The case for the Pacers starting Domantas Sabonis over Myles Turner

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 10: Domantas Sabonis #11 of the Indiana Pacers shoots the ball against the Chicago Bulls during a pre-season game on October 10, 2018 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 10: Domantas Sabonis #11 of the Indiana Pacers shoots the ball against the Chicago Bulls during a pre-season game on October 10, 2018 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Myles Turner is the starting center of the Indiana Pacers, but there is a case for Domantas Sabonis to take over the starter’s spot.

We hear it all the time. We have been hearing it since the Indiana Pacers drafted him 11th overall in 2015. “Myles Turner is going to break out this year.” He always seems to top potential most improved player lists and, so far, hasn’t lived up to this expectation.

From his second to his third season, Turner’s points per game decreased by 1.8, rebounds decreased by 0.6, blocks decreased by 0.3, and assists remained the same. Turner’s field goal percentage dropped by around 3% and his three-point shooting increased by about 1%. These increases are marginal and the tape remained largely unchanged from year to year.

Based on what we have seen and heard in the preseason, there is zero reason to believe that Turner will take this provincial leap that we all hope he will. Turner hasn’t been given much freedom to work outside the offense in his career and that has been unchanged so far. He makes his money on pick and pops and the occasional post up. I wish Turner would receiver more opportunities to create, maybe out of the high post.

Even more concerning is the way Nate McMillan seems to think about Turner and about basketball. From the mid-range, Turner was elite last season, shooting 48.1%. We have all been waiting for Turner to extend his range to the three-point line, which he is already capable of, but at a much higher rate.

Turner only took 2.4 attempts per game, making a solid 35.7%. Nate McMillan is content with Turner jacking long twos, as he “doesn’t want you (Turner) running to that three-point line.”

It has been clear to myself and many others that McMillan’s archaic style of offense is a problem and needs fixing. The Pacers don’t use enough motion and don’t shoot enough threes. This has been said ad nauseam but Indiana’s coaching staff has turned a blind eye.

Turner not shooting the three more often will limit the ceiling of the Pacers’ offense. Spacing is gold in the modern NBA and the Pacers need to be panning like it’s 1848.

So, Myles Turner isn’t going to change. With Turner, the offense isn’t going to change. What is the solution?

Starting Domantas Sabonis.

Making the case for Domantas Sabonis

The other part of the Victor Oladipo trade, Sabonis has a great season off of the bench, averaging 11.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, and two assists in 24.5 minutes per game. Sabonis impressed in this preseason, averaging 15.3 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists, shooting 50% from three.

Last season, the Pacers’ lineup with the highest net rating, among lineups that appeared in at least 10 games, included Sabonis at the five, not Turner. The five-man lineup of Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Lance Stephenson, Thaddeus Young, and Sabonis boasted a net rating 41.8, almost 20 points higher than the second best lineup, which included Turner.

Sabonis shoots the three at nearly the same rate as Turner with more offensive versatility. He is better as a roll man and a finisher around the rim and more aggressive as a rebounder. His playmaking ability really shines as well. Let’s get into the tape and break down how Sabonis works with the Pacers.

More from 8 Points, 9 Seconds

From the pick-and-roll roll man, the Pacers ranked 25th in points per possession at 0.99. Even more disappointing is that the Pacers run this the most of any team per game, at 11.5% of their possessions. This is a whopping 3.2% more frequent than the Rockets, who give it to the roll man on 8.3% of their possessions.

The pick and roll is the most important play in basketball and the Pacers need to improve. However, I believe the problem here is Myles Turner. On most of his pick and rolls, Turner pops to the mid-range and takes a long two, which is inherently inefficient. He doesn’t have any creative ability as a roll man.

Domantas Sabonis, however, is a dynamic creator as a roll man and a pop man. He can hit spot ups just like Turner but brings so much else to the table.

On this side pick and pop, Sabonis could have shot the midrange and made it, which would have been fine. However, he recognizes Marvin Williams leaving Lance Stephenson room and nets the Pacers an extra point:

Sabonis is an efficient playmaker off of the short roll, which is a vital trait for big men in today’s NBA. The defense goes under the screen and when Sabonis catches, he recognizes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist overcommitting and forgetting about his man. Sabonis immediately recognizes this and dishes to Victor Oladipo for a bunny:

Sabonis finds an opening slipping the high hedge defense and Draymond Green has to step up. Kevin Durant is late on his rotation and Sabonis throws the wrap around to the cutting Young for the slam:

Again slipping into a short roll, Sabonis catches the ball at the free throw line, takes one dribble, and finger rolls the ball over Giannis Antetokounmpo:

Sabonis seems to have a real connection in the pick and roll with Tyreke Evans, which is encouraging.

Using the threat of his mid-range, Sabonis attacks the closeout baseline. David Nwaba tries to cut off Sabonis on the baseline so Sabonis counters with a nifty spin back to the middle, finishing with his weaker right hand:

Sabonis doesn’t have Myles Turner’s quick release face-up jumper or touch down low but he does have more functional strength, more shot diversity, and better footwork.

Sabonis shows off the touch here, promptly lobbing the ball to Young after he catches the weak side defense sleeping:

On the defensive end, Sabonis won’t provide the elite rim protecting ability that Turner brings to the table:

However, Sabonis has similar mobility and is a more cerebral defender; he is better on his rotations, better on the weak side, and gives the same effort:

Myles Turner’s game is not going to change and is going to the limiting factor that ultimately holds the Pacers back in the postseason.

Next. Pacers Week One preview: Many challenges await. dark

So Nate McMillan: why not give Sabonis a chance to start at center? Your offense will thank you for it.