The Detroit Pistons do not have the highest success rate on second-round picks. What team does? Second-round picks are often dart throws. Teams hope they can get at least a rotational player out of it. But for every successful second-round pick, there is a multitude of duds.
The Pistons hit on the likes of Bruce Brown and Khris Middleton; Isaiah Livers is on track to be a successful pick as well. Then there are their picks like Khyri Thomas, Michael Gbinije, Darun Hilliard and Luka Garza; They are guys who just did not pan out.
Saben Lee is in danger of falling into the latter category for the Pistons.
Detroit selected Lee with the eighth pick in the second round of the 2020 NBA Draft, 38th overall. The Pistons acquired the pick through a trade with the Utah Jazz.
Lee was a prolific scorer at Vanderbilt. He was a double-digit scorer in all three seasons with the Commodores, including averaging 18.6 points per game during his junior season. Entering the draft, he was touted as an explosive finisher and pesky defender.
In an ideal world, Lee would have benefited from spending time in the G-League during his rookie season. However, due to restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pistons did not have the luxury of giving Lee time with the Motor City Cruise.
Instead, Lee played the entire 2020-21 season on the Pistons roster. He averaged 5.6 points and 3.6 assists in 48 games played, including seven starts. He showed some promise as a three-point shooter, which was an area of improvement for Lee coming out of college. The Vanderbilt product shot 34.8 percent from beyond the arc, albeit on a severely small sample size of 0.5 attempts per game.
While it was far from a standout rookie season, Lee showed promise as a backup caliber point guard. With the benefits of splitting time with the Pistons and Cruise in year two, it was hoped Lee would take a step forward in his development.
Saben Lee was unremarkable in year two
Lee dominated in the G-League during his sophomore season. The 23-year-old averaged 24 points, 7.2 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals in 19 games with the Cruise. However, he did not score on the greatest efficiency. He shot 46.2 percent from the floor and 29.8 percent from three-point range, but for a volume scorer, Lee came as advertised with the Cruise.
The same could not be said for Lee with the Pistons in 2021-22. Statistically, the point guard regressed, averaging 5.6 points and 2.9 assists in 37 games played. From beyond the arc, Lee was especially inefficient, shooting 23.3 percent on 1.6 attempts per game.
As a rookie, Lee assisted 33.2 percent of his teammates’ made field goals while he was on the floor. In year two, his assist percentage dipped to 26.2 percent.
Defensively, Lee was fine, but switchability is not in his wheelhouse. At 6-2, Lee is limited to guarding the opposing team’s smallest player. The Pistons, and the league as a whole, value lengthy players who can guard multiple positions.
Summer League was more of the same
In this year’s Las Vegas Summer League, Lee did not showcase much development.
In two games, he played mostly clean games with only three total turnovers, two in game one and one in game two. He played aggressive defense, garnering four steals against the Portland Trail Blazers and two steals against the Washington Wizards. He dished out four assists against Portland and three against Washington as well.
However, efficiency continued to be a weak point in Lee’s game. Against the Trail Blazers, the 23-year-old shot one-for-eight from the field and 1-for-four from beyond the arc. Lee was a ball-stopper on offense as well. On many of Detroit’s offensive possessions, Lee either did not pass the ball or waited until late in the shot clock. The Pistons’ offense became stagnant as a result.
Saben Lee could be moved before next season starts
The Pistons already have a full roster heading into next season. However, the front office could easily be looking to make some more roster moves before the offseason is over.
The team has a logjam at both point guard and the center position. Conversely, Detroit lacks depth at forward. Livers, Saddiq Bey, Hamidou Diallo and Kevin Knox are the only true forwards on the roster. Detroit still has money to spend to sign a veteran for forward depth, but with a full roster, they would have to either cut or trade a player to do it.
Lee could be the odd man out. Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes and Cory Joseph are ahead of the 23-year-old on Detroit’s depth chart. Alec Burks and Jaden Ivey have positional flexibility to run point guard as well. With so many guys either already in the point guard rotation or of playing point guard, it is hard to see where Lee gets minutes with the Pistons next season.
With enough time, Lee could develop into a steady backup point guard. However, there simply is not a place for Saben Lee on Detroit’s roster as it is currently constructed.
(Featured Image Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)