Lower-profile players like Orlando Magic guard Courtney Lee usually require a signature pop culture moment before casual basketball fans recognize them. Lee's moment occurred when his teammate Dwight Howard inadvertently hit him with an elbow during Game 5 of Orlando's first-round series against Philadelphia, resulting in a nasty fractured sinus bone that caused him to miss three games. Having to wear a protective mask has made him easy to pick out now, but really, his time to shine was due anyway.
Taken with the 22nd pick in the '08 Draft, the Western Kentucky product has become a strong contributor due to a deft jumper, slick handles and staunch defense. "Coach emphasizes defense so I knew coming in that it would be that way," says Lee. "If you don't help out and make the right rotations, you're not gonna play. But I was OK; since I was always a good defensive player, I had quick feet and good instincts."
But he can also score. The 6-5, 200-pound guard became the Hilltoppers' all-time leading scorer and was central to their Sweet 16 run in '08. He brought that same scoring ability to Orlando, and since the Playoffs began, he's been equally important at both ends of the court. His postseason averages of 9.4 points and 1.9 rebounds might require a double take, but for him it's all about context. While his teammates have been up and down, he's been surprisingly consistent, picking up the offensive slack against the Sixers in Round 1 (including a 24-point effort in a Game 2 win) and locking down the Celtic guards in the East semis (ask Eddie House about Game 7).
"I'm prepared for all situations, whether offense or defense. I watch a lot of film so I can get more in tune with the other team's personnel," he says. "But what I've really learned from the Playoffs is that I can play with anybody, I can be a dominant scorer and be one of the go-to guys on this team."—KHALID SALAAM