CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Once again, Warriors power forward David Lee is putting up numbers that rival the league's best. He's tied for third in the league with 12 double-doubles and is averaging 18.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
"He's a heck of a player," coach Mark Jackson said of Lee. "I think he's the same David Lee, but he's winning."
But this hardly seems like the same Lee, especially not lately. He isn't racking up numbers in the first three quarters, then disappearing in the fourth quarter. He isn't getting destroyed by elite power forwards. His contributions aren't coming only on offense.
The last two games especially, both Warriors road victories, Lee has been the guy to make the big shot. He's come up with the critical rebound. He's been the one emerging from the pile with the key rebound.
Lee hasn't just been part of a winning team but also a catalyst for winning. The Warriors (13-7) are off to their best start since 1991-92, in many ways directly because of Lee.
That's not a feat he's been able to claim previously in an eight-season NBA career during which he's never played on a winning team.
"He's closing games with garbage plays, rebounds, big shots," Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said. "He was probably seen as a stat-stuffer. I know last year and the year before, you'd look up and he'd have 28 and 15, and you're wondering how that happened. And we were losing. It adds more meaning to what he's doing when he's being productive in wins.
"When you're watching the game, you can see how much of an impact he has on the game on both ends of the floor. Without him, we're not 13-7."
Lee has been criticized for years in basketball circles for producing gaudy-but-empty stats -- especially since he signed a six-year, $80 million contract with the Warriors in 2010. He's been a defensive liability most of his career and has been labeled as soft. He had the personal statistics, with career averages of 16.3 points and 10.9 rebounds, but not the wins. He received a share of the blame for that.
You can still dissect his numbers from this season and find reasons to write them off as empty. But now, for the first time in his career, Lee can counter with team-based results.
You can point out that though he's fifth in the NBA in rebounding, his rebounding percentage is just 18th. But Lee can counter that his team has jumped from 30th in the league in rebounding last season to fifth.
You can point out that he's a defensive liability who often gives up as much as he scores. But he can point out that he has outplayed Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Josh Smith, David West and Greg Monroe -- all in victories.
You can criticize him for scoring when it doesn't matter. But he can point to this very trip, where he's totaled 13 points in the last five minutes of three games so far, several of them when the Warriors needed them most.
"I don't care about numbers," Lee said. "I can get 30 points pretty much anytime I want. I get satisfaction from winning."
Lee said he sensed something special brewing in Golden State last season. That's why even when the season was lost, he stuck it out and played with the Warriors' patchwork roster.
He hasn't played much with the first legit center he's had on his team -- as Andrew Bogut is still on the shelf with left ankle issues -- but he has more talent around him than he's had his whole career.
Lee said his focus is on doing the little things it takes to win. And if he happens to come out with big results, so be it.
"I'm very confident in my own abilities," Lee said. "My biggest thing is to be consistent. Anybody can go out and have a couple good games. But to produce game in and game out is the most difficult thing in this league. I feel like I've done that.
"The best part about it is I'm not alone out there. We've got great help. We're well coached. We've got a good game plan, and we've got a lot of depth on this team compared with years past."
Warriors (13-7) at Charlotte (7-12), 4 p.m. CSNBA