The Oklahoma City Thunder chose Domantas Sabonis with the No. 11 pick in the draft because he was an absolute monster in the post. That showed in his sophomore season at Gonzaga, where Sabonis was a man amongst boys, averaging 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
He was ferocious. He was relentless. Even in a changing NBA environment for big men, there was still a spot for Sabonis. Or so we all thought. Sabonis’ rookie year is one to forget, and that isn’t largely his fault. Sabonis finished the season averaging 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. He didn’t see any time in the playoffs.
The Thunder, apparently unimpressed with what they had, traded away Sabonis as a mere after-thought in the Paul George trade. So every night when they look at another uber-efficient double-double from Sabonis, they have to grit their teeth a little bit.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan was molding Sabonis into what he needed on the team, not utilizing Sabonis for his actual strengths. He tried to turn Sabonis into a stretch-four, which is a rather interesting thing to do for a player that attempted a grand total of 14 three-pointers in his entire college career. The result was exactly what you would sort of expect: not a good season from a player who was forced into a style of basketball he doesn't normally play.
Here is Sabonis’ shot chart from the 2015-16 year, where he somehow had turned into a spot up corner shooter—to not very good results.
Compare that to his current season, which albeit, is only 10 games old, but still more in line with the game in Sabonis’ wheelhouse.
His rookie season, Sabonis attempted more threes than he did shots at the rim. This season, Sabonis is back to being utilized down low, which is bringing around the benefits that surprises no one except for Billy Donovan. The average Indiana Pacers fan might not have been too excited about the haul of Sabonis in the trade. His limited portfolio in the NBA showed that perhaps he was one of those college-plus players, someone who could dominate there but struggles to make the jump.
His line is now pretty lock-step with what he did in college. On the season, Sabonis’ eFG% is 63.9, right on target for his college career of 63.6 percent. He is setting picks and he is driving straight to the hoop. He is pounding it down low and he is causing havoc at the rim.
Right now, Sabonis is playing like one of the most improved players in the NBA, and what he has shown through 10 games so far should give Pacers fans a lot to get excited about as his career unfolds.