Domantas Sabonis and the Unconventional All-Star

Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Domantas Sabonis will be playing in his first All-Star game this weekend. He doesn’t fit the traditional mold, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy of the selection.

The NBA’s All-Star weekend is not about good basketball. It’s about all the little things that make up the flashiest packages on a SportsCenter segment: high-flying dunks, lots of threes, between the legs and behind the back passes, jumping over people. Unfortunately for Indiana Pacers star Domantas Sabonis, those aren’t really his forte.

Sabonis uses as much brute force as he does finesse to back down, spin, and manhandle the opposition into his nightly 18.3 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. The only other player in the league posting those numbers is the reigning MVP.

Around the league, there were several players people felt should have made the All-Star rosters. Devin Booker (who will now be replacing the injured Damian Lillard), Bradley Beal, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, and Ja Morant were the main cases. Morant is the only one out of the group who is leading his team to a winning record.

Before we move on, it is important to address the narrative that record shouldn’t matter for All-Star selection. This is unequivocally false. It is far easier to be the best player on a bad team. The math is simple: being the lone good player surrounded by bad players means the good player will be given the ball way more than if he had four good teammates around him.

Take Marcus Morris for example. He was the either the sixth or seventh best player on the Celtics last season. He went to the Knicks, was posting almost 20 points per game, was their best player, then was traded to the Clippers and is at best the number five player on that team. When you’re hovering around 15 games below-500 by the All-Star break, you might as well be getting shots up.

That’s not to stay each of those payers aren’t talented. When the other option is kicking it to Mikal Bridges, Isaac Bonga, Jarrett Culver, or Coby White, you would be shooting more too. It just makes it harder to compare to someone fighting for home court advantage in the playoffs.

Now back to the player that really deserves to be in Chicago this weekend.

Zach Kram of The Ringer recently wrote a piece diving into which players create the most points combining points scored, assisted points, and screen assisted points to find the league leaders. The top of his leader board was littered with former MVPs, MVP candidates, All-NBA selections, and ultra-high usage players plus one outlier: Domantas Sabonis.

Sabonis was one of only two players, Nikola Jokic was the other, to post double-digit averages in each of the three categories. The way the Pacers use him on offense allows him to maximize his unique skill-set.

Like previously mentioned, he’s able to consistently use his strength to get to the basket, but he also possesses the vision to consistently find open cutters when he is doubled. Then you have to add in that he is second in the league in screen assists and possibly the smartest screener in the league. When screening, he constantly adjusts on the fly to create the best angles for Indiana ball-handlers to get open and knows best place to pop or roll in order to get himself open afterwards.

This all stems from his unselfishness. Bam Adebayo, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, and Rudy Gobert are the four All-Stars this year with lower usage rates than Sabonis and in all four cases, they defer on offense to superior scoring options. Sabonis on the other hand, defers to keep others happy.

Deferring also doesn’t mean disappearing. Sabonis currently sits sixth in the league in touches per game, one spot above Trae Young. The offense runs best when it runs through him, but it doesn’t need him to create the final product. He will make the correct play even if it doesn’t involve padding his box score totals.

dark. Next. Two Pacers that need to step up after All-Star Break

Few All-Stars in recent memory fit the All-Star archetype worse than the Pacers big. Only Dirk Nowitzki and Jokic really give him a run for his money. The league is getting faster and flashier so it only seems right that someone like Sabonis came along to be a market correcter.