Detroit Pistons’ Saben Lee improving the one skill he needs most

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey approached preseason with the mindset that every healthy player on the roster would see time on the floor. That has been especially true for Saben Lee, who has started two preseason games due to injuries.

Lee put together one of his best performances during Wednesday’s 108-100 loss to the New York Knicks, scoring 14 points and dishing five assists. Starting in place of Killian Hayes (concussion), Lee knocked down all four of his 3-point attempts. If it were a regular season game, it would’ve set a career-high in makes.

It was the type of performance Casey was hoping for. After a rough showing during Monday’s blowout loss in Memphis, Lee played with control Wednesday. He took 3’s when defenders were slow to close out, make the right reads and competed on defense.

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“He handled the pressure,” Casey said. “That was one of the things I was impressed with with him is his approach against their physicality. I thought he took what the game gave him with the 3’s. They backed off of him. I thought he got us into plays, got us into sets that we needed to have. He also had five assists and one turnovers, which was huge, in 28 minutes.

“Saben’s growing. He’s just like any second-year guy we have, he’s growing. Did a much better job than he did against Memphis. Again, consistency is going to be the key with all of our young players. One night it’s a good night, next night is somewhere below that. Tonight he stepped up. The key now is making sure we’re getting consistent with all of our play. I think that goes for all of our young players.”

Lee was a reluctant shooter last season, but he’s making visible strides. He took 20 3-pointers in five summer league games in August, and knocked down eight. Entering Wednesday’s game, he had attempted one 3-pointer through two games, but showed he’s willing to take and make them if the defense gives them to him.

“It always feels good to see the ball go through the basket, especially something you spend a lot of time on working,” Lee said. “I’m just going to keep shooting open ones and making the right reads.”

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As one of the most athletic players on the roster, Lee’s game stands to improve immensely by him becoming a player defenders have to close out on. Lee has a quick first step and the size and strength to consistently maneuver past defenders. But defenders could play off him last year, which made it more difficult for him to drive and make the defense collapse to create opportunities for his teammates.

Lee, who signed a three-year deal this summer, has a speed and physicality to his game that makes him distinct from Detroit’s other three ball-handlers — Cade Cunningham, Hayes and Cory Joseph. But while all three of those players are proficient passers and Cunningham and Joseph are both good shooters, those are areas Lee has to improve in to become a reliable rotation player.

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He showcased his growth Wednesday.

“I just wanted to pick up full court, be active on defense and offensively just making sure I get the ball where it needs to be, set the table and get us into sets, organize the offense and just make sure everyone is where they need to be,” Lee said. “Make sure the pace is a fast pace and just pushing the pace in transition.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press now has a digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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