The 2016 NBA Draft is on Thursday, and the Gonzaga Bulldogs are pretty much guaranteed to have at least one named called in Domantas Sabonis. The Gonzaga forward decided to forgo his junior and senior years and put in for the NBA Draft early, trying to capitalize on a phenomenal sophomore season where he helped lead the team to the Sweet 16.
For those that don’t know, Domantas Sabonis is the son of Portland Trailblazers legend Arvydas Sabonis. They are both tall and they both pass the ball pretty decently. After that, the comparisons get less lazy.
Sabonis was one of the most offensive-efficient forwards in the nation last season, alongside teammate Kyle Wiltjer. He averaged 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game last season. On the rebounding edge, he was one of the best in all of college basketball. Sabonis’ 316 defensive rebounds were good for second-best in the nation, and his 426 total rebounds puts him at No. 4 overall.
He is an unrelenting monster on both the offensive and defensive glass, and he approaches each end of the hoop with the same drive for similar results. On the defensive glass, Sabonis is a one-man kitchen, cooking and cleaning all by his lonesome. His defensive rebound percentage of 28.2 was the 14th-best in the nation last season.
On the offensive end, if Sabonis grabs an offensive rebound, it is almost a surefire thing he will go up with the ball again—no matter if there are one, two, three, or four people crowding his personal space.
He isn’t the quickest player on the floor, but Sabonis makes up for it by tapping that same motor. If he gets the ball in the post, he will find his positioning, he will turn to his left hand and then it is game over. Sabonis’ had a true-shooting percentage of 65.4 last season and a PER of 29.3. Sabonis takes a majority of his shots off of an entry pass into the post, and that is where he is most deadly. According to Hoop-Math.com, Sabonis shot 71.9 percent at the rim last season.
Sabonis has also worked on his jump shooting last season. His freshman year, he was more of a one-trick pony, but this past season, Sabonis shot 47.7 percent on two-point jumpers.
Not all of Sabonis’ strengths are quantifiable by stats, however. Perhaps one of his biggest pluses (and the occasional minus) is his emotion and energy on the court. Sabonis doesn’t necessarily lead through words and choice post-game quotables, but he does demonstrate that drive on the court. You can virtually hear Sabonis roar on the TV following thunderous dunks or emphatic and-ones.
In the college realm, Sabonis didn’t have too many weaknesses. He was consistently able to demonstrate that even despite playing in the WCC for half the season, he was constantly prepared to matchup against tougher and better competition in the NCAA Tournament (hi there Jakob Poeltl).
That might be a bit different in the NBA, however, where the league is dominated by true athletes more than any other major league. Sabonis isn’t the quickest big man on the floor, but he was always able to make up for it with a knack for timing and positioning. In the NBA, that weakness might be exposed a bit more. His wingspan is just a shade over his actual height, he doesn’t have the length to counter or correct the quicker opposition.
This doesn’t mean Sabonis won’t be successful on the defensive end, because up until now Sabonis hasn’t ever done anything to suggest he isn’t ready for the challenge of the NBA. But, for whatever team takes him, it will be an uphill climb for Sabonis on the defensive end. Luckily, he has a smart basketball IQ and pays attention to what is going on around him. That, combined with his insatiable appetite for defensive rebounds, means Sabonis deserves a spot on a NBA squad.
The other major weakness from Sabonis is also one of this biggest strengths, his emotion. He started to keep it in check his sophomore year, but Sabonis was prone to bone-headed fouls throughout his collegiate career. There were countless times where Sabonis took himself out of the game because of picking up his second foul and then the dreaded third foul mere couple of minutes later. This tendency started to flair up less in his sophomore year, but it is something to watch. It isn’t like Sabonis will start to chalk up Rasheed Wallace level technicals, but he will make some dumb fouls that most coaches won’t tolerate for too long.
Despite not being the most athletic person on the block, Sabonis has consistently demonstrated that he is able to hang with virtually every opponent. There is no reason to suggest things will be different in the NBA. He most likely won’t be a perennial all-star, but whatever team is drafting Sabonis will be getting one of the more NBA ready big-men in the draft and a player who you can consistently rely on for 12 points and seven rebounds per game.
Sabonis most likely won’t have the sexiest NBA career, but he also very well could have the best NBA career of any Gonzaga player. Most of all, he has the tools to have a long NBA career, and he should shine in his rookie season regardless of which team he lands on.