The Phoenix Suns have two preseason games in the books, with an overtime win over the Detroit Pistons and a loss to the Denver Nuggets without their “Big 3” to show for it. Now is not a time to worry about results, and instead focus on the bigger picture.
To that end a worrying development may have emerged elsewhere for the organization, but within this Suns group, all is good. Their three superstars are saying all of the right things and working themselves into game shape, while the host of veterans and role players have hit the ground running.
Perhaps none more than Saben Lee, who is grabbing this preseason opportunity to impress the Suns’ coaching staff with both hands.
Given the roster overhaul which took place this summer, it was unclear if Lee still had a part to play on this team. In truth, that may still be the case. Many a player before him has excelled in preseason play, before finding themselves glued to the bench once the real games begin.
But there seems to be something different about Lee, with his own teammates noticing as well. So far the 24-year-old has had a nice showing against the Detroit Pistons (although he may have had an ulterior motive for that one), before starting in the loss to the Nuggets with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal all sitting the game out.
Even before the preseason games began, it felt like anywhere you turned at the Suns’ practice facility, Lee was getting up extra shots with Yuta Watanabe or hanging around with players who he could learn from. Playing for a contender is clearly an experience which Lee relishes, and he is reacting accordingly.
Like most of the Suns’ role players for this coming season, the defensive end is where Lee is going to earn any minutes that he does get. The ability to knock down a 3-pointer is an added bonus, but the team already have Eric Gordon and Yuta Watanabe to do just that. Lost in the shuffle of last season however, is that Lee shot a credible 37.9 percent from deep in 23 regular season games.
Returning to the defensive effort, and teammate Josh Okogie, himself somewhat of a defensive specialist for this group, has already added Lee to what he is calling the “pit bull group”. Given that Okogie is one of the few holdovers from last season, that is the kind of praise Lee is getting from the right people.
Lee is on a two-way deal this coming season, but there is no reason why that doesn’t mean he can have an outsized impact on this roster. Every time he gets a chance to play for the Suns, he is sure to do so with a hunger and intensity that will be a positive jolt to this team in what will be a long regular season.
Head coach Frank Vogel has to like what he’s seen from the player in their limited time together as well, and giving him the start against the Nuggets felt like a nod to how hard he is working in training for his opportunity. In speaking with the media recently, Lee himself described his role under coach Vogel as;
"“My role’s definitely getting to the paint and drawing defenders and trying to find people on the weak side, find shooters, especially with the talent we have on the offensive end.”"
That ability to kick and drive will be vital for the team with so many spot up shooters and offensive talent around Lee.
The point guard position is one with questionable depth as well, with Jordan Goodwin currently in the rotation and Booker himself liking to assume that role when he is not scoring at an outrageous rate.
There is a spot for Lee on this roster if he works hard enough, and minutes in the rotation look possible from what we’ve seen so far too. The former Piston, who also played twice for the Philadelphia 76ers, looks to have finally found a home in the league, and he is not going to let this opportunity pass without fighting hard for his spot on this team.