During the season, we pointed that Saben Lee was, again and again, defying the odds in his rookie campaign in the NBA. First, despite not being predicted to be drafted, he jumped to the 38th pick by a, as it turns out, prescient Detroit Pistons front office. Then, he unexpectedly became a starter, holding his own against the best players in the best league in the world.
We also highlighted the things he needs to work on, namely his pullup and floater game. And, what do you know, he is showing progress in those areas already. During Summer League, Saben was shooting pullup/off dribble triples one by one (overall, in five games he made 8 of 20 treys).
During the regular season, in turn, the young Pistons guard showed that he can make catch-and-shoot threes as well.
He doesn’t have to be a great 3-point shooter, just dangerous enough to allow his other skills to click into place.
The floater game, meanwhile, was mostly under wraps and unknown. Again, in Summer League, he decided to debut the move. Here’s a nice one from his Summer League performance.
He wasn’t showing those off as much as his willingness to shoot from the perimeter, though. He didn’t really have to because he was getting to the hoop easily (the countdown to posterize an opponent with vicious dunks attempts begins now) or getting fouled on the way to the hoop (Lee had an astonishing .623 FTr during Summer League games and, although we already knew he’s astonishingly good in that category, that number is wild; he also shot better from the stripe compared to the regular season — 68.5% to 72.7%).
Saben’s getting to the hoop
Saben’s drawing fouls
However, against better competition in actual NBA games, Lee will likley need to rely on that floater to be effective – as well as some midrange game of which he only showed this during the summer – to avoid running into trouble like he did last season.
Saben’s rare midranger
Saben’s lack of mid-range options causes him problems
Summer League might have raised some questions about his facilitation. He had 1.5 AST/TO ratio. So it took a significant hit comparing to the last season number of 5:1. However, I wouldn’t make such a big deal out of it, at least not yet. Detroit’s Summer League crew consisted of players who weren’t overly familiar with each other. When he’ll play with a more coherent unit, he should be less prone to turn the ball over. And he definitely still can make plays for others.
Saben’s exceptional defensive lapse
Saben’s standard great defense
He answered all the questions raised about off- and on-ball D, confirming that he’s capable of being a great defender.
Lee also made himself known as a transition force with this nice introduction.
As a developing player, Saben is part of an exciting young point guard rotation in Motor City, a point guard rotation that also includes this year’s No. 1 pick, Cade Cunningham, and last year's No. 7 pick, Killian Hayes. As exciting as that rotation can be, it might pose a logistical headache for the Pistons’ coaching staff. All three are best with the ball in their hands, and all three are extremely young and developing, so they will need to figure out how to balance all the needs of development, winning, learning, etc.
Thus, during Summer League, we could hear some observers complaining that when all three were on the floor, we need to watch Cade and Killian standing in the corner while Saben was dribbling the rock. Yet, from the trio, it was the latter who was most convincing attacking the rim with dribble penetrations. The number of shots taken from the restricted area and the FTr leaves no illusions. On the other hand, in his first season in the NBA, Saben showed to be a very potent scorer off of cuts.
His strides in distance shooting should only give him more opportunity as he has more space to operate. So, combined with his better long gun, his off-ball game should allow him to cede the dribble penetration duties to Cade or Killian, if those two prove to be able to reach Saben’s prowess in attacking the basket and running the offense. Playing some off the ball would, in turn, allow him to become a more comprehensive offensive weapon.
A variation of this question is: who do you pair Cade with in the starting lineup? At the moment, Saben seems to be the best candidate to not overburden the No. one pick with playmaking duties in his rookie campaign. Despite being smaller than Killian, he can put more pressure on him on the other end of the floor as he isn’t as obviously universally switchable as is taller and stronger American Frenchman.
Although the least decorated, Saben Lee seems to be the most advanced in being able to deliver the things the Detroit Pistons need from its playmakers – namely defense, ability to penetrate the paint and shoot the long ball. Watching him developing while competing with Cade and Killian, who by no means carry any less potential, should be extremely fun next year for Pistons fans… even if that sometimes will mean watching Cade (or/and Killian, optimistically) standing in the corner to make 7 out of 10 triples.