Saben Lee is a two-way player trying to prove he belongs in the NBA. With injuries depleting Detroit’s point guard depth, the Pistons rookie finally has a chance to show he belongs and secure his future. Along the way, he also seems intent on ending the life (metaphorically speaking) of his opponent, and posterizing him with a dunk so vicious, it could change both players’ careers.
So far, Lee has yet to connect on one of these poster dunks, but he has three of the most notable misses of the season. And he’s getting dangerously close to anointing his first victim. Let’s just say Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic was lucky to come away with ONLY a mild shot to the groin in his encounter with Lee.
Before we get to the Magic almost dunk, let’s remind ourselves of what the young 6-foot-2 point guard with the 6-foot-9 wingspan is capable of. Here’s what he did while a member of the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Lee is not interested in playing any different at the NBA level.
The first inkling Lee was up to know good was against the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 6. Lee caught the ball on the perimeter and saw Donte Divencenzo overplaying him to take away the 3-point shot. Lee with zero regard for the fact that Brook Lopez, one of the more unmoveable defenders in the paint playing today, was waiting for him under the basket. It seemed, in fact, that Lee welcomed the challenge. He looped right into Lopez and got full extension … but lost his grip at the apex of his jump.
Next was a game against the Los Angeles Lakers and Anthony Davis and Montrezl Harrell. Davis anticipated Harrell cutting off the penetration while Harrell was slow to recognize this and stuck close to his man. Lee took advantage of the curiously uncluttered lane and dove toward the hoop … and went up strong but slammed it into the back of the rim.
Finally, we are to Lee’s effort against Vucevic and the Magic on Sunday night. Again he takes advantage of his defender overplaying him as they chase back to the 3-point line. This clears out the lane for Lee and he drives. It’s hard to describe how high Lee gets on this attempt, but he’s about eye level with the rim. Vucevic meets him at the apex and actually pushes against Lee. The refs didn’t call the foul, and the disruption of his path forces a miss as he tries to yam it down Nikola’s throat. Vucevic didn’t come away clean, however, as Lee’s leg connects with his groin during the push.
This look was sooooo close to the conversation for dunk of the year (imagine if his name was Anthony Edwards and not Saben Lee), but he couldn’t quite connect. Let’s enjoy some alternate angles of just how amazing it was.
Lee also happened to play the best game of his young career in that game against the Magic, his first extended run of the season. Lee was 4-for-7 from the floor, got to the line several times, had five assists to just one turnover, three steals and was a team-high plus-3.
The question now becomes whether Lee or newly acquired point guard Dennis Smith Jr. should start while Delon Wright recovers from his groin injury. Smith is barely 23 years old, and the verdict is not complete on his future, but if Smith didn’t have the pedigree of being a former top-10 pick, it seems the choice would easily be Lee.
It’s sort of damning with feint praise at this point, because the Pistons are struggling with either point guard on the court, but facts are facts. While being pressed into a starting role is not how Lee’s development was envisioned when was signed to a two-way deal before the season, he’s earned this opportunity, and it doesn’t look like he’s interested in squandering it. And if he happens to steal a few souls at the rim along the way, well, that’s just the cost of doing business.
And when Lee finally does throw one of these dunks down, for at least one evening, I have a feeling the NBA world will take notice.