Saben Lee a revelation, Dennis Smith Jr. improving as Detroit Pistons young PG duo excites

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II | Detroit Free Press

Saben Lee is a rookie on a two-way contract. But with the Detroit Pistons depleted at point guard due to injuries, Lee has stepped up and manned the position like a veteran this week.

Sunday’s loss to the Orlando Magic marked Lee’s first time in the rotation since Feb. 9. He delivered his best performance of the season with 12 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals.

Then, he topped that Tuesday, leading the Pistons to a 105-93 win over the Magic with a career-high 21 points, four assists and two steals.

Despite coming off of the bench, Lee ended logged the most minutes at the one in both games. The starter, Dennis Smith Jr., struggled Sunday, but took a step forward Tuesday, scoring 14 points (6-for-9 shooting) and blocking two shots at Amway Center in Orlando.

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Lee has been a revelation, but after Tuesday’s win, coach Dwane Casey said Smith deserved praise, too.

“He gets overshadowed with the play of Saben, but I thought Dennis did an excellent job of passing ahead, let the game come to him,” Casey said. “He wasn’t forcing things. I thought he did an excellent job defensively with his defensive hands. I think a lot of his good play probably got lost with the play off Saben, but I thought he did a good job and he set the tone as far as the speed of the game by pushing the ball in transition and passing ahead. Kudos to him.”

Tuesday showed even though the Pistons (9-22) are temporarily shorthanded, they could be OK with their young point guard tandem with five games to go until the All-Star break. Smith and Lee are the only healthy point guards on the roster, with Delon Wright out for two weeks with a Grade 2 right groin strain, and Killian Hayes rehabbing a torn labrum in his right hip with a potential late March return.

Smith is still settling into a rhythm two weeks after being traded to the Pistons from the New York Knicks, and Tuesday was his best game since arriving. His 14 points were a season-high, and though he wasn’t involved as a playmaker (one assist), it was a positive step forward for him after going scoreless Sunday.

But it was Lee, once again, who stole the show. He has made 12 of 18 attempts in two games and shot 12 free throws (making six) in two games this week. He has a fast first step, and the Magic defense struggled to keep him out of the paint in both games.

Lee has shown he can finish in traffic and over bigger defenders, and has done a good job finding open shooters after the defense collapses. But perhaps most impressive was his shooting Tuesday, as he went 3-for-3 from 3 after going 0-for-2 in his previous nine games.

“I really have a lot of respect for his game,” Josh Jackson, who scored 18 points in Tuesday’s win, said. “I know he’s a really good player and going to be in this league for a long time. Coming out today I knew he was going to be excited for the opportunity to come out. He just played really really good. Didn’t shy away from any shot, made the right passes when they were there and played tremendous defense today. I’m really happy for him.”

Lee and Smith have another chance to impress, this time on short rest, visiting the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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