Indiana Pacers forward/center Domantas Sabonis stormed out of the gate for the 2017-18 NBA season. After a forgettable rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the second-year man out of Gonzaga is showing off his skills in his first month with the Pacers, averaging 12.9 points and 11.0 rebounds per game on an impressive 68% clip.
So, how is he doing it? The answer? He almost completely abandoned the three point shot, and is relying on buckets almost exclusively within five feet, and many of those baskets coming off of the pick and roll. Last year, 33% of his shot attempts went from beyond the arc. This year? Only 5%. Don’t get me wrong, Sabonis can stretch the floor if he has to, but he is even more dangerous on the inside, and that is where he should get his points until defenses figure out a way to stop it.
Sabonis is particularly effective as the roll man in the pick and roll.
Exhibit A: Darren Collison (2), the Pacers point guard, does a terrific job of using the crossover to force Dejonte Murray (5) of the Spurs right into the screen set by Sabonis (11). Murray attempts to “go over” the screen, and gets behind Collison, who is driving to the basket.
This forces Pau Gasol (16) to overhelp, and stay in front of Collison to prevent the easy basket. Luckily, Collison reads this perfectly and dishes the ball to Sabonis, and places the ball in a way where Sabonis can catch it and continue to drive to the basket without losing momentum.
Because of this, Pau Gasol does not have enough time to get back to defend the rim effectively when Sabonis gets to the basket. However, Gasol does not play this awfully. If Collison’s pass wasn’t as accurate, and Sabonis had to take a half of a second more to catch and get to the rim, perhaps Gasol would get back in time.
However, the execution and chemistry between Collison and Sabonis allows the pick and roll to go seamlessly, and allows Sabonis just enough time to drive in for the layup.
Sabonis is also effective in pick and roll situations off of the side.
In this instance, Sabonis sets a screen for “Stretch” 4 Thaddeus Young (21), immediately following the screen, Sabonis makes quick pivot and drives towards the hoop, forcing Sabonis’ original defender, Lamarcus Aldridge (12), to switch with teammate Rudy Gay (22). However, the positioning that Sabonis creates by immediately setting the screen, and recognizing the open space forces Gay to chase Sabonis to the hoop.
Thaddeus Young (21) makes a very good pass that places the ball in front of Sabonis, and away from the trailing defender, which in turn allows Sabonis to keep his momentum into the layup.
In this situation, Manu Ginobili (20), is considered “help.” He reacts too slow, and cannot reach the rim in time to at least *try* to contest Sabonis at the rim.
However, it is not that simple. Say Ginobili recognizes that he needs to help at the rim quicker. This leaves the Pacers’ Bojan Bogdanovic (44) a wide open three in the corner. If Sabonis recognizes the open man in the corner (assuming Ginobili is there to contest on time), Sabonis can kick it out to one of the best catch and shoot players in the game.
Or, on the other hand, Sabonis can use his six inch height advantage over Ginobili, and attempt the layup anyways.
All of this is created by Sabonis’ screen, and making that quick pivot and cut to the basket. A player that knows how to screen and roll, and then finish at the basket is invaluable to a team. A player doesn’t always have to be the quickest to get buckets if they know how to use their size, as well as understand basic space concepts.
Forcing defenders to switch can create mismatches, and open up countless offensive possibilities.
Perhaps defenses will figure out a way to adjust, and then Sabonis can go back to utilizing his mid-range, as well as three-point shot. Until that happens, look for the Sabonis to continue doing most of his work right at the rim.
A big thank you to Basketball-Reference and “FreeDawkins” on YouTube for the stats and footage.