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Atlanta Hawks 2017-2018 player review: Damion Lee

The 10-day signing proved to be more than that for the Hawks.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Damion Lee was an unknown commodity to most NBA fans when he was signed by the Atlanta Hawks to his first 10-day contract in mid-March. Rebuilding teams churn through guys like Lee all the time, looking for the next diamond in the rough who has been overlooked by the other 29 teams in the league. Unlike a majority of these players, who have a cup of coffee and then are never heard from again, Lee showed that he belonged on an NBA floor from his first game for Atlanta.

Lee’s primary threat is his ability to put the ball in the basket, which he did in bunches in the G League in each of the last two years. Even with abysmal three-point shooting this season, he averaged 15.8 points per game in 38 games for the Santa Cruz Warriors on above-average efficiency, which speaks to his mid-range shooting and finishing at the rim.

That play continued at the NBA level, where Lee hit just 26 percent of his three-point attempts but balanced that poor outside shooting with solid play inside the arc: he shot 51.6 percent from two and an otherworldly 76 percent at the rim, a mark that placed him in the 95th percentile among wings this season, though some of this output may have been fueled by his ability to get out in transition. Per Synergy, Lee scored 1.16 points per possession in transition this season and was much more pedestrian at the basket when things slowed down in the halfcourt, hitting just 51.5 percent at the rim in these situations.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Lee’s offensive game is the versatility on his jump shot. He scored very well out of handoffs and off-ball screens this season, which shows his ability to get his feet set on the move and still execute on his jumper, as well as attack the basket when his defender trails him around handoffs and screens.

Watch below how Lee takes the handoff from Miles Plumlee and hits the jumper when the Wizards’ Kelly Oubre gets caught behind the screen:

It’s one thing to be able to hit a standstill jumper (which, oddly enough, Lee has struggled with, though that might be bad luck in a very small sample size), but being able to shoot on the move is an important component to his game, especially since he’s not exactly an all-world defender. He can also leverage his ability to shoot from outside into driving lanes to the basket when teams trail him over screens, as he does in these clips:

In each of the above clips, Lee takes the handoff and pauses for a split second, waiting for his defender to make his move before choosing his path. A lot of young players are worried so much about the speed of the NBA game that they speed themselves up to try to keep up, but Lee doesn’t have that problem. His patience at the top of the key allows him to read the defense and either take the jumper immediately or attack the basket and finish inside.

On the other end of the floor, Lee was certainly a positive surprise for the Hawks. His reputation as a scorer preceded him, but his fight and willingness to get in on the defensive glass brought a lot of value to the team during his minutes on the court. Lee boasted a 14.5 percent defensive rebound rate and the Hawks improved by one percentage point in defensive rebounding when he was on the floor. Both of those numbers are well above average for a wing and are even more impressive when you consider Lee’s small stature for the wing position at just 6-foot-5.

Going forward, Lee isn’t necessarily going to be back with the Hawks next season. Due to his fine play over the last month of the year, he was able to secure a rest-of-season contract that doesn’t include a non-guaranteed second year, which means he’ll be a free agent on July 1.

Atlanta will have to decide whether he’s worth more than the minimum, as they can make him a restricted free agent in exchange for a $1.6 million qualifying offer or let him go and risk that he leaves for another team with no ability to match. Lee’s proven that he belongs somewhere in the NBA, now it’s just a matter of whether the Hawks’ management believe he’s worth keeping around on a longer-term deal.