NBA Draft Breakdown: Damion Lee impresses early at Louisville

Coming into the season, the biggest question for Louisville on the floor was how mid-major transfers Damion Lee (Drexel) and Trey Lewis (Cleveland State) would adjust to playing at the high-major level.

Lewis has been solid for the Cardinals, averaging 15 points per game on solid shooting. He deserves mention for succeeding as a small school player transitioning to a bigger environment. However, it’s Lee who has been the Cardinals’ star to this point.

Lee is averaging 18.1 points and four rebounds per game on 49 percent shooting from the field, 38 percent shooting from 3 and 89 percent shooting from the line. In the past 20 seasons of college hoops, only four players have pulled off a 50/40/90 season while averaging 18 points. That’s the kind of company Lee is flirting with right now as the Cardinals head into ACC play.

But even more important, Lee has come up big in Louisville’s two biggest games of the season. On the road against Michigan State, Lee scored 23 and added three rebounds and five steals to push the Cardinals to the brink of defeating the No. 1 Spartans. Then on Saturday against hated rival Kentucky, Lee brought his best game in a Cardinals uniform. He scored 27 points while playing all 40 minutes as the Cardinals just came up one bucket short against the Wildcats.

Not only has Lee’s play this season put him in position to potentially be an All-American if he can continue it through conference play, but it has also put him in contention to be drafted into the NBA.

Coming into the season, I noted Lee as a potential draft sleeper to watch as he transitioned from Drexel to Louisville. The questions I had simply revolved around whether the defense would translate and whether the ball-handling skills were quite up to par for a higher level. Answering those questions has been the biggest key to his success thus far, and it seems likely he will get his chance in the NBA because of it.

On-ball offense

Lee has always been a guy who can put the ball on the floor after catching off of screens, but this season he looks even more comfortable than he did at Drexel in doing so in other situations. The opposing defense now has to constantly be set back on its heels because of the better diversification in Lee’s game. With the ball, he now has the ability to just straight up blow by defenders, like he did here against Jamal Murray.

 (Synergy Sports Tech)
(Synergy Sports Tech)

And that allows him to get more space for his jump shot on pull ups. Here’s an example of basically the exact same situation on the right wing, but because of the earlier blow by, Murray sags farther off of Lee initially. Instead of driving against Murray, he just crosses over and pulls up from deep.

 (Synergy Sports Tech)
(Synergy Sports Tech)

This season, Lee has knocked down a high percentage of his shots off the dribble, as he’s currently in the 81st percentile nationally averaging one point per shot in those situations, according to Synergy. Lee has also shown the ability to run side pick-and-rolls this season to create shots for both himself and teammates. Here are couple of examples from Saturday.