Don’t overlook the passing prowess of Sabonis and Turner

The Indiana Pacers have a pair of exciting young center prospects in Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Both players are seen as core pieces of the team’s future and how well they can play together will become more and more important in the next few seasons.

Right now, they spend most of their time on the court with the other on the bench and play the center position and make positive impacts in different ways. Sabonis is the physical, rebounding, screen-setting sparkplug, while Turner is the sweet-shooting, shot-blocking specimen you’d design in a lab for the modern era.

One thing they both have in common is the ability to make plays via the pass, but even here you see them do things differently.

Sabonis is the more natural of the two big men when it comes to passing and is great at seeing where the open man is, while Turner, not often praised for his passing, grew leaps and bounds last season in knowing where the defense is likely to help and who that will leave open.

Their assist numbers won’t wow anyone as they aren’t racking up assists like the Denver’s Nikola Jokic or DeMarcus Cousins before his injury, but both players are a big part of the unselfish nature of this team.

Sabonis, who averages 3.1 assists per 36 minutes, makes one-handed bounce passes on the move to Victor Oladipo on a backdoor cut on the regular in this Pacers pet play (looked at in detail here).

The Pacers run this play with Turner, who averages 1.8 assists per 36 minutes, but not nearly as often. Here’s Turner executing the play to Oladipo.

Many of their assists come from hand-offs where instead of cutting backdoor Oladipo, Cory Joseph, Lance Stephenson and others go around the big man for the ball and take one or two dribbles before taking a jumper. Both players being able to make that backdoor pass allows this play to be more successful as teams are forced to respect the possibility of the cut.

Some of Turner’s best passing highlights come on plays where it doesn’t seem like he should know the guy is open before he makes the pass. Evidence of him simply knowing where the help is most likely to come from on this pick and roll and that the man in the corner behind him will be open. He immediately turns to make the pass on the catch, likely spotting the help defender as he initially turned toward the basket.

Sabonis, on the other hand, is more likely to catch and assess the defense, see where the help is coming from before making the right pass. Same play as the one above is run here but you can see him looking for the first option, seeing that it’s covered and then finding the open man on the opposite corner in Bojan Bogdanovic.

It makes sense why Thaddeus Young called him a quarterback for the offense early this season when he’s progressing through reads like this.

Both young players need work in their post-up games as they’ve had similar mediocre success up to this point in the year with Turner earning trips to the foul line at a tremendous rate but shying away from contact with a mismatch too often  and Sabonis hitting his field goal attempts at an above average clip but turning the ball over more than once every five post-ups.

While Sabonis does struggle with turning the ball over especially when he holds on to the ball too long and allows the double team to trap him, he’s able to make the quick pass when he sees the double coming.

Turner’s passing really shines in the post at times when opponents attempt to double him, which makes his development on that part of his game even more important. If he forces more teams to send an extra defender at him, he can pick apart defenses. He’s great at sending passes across court to the opposite corner to hit the open man.

In this next one, Turner spots both the double team coming from Young’s defender at the rim and Oladipo’s man coming down to cover Thad at the rim. He zips right pass both for an open 3-pointer for the Pacers All-Star.

You can see the natural instincts that Sabonis inherited from his father, one of the best passing bigs in history in Aryvdas Sabonis, come into play often on broken plays.

Any situation where the defense is scrambling like on an offensive rebound or an overly aggressive help defender, he’s able to find the open man at the right time.

He’s able to push the tempo off of rebounds and immediately start the fastbreak by taking a couple of dribbles before making an outlet pass, effectively creating situations where the defense is scrambling on his own.

Both players average about the same number of turnovers as assists, but most of their turnovers are offensive fouls, moving screens or lost balls. Only 23 of Sabonis’s 111 turnovers on the season have been from a bad pass and only 15 of Turner’s 64 turnovers on the season have been bad passes.

As mentioned previously, Sabonis sometimes allows the double team to get too close before attempting a pass and that has caused some of his turnovers. Part of this being his tendency to need to see the open man rather than anticipate it coming at times. He also seems to prefer making straight-line passes and is reluctant to put any touch on his passes in many situations.

Turner’s passing turnovers come from him thinking that a defender wouldn’t be in position but instead they’ve stayed at home or making a tough bounce pass too late to squeeze it into a tight window.

You’re still more likely to see the good than the bad from this still improving players. Here’s some terrific ball movement with Turner as the fulcrum of the offense in the paint.

And perhaps a sneak peak of the future for the Pacers here with Domas making some nice passes to Myles with the first pass showing some hesitation on making the touch pass for the easy layup and the second utilizing the spacing that Turner’s shooting creates.

The Pacers great chemistry is partly due to the unselfishness on the court of all their players, but it’s especially important for the team’s best players to be willing to make the extra pass. That’s almost always the case for the Pacers pair of young big men and they’re just getting started in their careers.

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