Domantas Sabonis is still the Pacers’ best player, despite a decline in numbers

Indiana Pacers, Domantas Sabonis - Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Indiana Pacers, Domantas Sabonis - Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports /

Taking on the cloak of objectivity, I say this with conviction: the Indiana Pacers are both outright bad and lifeless. After dropping a home game to the shorthanded Miami Heat on Friday night, generating boos from the crowd in the process, the team is now 9-16 on the season, and firmly cemented outside the playoff race the way the sea is leveled.

One of the most glaring letups from previous seasons, at least on paper, is the perceived decline of two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis, whose offensive production has been marginal compared to his eye-popping statistical output a year ago. Not only did his new role streamline his numbers’ ceiling, but quite frankly, more and more people are deviating away from his ace status among the team.

From tallying 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per game last season, the All-Star center is having a down year on the surface, registering a 17.4/12.1/4.0 stat line that falls flat for a player of his caliber. That’s why it isn’t surprising that Malcolm Brogdon, the Pacers’ vocal leader and leading scorer and facilitator, has played like and has been treated as their alpha guy.

Despite posting inferior numbers, Domantas Sabonis is still the Pacers’ most dangerous weapon

Despite paling in comparison to Brogdon numbers-wise so far, there’s a stronger argument to be made for Sabonis as the most prolific cog on the Indiana Pacers’ roster. Context matters here. With new coach Rick Carlisle bringing his proclivity for a perimeter-oriented attack to the Circle City, Domas’ comfort zone in the block has been relegated to marginal usage.

The Lithuanian’s 11.8 field goal attempts per game is also a far cry from what he tallied in the past couple of seasons, where he normed 13.7 and 14.6 shot attempts from the field. His field goal percentage has shot up to the high 50s, but the subtle increase is a puny mark compared to his dwindling usage as a scorer. Alas, his 21.6 usage percentage is the lowest it has been since his rookie year in OKC.

That defenses have also revolved around hacking Sabonis in the paint is also pretty telling of what they think of the big man, who can be the fulcrum of the offense in different situations, be it in facing up, or finding cutters from the high post. Instead, opposing teams have been more than content letting the Pacers function more as a jump shooting team, taking away their calculated advantage inside.

Ultimately, I still believe that despite posting relatively substandard (though far from pedestrian) numbers at this juncture, Domantas Sabonis remains as the best player on the roster on equal footing. He may lack the galvanizing punch of Brogdon’s abuse of smaller guards, the isolation prowess of the still-sidelined TJ Warren, or even the pizzazz of Myles Turner’s block parties, but the Pacers are simply at their best with him at the forefront.

Heck, that your lone All-Star in the last two seasons is lagging in this kind of discourse is inclined on being wrong by default. Perhaps some will not agree, but accolades matter too in this regard, especially with the Indiana Pacers lacking any other hardware to boast a different verdict.

Next. Examining a win-win trade scenario to bring Kemba Walker to Indy. dark