shot a lot more threes playing small ball, and that’s probably a look we’re going to go to some this year whether it’ll be me or Andrew at the 5 with four smalls or going in the more traditional lineup we’re going to play now. I think that the way teams are structured in the West, playing that way — smaller — over an 82-game season probably isn’t the way most teams would choose to do it. But it’s definitely a look that we’ll utilize this year as well as going bigger. With some of the versatility we have with these wings, it’s definitely a good look and I think Harrison of course is going to be — whether they decide to make him a starter or a reserve — a huge part of what we’re doing this year.
SI: What do you think you’ll do as a team that will surprise people this season?
DL: That’s a good question. I think it goes back to the defensive side of the ball. I think people know that we’re a very dangerous offensive team, but I don’t think many people saw us as a very good defensive team last year. I think we were definitely top 10 in the league last year and I think that we can be even better this year. It’s something that the more we improve on, that the better our team’s going to be overall. So I think that being an even better defensive team and rebounding team than we were last year is going to help us a lot.
SI: With Steph, how can anyone even hope to contain a player who can shoot that quickly off the dribble from that far away from the basket?
DL: It’s tough. There’s a lot of times in practice — and usually I’m on his team in practice — where you’ll feel like as a team you’ve played great defense and forced him into an impossible shot. Then it hits nothing but net. It’s like, “Okay, well, we tried.” A lot of our defensive schemes that we practice every day become so confusing in practice because with a guy like Steph shooting the ball the way he does, a lot of schemes don’t even apply to him. A lot of times when we try to force a team into contested jump shots rather than let them get into the paint. And for him, a contested jump shot is a layup. A lot of times for him, from 25 feet away it seems like he doesn’t miss any of ‘em. So we’ll occasionally have a question to Coach, [and he'll say,] “Great job, great defense!” You’ll look at Coach like “Well, thanks Coach, but he’s made four jump shots in a row, so we don’t feel like we’re playing good defense.” But you have to keep in mind that he’s a very special player when it comes to that.
SI: You mentioned that shooting had been a point of emphasis for you this summer. Do you have any interest in stepping beyond the arc to dabble from three, or are you strictly in that 15-20-foot range?
DL: You know what, I’ve worked on my three-point shot, especially from the corners and the top of the key. But I think one of the most important things in the NBA is playing to your strengths, and my biggest thing was to make that mid-range jumper automatic. Coach has confidence in me shooting the corner and top-of-the-key three for sure, but more just to use that for spacing, and if I’m open not being afraid to pull the trigger. But my biggest thing: We have plenty of guys who are paid to do that. For me, the most important thing that I want to do is make sure that my mid-range is automatic.
SI: The corner threes were interesting for you guys, too, just because as a team you ranked toward the bottom of the league in corner attempts despite taking so many threes overall. Has that been something that you’ve discussed in terms of getting those attempts up?
DL: It’s nothing we’ve specifically talked about, but I think a lot of times it’s just because of who on our team is shooting threes. Klay seems to get a lot of free throw line extended three-pointers and Steph, of course, shoots a lot from anywhere at the top of the key. I’d have to say that probably Klay takes the most corner threes off of pin-down action in the corner, but when you shot the ball as well as our guys did last year, I’m not sure that we’ll look that much into it. Just keep making sure we get open looks and take quality shots.