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The Staying Power of Saben Lee

Kelsea O'Brien /January 31, 2023

The odds of making an NBA roster are 1920:1.

The odds of a player playing for his home team are even slimmer.

In the 54-year history of the organization, only three Phoenix, Arizona natives have ever played for the Phoenix Suns; Bernard Thompson, Alan Williams, and now, Saben Lee.

What could be considered a pipe dream even for the most talented of NBA players is now a reality for Lee, whose success best exemplifies the polarity of the G League experience.

“He’s been awesome!” exclaims Raptors 905 head coach, Eric Khoury, his admiration for Lee on full display. “I’ve been staying up way too late watching Phoenix games.”

A standout star at Corona del Sol High School, Lee was named first-team All-State in his junior year. His ability to finish at the rim, to glide effortlessly through traffic and to create shots for his teammates were mature beyond his high school years, and remain a unique skill set for someone of just 23 years of age, and only a small facet of what makes Lee a luxury for teammates and coaches alike.

After a January 9th win over the Capital City Go-Go that saw Joe Wieskamp on assignment from the Toronto Raptors, Lee – who had never played alongside Wieskamp – managed to total eight assists, primarily on Wieskamp’s 19 points. His efficiency earned him yet another podium game, where he revealed that when a new player joins the team, even for a single game, he learns how to elevate and work with the player very quickly. “If a new guy comes in I always watch film on them, just to see what kind of player they are and how I can help and stuff like that,” admits Lee, who even off the court, is always making the extra pass.

For Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, Lee’s game has been enamoring since prior to the 2022-2023 NBA training camp.

“I liked him in camp, we were just in a situation where we couldn’t keep him.”

When the Suns were unable to keep Lee after training camp, Raptors 905 General Manager, Chad Sanders admitted to jumping at the opportunity to sign him to the Raptors 905 almost immediately.

“He’s a versatile guard, really fast with the ball, can put pressure on the defence, (he’s a) really good defender with good hands, and (he) sees the floor well,” said Sanders. “He does a little bit of everything. We’ve been working to try to progress his shooting and he’s shown his ability to knock down shots as well, so we’re pumped for his play that he’s had in Phoenix and we hope that he stays.”

While Suns head coach Monty Williams was aware of Lee’s abilities before he signed his first 10-day contract on January 11th, he quickly revealed that he was unaware of just how impactful Lee can be. “We needed him to come in and help us, and every time he’s stepped on the floor, he’s contributed. Whether it’s his energy defensively, (or) offensively, he’s been better than I thought. I’m just so happy for him.”

Though he is staying up every game night to watch his former point guard, head coach Eric Khoury admits “As much as I love the guy, I hope we never see him again.”

To anyone unfamiliar with the G League this admission could sound callous, but within the G League stratosphere, there is always hope that players who leave on 10-day contracts don’t return. Not because they aren’t skilled (he has proven that) and not because they aren’t universally loved (he is), but because of how hard they have worked to earn the opportunity to live their dream; a dream that feels next to impossible, until it comes true.

Rooting for Saben Lee is effortless, as anyone who has had the privilege to know him, whether for a single game like Wieskamp or a brief passage of time during training camp like Williams, can attest.

Chad Sanders runs through a crowd just prior to tip-off, his stoic persona temporarily disabled. He has one more point to make:

“Saben Lee is just a great human.”