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Saben Lee Player Preview: Another second-round pick waiting for his opportunity

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Saben is not a stranger to Pistons head coach Dwane Casey

Saben Lee, former three-year Vanderbilt point guard and recent Pistons 38th selection in the 2020 NBA Draft, will begin the 2020-21 season on a two-way contract. Due to the uniqueness of the 72-game slate nearly upon us, two-way players will be allowed to suit up for 50 games. For now, Lee will serve as the fourth-string point guard behind Killian Hayes, Derrick Rose and combo guard Delon Wright.

Lee is a forceful, long, and acrobatic point guard. He’s 6-foot-2 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, but he’s not just a high-flyer who does most of his damage in the paint. He’s a capable 3-point shooter, as Saben shot nearly 33% in three collegiate seasons on over 260 attempts. His sophomore campaign saw him shoot 36.2% on 69 attempts. Of course, there’s obvious room for improvement in terms of form but also efficiency.

Lee knows his bread and butter pretty well. His sophomore and junior seasons at Vanderbilt saw him get to the free-throw line more than six times per game. That’s a positive sign that he has a knack for creating opportunities and isn’t shy about getting dirty to do it. Driving to the rack is his specialty and one would think it’ll be his calling card in the NBA.

As I wrote in the NBA draft reactions DBB on 3, I watched Saben Lee play one time during his junior season, although it wasn’t by design. As I focused a lot on Auburn last season (specifically to catch eventual top-five pick Isaac Okoro), one of the games I tuned into was against Vanderbilt. Saben Lee played a terrific and efficient all-around game, and I came away comparing him in certain ways to old friend of the program Ish Smith.

Both Saben and Ish excel at beating their opponent off the dribble and using their change of speed ability and raw straight-line quickness to create opportunities for themselves and others. Both really can get into another gear quickly and still be in control to make their way through a scrambling defense and finish at the cup. Essentially, both are attackers.

Lee is stronger, longer, and a much more vertical type of player. I like Lee’s blend of herky-jerky yet downhill aggressiveness in addition to his ability to run an offense in the half-court. We’ll see what Lee shows with the big boys.

Despite Lee’s lack of “appropriate” height for a point guard these days, his verticality and wingspan make up for most height deficiencies.

The third clip in this series shows a little bit of everything that Lee’s athleticism, wingspan, and shot-making ability have to offer.

The Dwane Casey—Jerry Stackhouse connection

Former Piston Jerry Stackhouse was Lee’s head coach for one season at Vanderbilt before Lee left after his junior season for the draft. Before Vanderbilt, Stackhouse cut his coaching teeth with the Toronto Raptors organization, first as an assistant under Dwane Casey during the 2015-16 season, then as the head coach of the Raptors development team (now known as the G League) for a season.

So it’s not a big surprise that Detroit drafted Saben Lee.

Stackhouse has had a good relationship with Pistons coach Dwane Casey since 2015, when Stackhouse was hired as an assistant coach to Casey’s staff with the Toronto Raptors.

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The Pistons and Raptors both showed interest in Lee last season, so Stackhouse had a good feeling he was going to end draft night on an NBA roster. Detroit had in-person interviews with both Lee and Nesmith, and Lee’s interview with the Pistons was especially strong, Stackhouse said.

It helped that Stackhouse and Casey use a lot of the same basketball terminology, due to Stackhouse bringing much of what he learned during his time in Toronto to Vanderbilt.

“Playing under coach Stackhouse definitely allowed me to experience a lot of pro sets, pro ways of going about things in college,” Lee said during his introductory news conference.

Projected role

Saben is on a two-way deal, but that’s where the simplicity of his situation ends. Signs point to Detroit affiliate, the Grand Rapids Drive, not participating in the G League this season (remember, it’s still the Grand Rapids Drive until the 2021-22 season, when then it’s the Motor City Cruise and home games will be in Detroit). As mentioned earlier, two-way players can play up to 50 games during this abbreviated 72-game season. Though in normal circumstances, Lee would play all the minutes he can handle in the G League, much the way point guard Jordan Bone (now of the Orlando Magic on a two-way deal) did last season.

Best-case scenario

With the roster possibly changing by the trading deadline — specifically with Derrick Rose perhaps being shipped off to a contender — more point guard minutes could be available for the taking. Then it’s up to Saben: if he handles the opportunity well, then he’ll likely prove that he should be on the 15-man roster for next season.

Worst case scenario

In the worst case, Saben gets good practice time in and that’s about it for season number one. However, with such a scrunched, and probably unpredictable season, there won’t be quite as much practice time as a regular NBA schedule would allow. Not ideal, but it is what it is. Maybe Saben plays rotational minutes during the last few weeks of the season and the organization gets a better look at him. Just hopefully that won’t be all Lee wrote while in a Pistons uniform.