When the Bulldogs recruited Domantas Sabonis, there was a lot of hype coming in for the incoming freshman. Sabonis, with his previous experience playing in the professional league in Spain, seemed as much a freshman as Ichiro Suzuki was a rookie his first year in MLB. It was less a title and more just a formality.
Sabonis showed up early and easily, dropping double-digit points in his first four games while shooting a rather bonkers 75 percent from the floor. It seemed inhumane and unsustainable. The highlight reel came quickly and everyone west of the Rockies was talking about how Sabonis belonged in the conversation of one of the best freshman in the country.
More recently, we have had a much more subdued Sabonis. Sabonis logged just 14 minutes and had the worst game of his young collegiate career. He finished with as many turnovers (two) as points. It was the second consecutive game that there wasn't the biggest offensive showing from Sabonis.
This is the freshman effect, that feast or famine game that comes with adjusting your personal game to the collegiate level. Sabonis is definitely skilled enough, and his time in Spain means he has less of a jump in overall competition to adjust against. For Sabonis, the bane of is game is his propensity for fouling. Once he clears that hurdle, he can go out there and be the best man on the court.
Sabonis leads the team in personal fouls with 37. Coming in second place is Gary Bell with 33, but Bell has seen the court for 85 more minutes this season. At the rate he fouls, Sabonis often times has a hard time seeing much of the game.
Against BYU, Sabonis picked up his second and third foul within one minute of each other. Against Arizona, his first and second fouls were separated by 40 seconds. Same thing against Georgia, two quick fouls early on, with the third coming with over six minutes left in the first half and his fourth coming with over 14 minutes left in the second half.
If I were the opposing coach trying to figure out how to deal with Sabonis, I would let Sabonis deal with himself. Go at him hard and early and you have a good chance to take him out of the game.
That is most unfortunate for everyone else, because watching Sabonis is watching something special start to unfold. The freshman has the talent to be a star, and a future in the NBA doesn't seem like some far-fetched dream. Just take a look at his line so far this season: 10.2 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game all while shooting 72 percent from the floor.
Despite Sabonis' down games, he is still having a stellar year. His 133 points scored rank 14th amongst freshman. His 69 total rebounds rank 17th amongst freshman. He shoots the ball better than any other freshman in the country at 72.9 percent, with Jahlil Okafor of Duke coming in at second place with 65.2 percent. His free throw percentage of 77 percent is 12th amongst freshman.
In fact, if you expand that beyond freshman, of all the players who have attempted at least 50 field goals in the country, Sabonis has the second-best percentage out of everyone. Only Derek Cooke, a senior forward out of Wyoming, hits his shots at a better clip.
So, as a freshman, we have to take those bad lumps with the good, because they are going to happen. The key thing takeaway from it all is that Gonzaga, as stellar as it has been, hasn't had one of its best weapons in five of 13 games. Imagine a consistent Sabonis, because that is a scary thing for opposing coaches to handle.