Domantas Sabonis is going to his first NBA All-Star game as a reserve, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Sources: 2020 NBA All-Star reserves:— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 30, 2020
East: Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Ben Simmons, Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo, Domas Sabonis
West: Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Brandon Ingram, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul
Sabonis, who has the third-most double-doubles in the league with career highs in points (18.0), rebounds (12.8), and assists (4.6) in his first season as a starter, has been at the core of Indiana’s success without Oladipo. On the season, the Pacers are five points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor and just over two points worse with him off, the most dramatic swing on the team. In part, that’s due to the fact that he provides a through line for both the starters and the bench; using reads out of the short-roll and inside-out passing to peel open scorers for the former while also acting as a central hub for the swirling, free-flowing movement of the latter.
When he isn’t trucking through opponents and massaging the offense with his vision and passing ability (ahem...he not only leads the Pacers in passes per game; he ranks fourth in the entire NBA — trailing only Nikola Jokic, Ben Simmons, and Devonté Graham), he’s dominating while standing still, prying open windows of space with subtle screening techniques for his teammates to score out of the pick-and-roll — which just so happens to be Indiana’s top offensive weapon.
There’s also this: When Sabonis is on the floor, the Pacers are grabbing 50.3 percent of all missed shots. When he’s off, that number plummets to 46.4 percent — equivalent to worse than the worst rate in the league.
And yet, arguably the best testament to how pivotal Sabonis is to the Pacers is that, aside from when Myles Turner cuts loose at solo-five or T.J. McConnell races ahead in transition, it’s extremely tough to come up with a half-court action that doesn’t directly involve him in some way, shape, or form. He’s the release-valve in spread pick-and-roll. He’s the shuttle for horns-lift. He’s the spring-board for shooters on wide-pins. He’s the post settled at the elbow or three-point line in pistol sets. He’s the hunter against mismatches. He’s the primary option out of the initial cross-screen in flex offense. He’s the set-up in elbow-get plays for scorers. He’s the object that wings relentlessly curl over and around. He’s the distributor for wings crashing baseline. He’s the main source of inverted gravity, and he’s likely your favorite player’s favorite two-man partner.
Sabonis doesn’t just augment what the Pacers do; he — in a lot of ways — is the very fabric of what they do.
For that reason, his selection serves as recognition both for what the team has done in the absence of their best player as well as what they’ve accomplished with depth in the hands of their most important.
Considering the original perception of the trade that brought those same two players to Indiana, it feels almost surreal in retrospect that both of them will have represented the Pacers as All-Stars — even if not in the same season.
After all, a few short months ago, Sabonis signed a contract extension that could be worth up to $85 million with, what at the time, felt like unlikely bonuses contingent on him being named either an All-Star or to an All-NBA team. Now, a year ahead of when his deal kicks in, he’s already grown into his expanded role and appears well poised to cash-in on those incentives. And, if he does, his reasonable deal will still be worth every penny.
Per NBA.com, the NBA All-Star Draft, with team captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo choosing sides, will take place on February 6 on TNT at 7:00 PM ET.
The NBA All-Star Game, new rules and all, will take place on February 16 in Chicago.