On Tuesday, the Phoenix Suns announced they had waived guard Frank Jackson and signed guards Saben Lee and Adonis Arms to the roster. Jackson was only on a training camp deal, which is what Lee and Arms will be joining the Suns on now.
As is the case with most training camp additions, expectations should be tempered. Even so, despite both the Suns’ two-way slots being filled by Ish Wainright and Duane Washington Jr., they still have one open roster spot. That means it’s not impossible someone could come into training camp and make an impression, however unlikely it may seem.
With Lee and Arms, general manager James Jones continues to cast a wide net in evaluating players on the fringes of NBA rosters. One never knows where a diamond in the rough could emerge from, and it’s worth mentioning that while the Suns continue to try and locate a Jae Crowder trade, one never knows when extra bodies will be needed.
It’s more likely that Jones is simply taking fliers on a pair of local kids whose stay in Phoenix will ultimately be short, but in the interest of being thorough, here’s a quick look at what to expect from Lee and Arms.
Lee went to the Utah Jazz with the 38th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, but they immediately traded him to the Detroit Pistons, where he spent the first two years of his NBA career. The 6-foot-2 point guard out of Vanderbilt averaged 5.6 points, 2.9 assists and 1.0 steals in 16.3 minutes per game over his 37 appearances last season, shooting 39 percent from the floor and a putrid 23.3 percent from long range.
As a rookie, he shot a much tidier 47.1 percent overall and 34.8 percent from 3, but that latter conversion rate came on a mere 0.5 attempts per game. Last season, when he upped his volume to 1.6 attempts per game, his efficiency plummeted.
Lee was traded with Kelly Olynyk to Utah in late September for Bojan Bogdanovic, but even under Danny Ainge’s new regime, the team that originally drafted Lee dumped him once again, waiving him on Sunday.
The 23-year-old brings some fun attributes to the table that are currently in short supply in Phoenix’s backcourt — namely, athleticism, playmaking and defense. On the athleticism front, look no further than his speed with the ball or highlight plays like this dunk he threw down in Utah’s open scrimmage over the weekend:
Defensively, Lee puts his 6-foot-9 wingspan to good use as one of the league’s best pickpockets on the ball and a ball-hawking safety away from it. Averaging 2.4 steals per game in the G League is one thing, but The Bball Index confirms his thievery was just as cunning in the big leagues too.
Not only did Lee rank in the 96th percentile in pickpocket rating, but he also placed in the 89th percentile in passing lane defense, the 99th percentile in steals per 75 possessions and the 89th percentile in deflections per 75 possessions. He’s good at ambushing passing lanes, will swoop on any sign of hesitance in ball-handlers and consistently played like a living embodiment of “the best offense is good defense.”
On the playmaking front, Lee’s career average of 3.3 assists in 16.3 minutes per game only paints part of the picture. In 19 G League appearances with the Motor City Cruise, he upped his numbers to 7.6 assists per game, and according to The Bball Index, he checked out as a pretty phenomenal facilitator, even in his limited NBA action:
It’s not just some weird advanced stats quirk in a small sample size either. Lee routinely probed defenses off the dribble to set up his teammates, ranking in the 96th percentile in passout rate on drives. Even better, he was actually effective on those plays, ranking in the 92nd percentile in drive assist rate.
Watch the film, and he has a knack for getting the ball where it needs to be. Whether he’s setting up spot-up shooters with a nifty dime or hitting opportunistic cutters with a bounce pass right into defenders’ blind spots, Lee has some playmaking chops.
However, there are some obvious downsides to his game, most of which come on the offensive end of the floor. His agility helps him get to the rim, and there’s no doubt he’s got finishing power when the runway clears for takeoff. But throw any obstacle in his path, and that 6-foot-2 frame becomes a problem.
Lee gets to the rim quite a bit, ranking in the 94th percentile in adjusted drives per 75 possessions and the 82nd percentile in rim shot creation. Unfortunately, he has a hard time overcoming that size discrepancy, ranking in the 48th percentile in adjusted field goal percentage at the rim and the eighth percentile in rim shot making.
There’s a sort of frantic desperation when he encounters contact or rim protectors around the basket, just lofting the ball up and hoping for a friendly bounce if it could juuuust hit the right part of the rim.
Struggling to finish as an undersized guard isn’t the end of the world if you can spread the floor. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback of Saben Lee’s game is indeed his 3-point shooting.
Although he only has 85 NBA games to his name, Lee is a career 26.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc. He made just 23.3 percent of his triples last season, including an appalling 14.3 percent on pull-up 3s, 26.7 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s and 21.4 percent on corner 3s.
Whether it’s off the dribble or as a spot-up shooter, Lee’s rigid, catapult release is unlikely to find the bottom of the rim. Once the ball leaves that slingshot, it gathers velocity quickly on a flat trajectory that often makes the whole process look even worse:
If the Suns can find a way to tap into his playmaking and defensive instincts with the second unit, there might be something here. However, his 3-point shooting would have to be at least average for him to even sniff a rotation that includes Chris Paul, Cam Payne and Duane Washington Jr.
The Corona del Sol product will only have a few practices and one remaining preseason game to state his case.
Like Lee, Adonis Arms went to high school in the Phoenix area, going to Desert Vista before spending a few years at Mesa Community College. Playing for Winthrop and eventually one season at Texas Tech, Arms — who has one of the all-time great names in organized sport and dare I say society in general — went undrafted in 2022.
The 24-year-old combo guard has zero NBA experience, but he did spend some time with the Denver Nuggets on their Summer League squad. In five games, Arms put up 9.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in 14.3 minutes per game. He shot 17-for-31 from the floor (54.8 percent) and 7-for-12 from 3 (58.3 percent), all while regaling Las Vegas with his impressive dunking ability:
In college, Arms’ numbers didn’t exactly leap off the page. His 8.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 25.8 minutes per game were fairly mundane, as was his 44.8 percent shooting from the field and 30.8 percent shooting from deep.
Even so, the athleticism and defensive playmaking helped him stand out entering the draft process, so even when he went undrafted, there was still optimism he could prove himself as worthy of an NBA roster.
Arms only had Summer League and part of Nuggets training camp to his name before Denver waived him on Monday. But he plays extremely hard, showed plenty of potential in Vegas, and as a 6-foot-5 combo guard with a 7-foot wingspan, he’s got the intangibles Phoenix might have on its radar.
It’s a long shot for Adonis Arms, but his story of resilience shouldn’t be underestimated.