Why everybody loves playing with Domantas Sabonis

Game after game, it seems like there are more and more reasons to gush over the performance of Domantas Sabonis.

He’s been called the quarterback of the offense by Thaddeus Young. Nate McMillan said early in the year that they like to run the offense through him while he’s out there. He’s played two games while battling an illness only to produce a couple of his best performances of the season in those contests. 

“He makes a big difference,” Lance Stephenson said after last night’s thrilling come-from-behind victory. “When he’s on the floor, he’s screening and when he gets the ball in the paint, there’s like an 80% chance that it’s going in or he’ll make the right play. I feel very comfortable and confident that when I play with him he’s going to make the right decisions.”

For a second-year player on a new team, there’s not much higher praise that his teammates and coaching staff could offer him.

Stephenson and Sabonis seemed to gain an instant connection in the preseason after both stayed in Indianapolis all summer.

“Me and Lance played together in the summer. We both love to play the pick and roll game,” said Sabonis when asked about his rapport with Stephenson, “and we just feed off each other.”

While Lance and Domas certainly play well together, Sabonis probably could have pulled a Jeff Winger (#sixseasonsandamovie) and said, “It’s called chemistry. I have it with everybody.

“I enjoy playing with everybody,” Sabonis recently said.

The Pacers offense just seems to play better with him on the court as his strong screen setting, ability to play in space, roll to the basket and patiently make the right play whenever the ball is in his hands have been lightyears ahead of most players his age. This kind of poise for a second-year big man is rare, but with a father like the legendary Aryvdas Sabonis it shouldn’t be too surprising.

This play is a perfect example of his poise, ability to almost always make the right decision. Oladipo throws the ball to Sabonis before most bigs would like to receive the ball on the roll, but Domas recognizes that instead of charging forward through the defender he can just calmly take a dribble back for an easy jumper.

You can see how much Oladipo enjoys having Sabonis, who is averaging 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists, with him again this season in his new role when they did a joint interview briefly last week.

On the court, these two combine for a well-designed play that utilizes both player’s strengths. Domas with his accurate, well-timed passing and screens, and Oladipo’s speed and athleticism.

The play starts with Sabonis catching the ball on one elbow as he quickly dribbles towards the opposite elbow. The only player on that side of the court is Oladipo, who is between the baseline and the wing. Oladipo has two options from this spot: come around Domas to get a dribble hand-off to get him going towards the rim with speed, or if the opponent overplays the hand-off, Oladipo will beat his man with a backdoor cut to the rim where Sabonis quickly finds him for the dunk.

The Pacers have had this play work to perfection multiple times, including twice on each end of the court against the Sacramento Kings. Here’s the backdoor cut against the Chicago Bulls.

And here’s the handoff getting Oladipo a jumper at the elbow against the Spurs.

If Oladipo is covered after the handoff, he can shoot a pass out to Domas for a 15-foot jump shot like he does here against the Trailblazers.

Sabonis, who is shooting 60% from the field, is so good in the pick and roll because of his great screen setting, nice hands, and strong inside finishing ability. Young has even been the ball handler in a Sabonis pick and roll that worked to perfection.

This one with Cory Joseph looks like it came straight from a San Antonio Spurs master possession. Chemistry. With. Everyone.

There’s nothing more fun than a thunderous Sabonis dunk that all sound like Thor’s hammer crashing down. He punctuated last night’s game with dunk so loud the mic picked up the rim’s sound so you could hear it through the building (towards the end of these highlights).

If it wasn’t for his pair of sicknesses, you might mistake Sabonis for a Thor-like god with his play to this point. He was perfect from the field in the team’s first three victories.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer the Pacers got themselves something nice in Domas Sabonis. Now the challenge for McMillan will be finding creative ways to play both Myles Turner, who has gotten off to a slow start after suffering a concussion in the team’s first game, and Sabonis to the team’s advantage. Once Turner starts picking up his play, the Pacers will have one of those good problems on their hands.

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