Why Detroit Pistons’ Saben Lee ‘provides something real different’ from other PGs

Detroit Free Press

LAS VEGAS — Saben Lee was one of the Detroit Pistons‘ most gifted athletes last season, a constant threat to explode to the rim and catch a body. That athletic ability gave him a handful of highlight-reel dunks, and he showed enough promise in the rest of his game to secure a three-year deal last week after coming off a two-way contract during his rookie season.

Like the rest of the members of the 2020 and 2021 rookie classes, this week was Lee’s first trip to Las Vegas for Summer League. He was up-and-down all week, but Saturday night’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers was a reminder of why the Pistons view him as a core part of their future. With Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes out, he scored a personal Summer League-high 22 points and dished out five assists while asserting himself as the Pistons’ primary scorer.

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Lee’s pace differs from that of  Cunningham and Hayes. He’s more physical and prefers to attack the basket instead of creating looks from outside the arc. His first bucket Saturday was a dunk through traffic. In the second quarter, he nearly completed a posterizing dunk on a Lakers defender. That approach led to an efficient night, as he made eight of his 16 attempts.

“He provides something real different,” said Luka Garza, who had a strong night of his own with 20 points and 14 rebounds. “He’s extremely athletic for a guard, and he can go dunk on your big. When you get him in situations going downhill to either hand, but especially his right hand, he can go up there and finish that, which is something obviously Cade can do and Killian can do as well. But that’s kinda his specialty.”

Few point guards took a higher percentage of their shots in the paint last season, and it contrasted well with Hayes, who preferred to operate from short midrange and behind the arc. But his main weakness on offense was his shooting — or lack of it. His 23 attempts in 48 games was one of the lowest rates in the league among guards. He hit eight of them — a solid 34.8% clip — but the sample size is too small to trust.

[ How Pistons rookie Saben Lee got basketball passion from his NFL dad ]

Lee has been working on his outside shot this offseason, and we’ve seen glimpses of his improvement. Some of his made 3-pointers this week were difficult, and his first make on Saturday was a pull-up. He knocked down two of his four attempts Saturday.

Although he wasn’t happy with his four turnovers after the game, Lee’s decision-making showed improvement from his first three Summer League games.

“Saben’s done a great job of preparing himself each day,” assistant coach JD DuBois said. “He works extremely hard, and in the weeks leading into Summer League, he put a lot of time in during our voluntary workouts and coming back at night. I just saw him taking that next step, stepping in for guys. We told them before the game, there are going to be some guys that are getting a little more minutes than they have. I thought he and the rest of those guys really stepped in and prepared to play.”

Lee’s future with the Pistons is secured after surpassing expectations in 2020-21 as a second-round pick on a two-way deal. Still, Saturday was a needed performance for him. And he’s grateful for the opportunity to continue to build on it.

“It definitely feels great,” he said of his new contract. “Very blessed and grateful to be here. I’m just excited to continue to do the work and continue to grind here in Detroit.”

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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