Big picture: What is the goal for Domantas Sabonis?

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

Domantas Sabonis has received much less attention than his companion Victor Oladipo, but there’s little stopping him from being a much bigger part of the future in Indiana.

When I was a little kid, I went to basketball camp in the summer. If one of the guys from the high school team was there helping out, it was exciting because — you know — they could almost dunk and stuff. When Domantas Sabonis was a little kid, he was playing H-O-R-S-E with Rasheed Wallace and Zach Randolph.

Suffice to say, we’re basically the same person.

Despite being only 21 years old, Sabonis has already been playing at a high level for five years. He suited up for Unicaja Málaga of the Spanish league when he was 16, bounced around the Spanish league for a few years, then headed off to play college ball at Gonzaga for two seasons.

From there, most of us are familiar with the story. He was drafted No. 11 by the Magic before getting traded to the Thunder along with Ersan Ilyasova and Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka (you guys, the NBA trade market sees 2016 Serge Ibaka as more valuable than 2017 Paul George. Think about that for a minute).

Sabonis opened last season as the starting power forward and held the spot until Taj Gibson arrived from Chicago at the trade deadline. He mostly played ninth fiddle to the to Russell Westbrook one-man show, but we saw his lottery pick potential once in a blue moon.

His reputation as a stretch four was often times better than his actual shooting numbers, but if you can stand behind the arc and hit the rim every so often, that’s elite status on last year’s Thunder team. In the clip above, both the gravity to draw a closeout and the ability to put the ball on the floor like that are very good signs for Sabonis optimists.

For the modern stretch big, the stretch isn’t usually enough on its own. It hasn’t been for a while now. Here’s Zach Lowe on this very phenomenon back in 2015:

"A few executives have dumped the term “stretch 4” altogether and replaced it with “playmaking 4” — a term I’m officially stealing right now. Shooting is nice, but it’s not enough anymore as defenses get smarter, faster, and more flexible working within the loosened rules. Spot-up guys have to be able to catch the ball, pump-fake a defender rushing out at them, drive into the lane, and make some sort of play. If they can’t manage that, a possession dies with them."

Sabonis can do that. Can he guard someone else that can also do that? Well…he’s only 21. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – APRIL 11: Domantas Sabonis
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – APRIL 11: Domantas Sabonis /

If a lot of the reporting from this summer is to be believed, Kevin Pritchard and the crew see Sabonis as much more than just someone to carry Oladipo’s stuff from the bus. Other than Myles Turner, he’s reportedly viewed as just as much a part of the Pacers’ future as anyone.

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Sabonis has tantalizing potential. It requires little imagination to see him as an offensive shapeshifter, a swiss army knife type that can spot up when necessary and create or find the open man when the system dictates it.

He’s got the athleticism and the IQ to survive defensively as well, even if he’ll never be able to scamper across the arc with the speediest guards. Playing alongside someone like Myles Turner, he’s got the upside to hold his own.

I’ve seen some reporting and a lot more speculation that Sabonis will see more action at the five than the four. I’m going to hold off putting much stock in that until I see Nate McMillan actually pull the trigger. That guy loves him some two-big lineups.

It could be that Ike Anigbogu is far from ready and Al Jefferson is borderline unplayable, forcing McMillan’s hand and pushing Sabonis up a spot for a good chunk of this year. That said, I think he remains a power forward in the collective mind of the front office going forward.

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- FEBRUARY 24: Domantas Sabonis
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- FEBRUARY 24: Domantas Sabonis /

If Sabonis fails to reach his potential, if he tops out as a 33 or 34 percent 3-point shooter and can’t create much except the occasional flashy drive or hook shot, then he’ll be a pretty forgettable NBA player. He might go off three or four games a year, take advantage of bench units and frustrate Pacers fans with inconsistency throughout his tenure.

If he becomes the ideal Domantas Sabonis, though, we can expect to see plays like this a lot more often.

Vision and playmaking like that are crucial to Sabonis’s final form. He’s not going to be a go-to scorer and he’s not going to hold the back line defensively. If, however, he can become that playmaking four NBA executives were drooling over back in 2015, then he could push the Pacers from good to great.

Next: Myles Turner is 68th in SI's Top 100

We won’t know the year. We might not even know next year, but Domantas Sabonis’s time is coming.