The NBA will have another Sabonis in its midst sooner rather than later.
Gonzaga forward Domantas Sabonis, son of Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis, will declare for the NBA Draft and plans to hire an agent, according to a report from ESPN.
Gonzaga big man Domantas Sabonis will declare for the NBA Draft, sources told ESPN. Will likely sign with an agent and head to NBA.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) April 6, 2016
Sabonis was terrific for the Zags this season, scoring 17.6 points and grabbing 11.8 rebounds per game while shooting 61.1 percent from the field and 77 percent from the foul line. He also showed legitimate growth throughout the season in many facets of his game, which might bode well for his future growth. He was also named a second-team Academic All-American this season.
Here’s a breakdown on what to expect from Sabonis in the NBA.
Sabonis is one of the highest IQ and feel players in the draft, unsurprising given his bloodlines. The 6-10 big man is as fundamentally sound in his footwork as you’ll find, and has a tremendous understanding of angles and positioning.
This translates best on the glass. Sabonis was one of the best rebounders in college basketball this season. He averaged 14.8 rebounds per-40 minutes, good for the top-10 among all draft-eligible prospects. He’s particularly good on the defensive glass, where his 28.2 rebounding rate on that side is superb. He does an excellent job of boxing out, and also has an excellent knack for timing when he’ll be able to out-high point the ball compared to those he’s going against. He’s also quite active on the offensive glass, as he’s good at tipping the ball out to his teammates or finishing things himself, as he scored on 62 percent of his offensive rebound attempts.
Speaking of that, his touch overall is as excellent as his percentages would indicate, as is his offensive repertoire in the post. Sabonis finished third nationally among all players in points off of post-up opportunities this season. He also converted those attempts at the fourth-best per-possession clip among those who finished in the top-200 in post scoring per game. Basically, Sabonis is a monster in the post, as he has a variety of headfakes, ball-fakes, up-and-under moves, and little mini hook shots that he can employ at just about any time.
The biggest thing that’s been important for him though has been the diversification of his offensive game beyond that. Sabonis has improved as a passer this season, and he tends to make better decisions than just trying to plow through his opponent like he did at times last year (and still occasionally does now). He’s also become a much bigger threat shooting the ball from the outside this year. He had a 52.2 effective field goal percentage on jump shots, which will be essential to his NBA hopes as his frame is not superb.
Defensively, Sabonis also improved a lot in his sophomore season. He was better at contesting shots this year than last year despite a somewhat low 2.7 percent block rate. He also did a better job of staying out of foul trouble than last year, when he averaged 5.1 fouls per 40 minutes due to his aggressive play. On the perimeter, Sabonis can be hit or miss with his lateral foot-speed in pick-and-rolls, but he can also handle some smaller players, as he showed when he defended Kyle Collinsworth against BYU late in the season.
And then beyond all of this, Sabonis is just one of the toughest, fiercest players you’ll come around. It’s possibly his best attribute. He’s energetic and always buzzing around the rim. You never have to worry about him playing hard. His motor is off-the-charts strong, and should help him overcome some of the problems he has in the next section.
The biggest thing for Sabonis is his size and length. At 6-10 with only a 6-10.5 wingspan (per DraftExpress), there’s a question on how some of the things he does will translate. Is he going to be able to finish over players bigger than him consistently? Will the post moves translate against players more athletically gifted who can recover more easily? How much upside does he have defensively?
Those questions are why he needs to continue developing his outside game and jump shot. It showed growth this season, and the 77 percent mark from the free throw line was certainly a good sign. As were the 3-pointers he began to feel more comfortable shooting late in the season. The growth in his game in this regard is a strength, but in terms of the NBA he needs to keep improving to get to a level where it could be useful.
The defensive translation will also be interesting to watch. On the outside, Sabonis has some mobility, but can also be a bit stiff laterally. The higher athleticism level in the NBA could cause him some issues, although his intelligence and understanding of angles really helps him on the perimeter. His ability inside is also going to be suspect due to his lack of length. His best position defensively is probably at the 4, but his best position offensively is currently as a 5. It could be a bit of a tough fit with teammates around him unless he can expand his offensive game and become more of a 4 full-time on both ends.
Overall Stock Report
On the whole, I’m a believer in Sabonis, which is why he’s currently No. 12 on the Draft Big Board There are certainly some questions about him translating to the league, given his size and length, but the skill set on the whole is quite strong. It’s easy to imagine Sabonis playing a decade in the NBA, with some of those years even as a good complementary starter.
It’s fair to say that he may not have the upside that some guys like Marquese Chriss or Deyonta Davis do just due to their sheer athleticism and length compared to his, but it’s much harder to imagine Sabonis failing outright due to his feel, basketball IQ, and overall intelligence level. How does one weigh that expected value calculation when considering what a team might get out of Sabonis the asset? For me, I weigh the lower bust potential relatively highly, especially in a draft that features a number of project big men, such as (maybe) Davis, Chriss, Skal Labissiere and (likely) Thon Maker.
By the time he goes through the pre-draft process and goes through team interviews, he should be recognized as a relatively solid top 20 pick, with sneaking into the back half of the lottery as a distinct possibility. This is a relatively easy decision for Sabonis, and the NBA team that gets him should be pretty happy as he continues to grow into his game while also being serviceable earlier than most rookies due to his fire, intensity, basketball intelligence and polish.