2018-2019 Off the Glass Breakout Players Series: Domantas Sabonis
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In today's space-and-pace NBA, few players exemplify the modern big man like Indiana's Domantas Sabonis. He's an imposing 6'10", but can pass and shoot like a wing. And best of all, he's just getting started.
Sabonis made his debut with the Thunder back in 2016, where he was fodder for Russell Westbrook assist padding. He actually started 66 games during his rookie campaign, but averaged just 5.9 points per contest. He would be traded to the Pacers the following year, where he flashed some of his true potential.
Veteran Thad Young was quick to praise Sabonis early last season. “He just knows how to play basketball,” Young said. “He’s always in the right spot, making the right plays.”
Perhaps this shouldn't come as such a surprise. First off, he's the son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, one of the most celebrated European basketball players of all-time. Children of professional athletes usually have unique access and insight into the game.
Secondly, the younger Sabonis had already had himself an impressive basketball career before coming to the NBA. He was a stand-out in the Euro youth circuit, and his college career at Gonzaga is a little overlooked. In fact, he averaged 19.6 points, 14.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 3.3 blocks during his sophomore March Madness. That season he finished on CBS College Basketball's All-America Third-Team alongside Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, and Jamal Murray.
To make a long story short, Sabonis can play, plain and simple. He's got the pedigree and the skill-set to excel in the NBA, and he doesn't turn 23 until May of 2019. Things get even more exciting when you think about this upcoming Pacers season.
Indiana was one of the most surprising teams in the Association last year, pushing LeBron's Cavs to seven games in the playoffs following a 48-win regular season. There are plenty of folks around the league that believe the Pacers can maintain that pace again in 2018-19. Sabonis figures to play a major role in that equation.
With Young and Myles Turner manning the Pacers front court, Sabonis will probably start the season as a reserve. That said, he posted 13.1 points and 10.4 rebounds in 19 starts last season. He knows how to utilize opportunity and is likely to get a good chunk of playing time one way or another.
Both Young and Turner can spread the floor somewhat reliably. That means that Sabonis figures to spend plenty of time alongside bigs who create lots of spacing. He'll excel in that position. As Zach Lowe reported, Sabonis and Turner have already developed some very intriguing chemistry.
Sabonis will continue to improve as a passer and slasher, which will elevate his game even more. And as we've discussed, he can hold his own on the boards and beyond the three point line as well. His defense can leave a little to be desired; he'll need to get better here to really take a leap next season. He also commits too many fouls, but with more experience this too should improve.
Between Young, Turner, Kyle O'Quinn, and even Doug McDermott, Sabonis is going to face competition if he wants a consistent spot in the Pacers front court. I believe he'll rise to the occasion.
I'm not sure just how good I think Indiana will be this season, but I imagine the team will be among the better clubs in the East. That means Sabonis will be asked to continue to show up in high stakes situations. Expect the Lithuanian big man to not only meet the challenge, but truly blossom.