Power Forward Thursdays: Can Domantas Sabonis play the 4?

The Indiana Pacers have one of the best problems to have; they have two talented players at the same position. Can Domantas Sabonis adapt to a different role?

The Pacers spent much of their offseason acquiring new talent to see what kinds of players they could get. They snagged Darren Collison to be a facilitator, Bojan Bogdanovic to be a shooter, Victor Oladipo to be a scorer, and Domantas Sabonis to be a prospect.

Well, at least they thought Sabonis would be a prospect. Instead, he has turned into an already effective player and has morphed into a sixth man. He’s averaging 12.5 points and 8 rebounds per game while shooting 54.3 percent from the field. These are excellent numbers for any player, especially one in just his second season.

But his good play now forces the Pacers to ask themselves a tough question. With Myles Turner being just 21 years old and another incredible talent at the center position, Indiana has two great young players that play the same position.

That is a good problem to have, but the team has to ask itself if those two players can one day play alongside one another with Turner being a rim-protecting center and Sabonis being more of a hybrid center/power forward who can space the floor a bit.

There is definitely reason to believe that Sabonis can be effective in this role both now and in the future. The reason one would consider Sabonis the 4 and Turner the 5 is that Sabonis spent all of his rookie seasons in Oklahoma City playing the power forward position alongside Steven Adams, meaning he has experience and knowledge playing in the role already.

Additionally, the early returns on Sabonis playing power forward in Indiana have been solid. He has spent a total of 195 minutes this campaign playing alongside either Myles Turner or Al Jefferson, and he has made the most of these opportunities.

In these minutes, he has scored 83 points in total, which converts to 15.3 points per 36 minutes. Sabonis averages just over 18 points per 36 minutes on the season, so his points don’t take a huge hit when he plays out of position. He’s also shooting 52 percent inside the arc in these scenarios, showing that he can still put the ball in the basket efficiently regardless of who is playing around him.

To back up this point even further, his true shooting percentage at the four is 57.6 percent, above league average.

The team plays well on the offensive end with Domantas Sabonis in with another big; they have an offensive rating of 108.8 in said situation. These lineups have a 57 percent true shooting percentage, meaning nobody has a hard time scoring even with two centers clogging up space in the lane.

Sabonis and Turner specifically have skillsets that are just complimentary enough to get the job done. When Sabonis sets a screen, he rolls to the rim looking to clear out a defender and make space for the Pacers to do their thing. Once he gets the ball in said space, he’s great at making the right decision between passing and shooting; he is always keeping the ball moving.

Turner, thankfully, is a good shooter and play finisher that fits well alongside a player like that. With Sabonis in the lane here, Turner spots up in the corner, and Sabonis keeps the ball flying around right to him for an easy three points:

On the flip side, Turner’s unselfish play and infrequent shooting in the lane allows Sabonis to get in position for buckets down low when Myles has the rock like he does here:

It’s clear when these players share the floor that the offense will be just fine. The only problem may come on the other end of the court.

Teams are shooting 37 percent from three against lineups with Sabonis at the power forward position. Neither Domas nor Turner can appropriately defend out on the perimeter, so the team gets killed by opposing shooting bigs.

That is the main reason why lineups with Domantas Sabonis at the four are a minus 4 in their minutes. However, given that Turner and Sabonis are both just 21 years old, that number should certainly improve over time.

The question isn’t if Sabonis and Turner have a future playing together, it’s how effective can they be. I think the answer is clearly “very effective”. Give it time and Sabonis can become a great power forward.