By Anna Lucas
Damion Lee is making a name for himself in the NBA. The former University of Louisville basketball player is receiving unprecedented playing time with the Golden State Warriors this season.
Lee has appeared in 28 games, including 15 starts, for the Warriors through January 20. The six-foot-five swingman is averaging 12.5 points and 27.4 minutes per game. He’s found a versatile niche with the team as a strong scorer off the bench and solid option at either backcourt spot or small forward.
Lee’s reassuring performance comes at a vulnerable time for Golden State. There’s no sugarcoating the lackluster showing of the Warriors this season as owners of the worst record in the NBA. The once-mighty club is battling through injuries to stars Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Oddschecker now pegs Golden State as the underdogs to teams they easily beat a year ago, like the Utah Jazz.
One of the few silver linings has been the opportunity for Lee to contribute long-term in the pros, something he’s been chasing for several seasons. Lee’s path to the NBA was anything but a slam dunk as the pros who make NBA picks for a living didn’t project Lee to be drafted.
A Solid Contract for a Solid Contributor
The Warriors recently rewarded Lee with a three-year contract on January 15. His 45 days of NBA eligibility expired earlier in the month, and he was forced to miss two games.
The deal places him exclusively in the NBA for the first time and includes a partial guarantee for the 2020-21 season. Golden State waived and re-signed Marquese Chriss to a two-way contract to make room for Lee’s pact.
The 27-year-old celebrated his new career stability with a highlight night on January 16 at home against the Denver Nuggets. Lee posted 21 points, 6 assists, and 5 boards as Golden State pushed Denver into overtime before dropping the game 134-131.
His best game of the season came on October 28, in a 134-123 road win over the New Orleans Pelicans. Lee shot 8 of 14 from the field en route to 23 points, two assists, and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes.
Lee was also a driving force during Golden State’s four game, late-December winning streak, the team’s longest of the season. He delivered a combined 72 points, 10 assists, and 37 rebounds in wins over the Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, and Phoenix Suns.
Playing for the Warriors is something of a family affair for Lee. His wife, Sydel, is Curry’s sister, making him a brother-in-law to Golden State’s stalwart All-Star.
Curry is supporting Lee as much as possible away from the floor. Curry joined the ESPN broadcast crew on the sideline during a recent broadcast, and provided enthusiastic commentary as Lee drained a floater inside the key over Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic.
A Dragon Becomes a Cardinal
Lee played four years at Drexel for coach Bruiser Flint before becoming a Card. He averaged 12 points and 4.4 rebounds as a freshman on the way to earning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Rookie of the Year award.
Lee’s average of 17.1 points per game in his sophomore season led all Drexel scorers, and netted him a spot on the Second-Team All-CAA squad. A torn ACL suffered during the NIT semifinals tournament in December 2013 forced him to redshirt his junior campaign with the Dragons.
Lee bounced back in fine form for a final season with the Dragons in 2014-15. Lee’s 21.4 points per game average led the CAA and ranked fourth in the nation. He was Drexel’s leader in steals per game, field goal percentage, and three-point percentage.
The CAA recognized Lee by naming him to the All-Conference First Team, All-Defensive Team, and All-Academic Team. He was narrowly beat out of CAA Player of the Year distinctions by William and Mary guard Marcus Thornton.
Lee announced his plan to transfer to Louisville for his final season of NCAA eligibility on March 30, 2015. He was attracted by the hoops atmosphere in Louisville stating, “I don’t think there’s any other city or college basketball town like it.”
Cracking the Pro Ranks
Lee’s path to the NBA was anything but a slam dunk.
After going undrafted in 2016, the Baltimore, Maryland native played a stint with the Miami Heat in that year’s NBA Summer League. He later appeared in two preseason contests with the Boston Celtics and Maine Red Claws of the NBA Developmental League.
The Red Claws waived Lee in January 2017 after he was sidelined with a season-ending injury. He rebounded in time to join the NBA G League’s Santa Cruz Warriors in August where he averaged 19.1 points in 38 games.
His G-League performance netted a 10-day contract from the Atlanta Hawks on March 13, 2018. Lee was signed for the remainder of the season within a month. He averaged 10.7 points and 26.9 minutes in 15 games with the Hawks.
Lee inked a two-way NBA-G-League contract – his previous deal before landing the exclusive three-year pact in January – with the Golden State and Santa Cruz Warriors.
Just another UofL favorite doing well at the highest pro level.