Domantas Sabonis has already loosely been the Lavoy Allen to Victor Oladipo’s Evan Turner. Think of this not in terms of actual player comparisons as much as which name has predominantly been the afterthought of an unpopular trade.
At last week’s introductory press conference, the 6-foot-11 versatile big man wasn’t the one gushing about coming home to the state where he played collegiality, nor was he the one fielding questions about why he opted to rejoin the team that shipped him away. Instead, the tallest man at the table was largely...well... he was there, too.
However, as the Indy Star’s Nate Taylor noted here, perhaps that was fitting of the player who so often contributes in the shadows.
"You have to be willing to do the small things, like what attracted us to (Sabonis) so much," Pritchard told Taylor. "It's unappreciated in this league, but he will set screens. He goes out there and he's a great screen-setter. He can rebound, and he's willing to play physical and he gets guys open, and he's an underrated passer."
Doing the small, unglamorous things. Maybe that’s another thing he’ll have in common with Allen?
For deeper insight into Sabonis before the 21-year-old represents Lithuania at the FIBA EuroBasket championships from August 31 thru Sept. 17, WTLC’s David-Scott agreed to do a wide-ranging Q&A with Indy Cornrows.
Since his promotion, Kevin Pritchard has taken almost every opportunity granted him to emphasize what he envisions as his team’s new identity: hard, smart, together. In what ways, specifically, does Sabonis embody each of these ideals?
I think Sabonis getting traded to the Pacers perfectly represents what Mr. Pritchard wants for the future for his team, and if he continues to develop through the course he is on, there is no doubt he could be the future of the Pacers. After seeing Sabonis live in action multiple times, I can proudly say he has to be one of the most hard working young men out there, and was constantly thinking of methods to make his game smarter and more efficient. As he makes his way onto a new team, he's created a clean slate for himself and is no longer shadowed by the overwhelming pressures that he had on him in OKC, which may help him grow into a player that fits perfectly into what the Pacers front office envisions.
Pritchard was really complimentary of the 21-year-old’s screen-setting and passing ability. Is this something that is innate to him, or do you interpret it more as a function of OKC’s offense? A cursory glance seems to suggest that his court vision has the potential to extend beyond the realm of easy one-pass-away swings to the corner or kick-outs from the post, right?
Well I think his ability was complimented by OKC's offensive playstyle which had one goal in mind--creating space and opportunities for Russell to get to the basket. This being said, the way OKC played on that side of the court certainly helped develop those talents for the young chap, and I'm sure when given the opportunity, Pacers fans will see a multitude of advanced screen structures and passes set up by Sabonis.
After knocking down 21 of his first 46 tries from behind the arc (45.7%), Sabonis only connected on 25 percent of his three-point attempts over the final two months of the regular season. Do you interpret this as a matter of him still needing to build confidence, or did the distance seem to bother him?
Surely I interpreted his deep shooting consistency as a confidence deficiency. You have to keep in mind, Sabonis was surrounded by a ton of guys were somewhat expected to come through with ranged shooting, and I wouldn't be surprised if he began to doubt his shooting along the way as the season progressed. It easy to be stuck in the shadow of your teammates when you're young and developing like Sabonis is, and its just a phase he will have to get through.
Was this sort of youthful inconsistency to blame for why he was replaced in the starting lineup by Taj Gibson?
I don't think it should be solo blamed on Sabonis. The entirety of the lineup struggled whenever Westbrook stepped off the floor, and even when Russell was on, young guys lagged behind Taj Gibson was just a perfect candidate who brought veteran expertise and years of experience to the table.
Basketball Reference estimates that he played 84 percent of his minutes at power forward last season. Is this his best long-term position, or do you think he would be more at home as a small-ball five?
To be perfectly honest, I see Sabonis succeeding at five. I think his mid-range his much farther developed and clearly he has more confidence in it. It's also important to note how proficient he was in college at rebounding, both offensively and defensively. So playing a small-ball center role clearly could make the best out of him, and with the right surrounding talent, he could be a shining star in the future for Indiana.
Indiana struggled mightily to defend spread lineups last season when any two of Lavoy Allen, Kevin Seraphin, and Al Jefferson were on the floor at the same time. Sabonis isn’t as stocky as any of those names, so is it fair to assume that he’d fair better rotating and recovering against stretch-fours? Or, does he still have room to grow in that area?
Sabonis is extremely athletic and I see him performing quite well when put in situations like these, but just like any second year player, there's no doubt he will require growth to get the most out of him in that department.