Love/Hate Series: Domantas Sabonis

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 16: Domantas Sabonis
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 16: Domantas Sabonis /

Throughout the offseason, we’ll be analyzing what we love and hate about everybody on the Pacers roster. As the series continues, let’s look at the newly acquired Domantas Sabonis.

Doesn’t the Paul George trade seem like forever ago? It feels like it was much more than one month ago that Ramona Shelburne let us all know PG was off to the Thunder in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

The Pacers were looking to acquire young players in the Paul George trade, and Sabonis is just that. The young big man out of Gonzaga is still just 21, yet he started 66 games for the Thunder last season. He played as well as you would expect the 11th pick in the draft to play, but because he was acquired in the Paul George trade, he has much bigger shoes to fill now. What can Pacers fan expect to love and hate about Sabonis in his attempt to fill those shoes? Lets take a look.

Love: Offensive Potential

Sabonis spent a lot of his rookie year looking like a rookie. His effective field goal percentage was only 45 percent, but that is not to say he was bad on offense. Sabonis spent a lot of his rookie year making plays that, when more refined, will make him a very effective offensive player.

In the Thunders first 21 games, Sabonis shot 46 percent from 3-point range. It was a rather low sample size of only 50 attempts, but Sabonis showed he isn’t afraid to take 3s and he has the ability to make them. Shooting over 40 percent from 3 for a quarter of the season is a great way to show you can knock down the deep ball, and Sabonis showed he has that ability – beyond what his season stats showed.

In this clip, Sabonis shows off both his shooting and overall offensive capabilities. After a dribble handoff, he sets a screen and pops into space to be a passing option. Then, he sets up Semaj Christon with a driving lane before popping out into space again and nailing a 3.

You can expect Sabonis to be put into similar actions on the Pacers. It looks pretty likely that he will play in bench units with Cory Joseph, and having Joseph setting him up instead of Christon or martyr-ball leader Russell Westbrook should help Sabonis shoot the ball better.

3-pointers are nice and all, but if Sabonis is playing second unit center (which the great Caitlin Cooper and I are hopeful for), his post play will be more important. Thankfully, this is where he excels the most, he was a terrific post player at Gonzaga. He was not asked to do much work under the basket last season with the Thunder — he played most of his minutes at the 4 — and as a result, he took only 28 percent of his shots at the rim. Like with the 3-point shot, however, he showed flashes of being very skilled inside. Watch him get by Marc Gasol with his agility in this clip, then beat him with a pump fake and post move.

Image result for domantas sabonis thunder gif
Image result for domantas sabonis thunder gif /

He also showed the strength to finish inside with contact. His ability to fight through the harm from David Lee allowed him to secure this dunk.

Image result for domantas sabonis thunder gif
Image result for domantas sabonis thunder gif /

Though you would like to see him get rid of this shot, or just get his feet behind the 3-point line, Sabonis shot exceedingly well on long twos, 47 percent. The translations from his long 2 percentage and his free throw percentage (66 percent) suggest he should be able to improve as a shooter and be a very serviceable stretch big if needed.

Hate: Bad defense, Tendency to foul

Tell me where you have heard this before: A Pacers player is not particularly good on defense. Sabonis spent his rookie year on a Thunder team that was strong on the defensive end, and yet he still posted a 108 defensive rating.

Of course, young big men take time to adjust to the pro game. NBA big men are much faster and stronger than those you see in college, so it usually is a few years into the career of big men before they figure it out on defense.

But Sabonis did not show the speed or agility required to be competent. A block percentage of 1.6 (similar to Al Jefferson‘s) shows that Sabonis lacked the anticipation and athleticism to be a rim protector last year, and shows that he was typically a ground-bound player.

Sabonis also averaged 2.5 fouls per game, and he only played 20 minutes a game. You can expect him to have a similar workload with the Pacers, so expect Sabonis to frequently put the other team on the free throw line, as well as be in foul trouble if he ever starts.

I can’t tell you why Sabonis hedges this screen before it even happens, but he does, and it ends up leading to a Devin Booker 3.

Sure, Jared Dudley is a high IQ player who was easily able to fool Sabonis and slip the screen. Still, Sabonis does not have good decision-making on defense, nor is he skilled enough to defend well on the perimeter.

The important takeaway here is simple: Sabonis was a rookie. If he doesn’t regress from 3, his contributions from last season are enough to make him a rotation player, and if he improves like young players usually do, he could be a very useful big off the bench. His fit next to TJ Leaf will be awkward, but if playing the two together means Sabonis stays around the rim more, it could be a good thing.

Next: Darren Collison's defense is offensive

Sabonis adds youth to a Pacers roster headed into a rebuild. If he can improve on defense, Sabonis will have a long NBA career as a rotation big man.