Tag Archives: Domantas Sabonis

Pacers begin their rebirth and introduce Oladipo, Sabonis and Collison

The Indiana Pacers introduced Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Darren Collison yseterday as the Pacers post Paul George era began. Here’s some quotes and what we can takeaway from the press conference.

If you missed the press conference, you can watch it in its entirety here.

Kevin Pritchard on Paul George: 

Pritchard began with nothing but praises for what George meant to the organization. We wish him (Paul George) the best. Some great plays over the last seven years. It’s tough, but we have to move on.”

Pritchard says he spoke with George on multiple occasions. It was a private conversation. He said PG wishes the Pacers well and wishes it didn’t go the way it did. “Paul is a very caring person. I think he wishes this would have been a little different.”

Pritchard on Oladipo and Sabonis:

“Both are winners. That’s why both were lottery picks, that’s why we sought them out to be part of this deal.”

Pritchard said he wants tough, togetherness, smarts, fliers, and young players going forward who compete night in and night out. New guys have the balance between rookies and experience. He made it clear that he sought these players out instead of only having teams making offers.

On trade rumors:

Pritchard: Less than 5% of rumors were true. Put out to the media for a reason. Probably not going to happen or wasn’t real. Boston offered the rights to Larry Bird even (joke).

On the team in general:

Pritchard: “I want to build this organization & have five guys that play together. We feel these guys are top-level talent.”

Pritchard: “This is a rebirth. We’re excited about the future. We wanted tough kids & guys who play together…We didn’t want to go down to the bottom. We want to be a competitive team. Everybody’s saying we have to go to the bottom; that’s not true. The Pacers don’t start at the bottom. We want to compete next year.”

Pritchard: Lots of models on really bad, competitive, or cap out. Our focus is on growth in front, with good kids all about the team and a surprise to the upside.

On making the Playoffs:

Pritchard: Until we know what the team is, no limit or ceiling on this team. Not sure what ‘team’ goals are yet. (Vague, but in the east, playoffs aren’t that far off)

More Changes to come? 

McMillan: Pritchard isn’t finished building the team.

Pritchard: There are free agents and trades that we’re still looking at. “Shooting is something I’d really like to add to this roster … Shooting is of imperative importance.” (literally an hour later, Bojan Bogdanovic is signed)

On Darren Collison:

McMillan: “He will be looked upon to lead us. Darren will be an old vet to lead this roster.”

Collison on how he’s changed since he was a Pacer the first time: I can definitely shoot better than last time in Indiana and more comfortable as a leader. Time in Sacramento wasn’t ideal.

Welcome back to Indiana Oladipo:

Oladipo: “To come home, there’s no feeling like it. To get off that plane the other day and realize I know where I’m at, there’s no feeling like it. This is where it all started. I’m a Hoosier.” (while wearing a ‘feathery’ cap, hope his jumper this year is feathery)

Did the IU connection influence Oladipo the signing?

Pritchard: Not at all.

Oladipo: IU fans are already there anyway.

Oladipo on if he there’s anything to his game we haven’t been able to see yet: “Just wait and see. (Smirk) Love the opportunity. Nothing like playing for the home team.”

 

Welcome Domantas Sabonis:

Sabonis: “At first I was in shock, but I’m excited for the opportunity. Ready for the season.”

Pritchard: Sabonis is a “great screen setter” and “underrated passer.” He can be one of five guys on a floor who can make plays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Pritchard found what he was looking for in Victor Oladipo

For a couple of weeks, we heard non-stop rumors about Paul George. Would it be Boston? Maybe some high draft picks, Bradley and plan for the future. Could it be Cleveland? Maybe a 3-team deal with Kevin Love for draft picks again. Maybe Denver? Gary Harris could come back to Indiana. How about Portland? Loads of mid-first-round picks and a role player? Or just ship him where he wants to go in Los Angeles? Late-round firsts and Julius Randle is all they’ll offer? Pass.

Fast forward to June 30th hours before free agency officially starts, and I bet not a single fan or NBA junkie was expecting to hear Oklahoma City and Paul George spoken in the same breath. But Ramona Shelburne tweeted it (Woj was waiting to start his new ESPN gig at midnight) and the madness became reality.

Paul George was going to OKC for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. No draft picks involved in the deal. The Pacers made the trade official today.

While we all have our opinions on Kevin Pritchard should have done or should have taken, we’ll never know what any of the other offers actually were. We’ll hear rumblings, especially from Boston, but only Pritchard knows what he had on the table and why he felt like he couldn’t wait another week before pulling the trigger on the OKC deal.

While the trade has been mostly panned by critics, there are a few things to consider.

First: The draft isn’t a sure fire thing. Sure a top-15 pick is more likely to warrant a higher caliber player, but busts outnumber the success stories in some drafts. A known commodity that has some NBA experience and still has room to grow is sometimes better than an unknown draft pick. Even most of the rumored offered didn’t include a top-15 pick anyway.

Second: The OKC front office is one of the most esteemed in the league. They viewed Oladipo and Sabonis as obviously valuable. They just gave Oladipo a 4-year, $84 million contract extension. You don’t give that to a player you don’t think is any good. And they spent a first-round pick on Sabonis last year and it’s unlikely they were ready to give up on him after just one season.

“We feel very strongly about the potential Victor and Domantas bring to our team and what they mean for the future of the franchise,” said Pritchard in the Pacers statement officially announcing the trade. “Both are highly competitive, highly skilled and both are winners. That is why both were lottery picks, that is why we sought them out to be part of this deal.”

Of the three big names traded in the offseason (Chris Paul, Paul George, Jimmy Butler), Oladipo might be the best over Patrick Beverly and Zach LaVine.

So what are the Pacers getting in Oladipo and Sabonis?

You can read about why you should be cautiously optimistic about Sabonis here.

Victor Oladipo, 25, returns to Indiana where he spent three years collegiately down the road at Indiana University.

With a new era emerging for the Pacers organization, Pritchard has already told us what he wants the new identity for this Pacers team to look like.

“I think if you look at some of the teams that are successful, it gets a little position-less, and they just have flyers all over the court,” Pritchard said in his opening press conference as president of basketball operations. “It’s drive and kick and shoot a lot of threes, and then back on defense you can switch. I’d like to get more to that.”

He also emphasized physicality and toughness.

Let’s start with shooting, Oladipo, who averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game last season, has been steadily improving his jump shot each year of his career as his shooting percentages have gone up after each season. He’s gone from shooting 41.9% in his rookie season to 44.2% overall and from 32.7% as a rookie to 36.1% from 3-point range.

Despite popular belief to the contrary, Oladipo can shoot the 3-pointer, he’s just incredibly inconsistent. He’s similar to CJ Miles in the past in that he’ll go through stretches where he can’t miss, but then it’ll seem like he hasn’t made a three for weeks right after. These are his monthly percentages splits from long range:

October: 25%
November: 44.2%
December: 25%
January: 35.8%
February: 25%
March: 49.2%
April: 18.2%
Playoffs: 34.4%

If he can find some consistency with his shot, he might push that 3-point percentage up to 38-40% where defensives will have to respect his outside shot. This will be paramount to his long-term success as a Pacer.

This past season spent alongside ball dominant Russell Westbrook gave him plenty of opportunity to play off the ball and spot up more, albeit at the detriment of his driving preference. His catch-and-shoot ability has definitely improved.

Oladipo is known for having a great work ethic, so if he never finds a consistent shot it won’t be from a lack of trying.

On defense, Oladipo definitely fits the bill as a player that can switch onto multiple positions and in the defensive-minded mold Pritchard wants. He receives a handful of votes each year for the all-defensive teams and he’ll be a definite improvement defensively for the Pacers at the shooting guard position. So long, Monta Ellis.

The fact that he can play both ends of the court is best part about his game. He won’t be a liability on either end though he has room to improve in both areas. Per NBAWowy, the Thunder were a net 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with Oladipo on the court than off.

You just might not want him to be guarding any children.

If he spends time on the court with Lance Stephenson, Oladipo can guard point guards while Stephenson can run the offense on one end but guard bigger wings on the other.

Oladipo can also be a ferocious finisher at the rim as he won the Dunk of the Year at the first NBA Awards show and he’s competed in a slam dunk contest in the past.

As former Pacers player and current announcer Clark Kellogg once said, “Victor Oladipo is like a baby’s bottom, smooth and sometimes explosive.” At times, he does make poor decisions on his aggressive drives as he averaged nearly as many turnovers as assists (2.6 assists and 1.8 turnovers) last season. His assist numbers were career lows; however, that’s due to playing with Westbrook who ran everything in OKC.

But what is Oladipo’s ceiling? He’s now been in the league for four full seasons. Can he become more than a solid starter or rotation player? Is he just a great sixth man? The Pacers have him under contract for the next four years to figure out if he can become more. Time will tell if the Pacers bet on Oladipo was a good one.

Cautiously Optimistic: Sabonis will be a bonus

If you are honest with yourself, you probably have to admit you have not seen much game footage of the Pacers newly-acquired lottery prospect Domantas Sabonis, whether in college or in the pros, and your perception of his value as a player may be shaped mostly by his end of the season statistics and the plethora of salty fans wishing for future draft picks.

That would put you in good company (I was there!). However, digging a little deeper into this player revealed why the Pacers wanted him and why you should be skeptically optimistic about what he might do in his second year and beyond in the NBA.

In college, Sabonis was one of the best low-post players in the country who showed a potential ability to stretch the floor with limited opportunities (>35% from 3; 22-45 on jump shots). He hustled, had a great feel for the game, and though he did not display elite athleticism, he did show his agility, strength, footwork and ability to finish through contact.

However, projecting him into the pros, scouts were concerned about his average physical tools (he’s got short arms, played below the rim in college) which would make him a liability on defense and offense, especially if that ability to hit jump shots did not continue to improve with more attempts.  Still, within his weaknesses, nothing was glaring. Mostly, the concern from scouts could be summed up like this: “He does X thing (slide his feet, challenge shots, etc.) okay, but he has to improve to be an effective NBA player and not just a hustling big off the bench.”

Oklahoma City decided they liked what they saw and drafted him (through Orlando) with the 11th pick of the 2016 NBA draft. He was an opening day starter and had his first double-figure game against Golden State eight days into his rookie season.

In fact, he was on fire through his first two months of the season until he hit the proverbial rookie wall and his consistency fell off a cliff.

In November, he shot 46% from the field and 45% from 3; in December, he shot 39% from the field and 32% from 3. From there, his averages ebb and flow, ultimately ending the season shooting a shade under 40% at 39.9% for the year, which is concerning for any player that is 6’10”. For someone who ranked 3rd in true shooting percentage (66%) in the DraftExpress top 100, this was surprising and disappointing.

If you are interested in checking out his full strengths/weaknesses as a pro prospect coming out of Gonzaga, check out this link and this link…oh and this link (see bottom for scouting chart).

However, a dive into those numbers show he has the ability to develop into a strong jump shooter for a big man. According to Basketball Reference from 16ft to a step inside the 3pt line, Sabonis shot 47% on 55 shots (By comparison, Thaddeus Young shot 35% on 49 attempts). From 3, he only shot 32% on 160 attempts (Thaddeus Young shot 38% on 123 attempts). Sabonis needs to get comfortable one more step away from the basket, and I believe he will, especially when considering this was the first season where he was asked to shoot that deep of a shot.

Beyond the expectation that Sabonis will improve as a shooter, growing through his time in the NBA and his time with the Lithuanian national team, his motor, which I loosely define as a player’s give-a-damn-ness, is unquestioned.

He ran the floor, finished through contact, and made hustle plays, and this kept him in the starting lineup for 66 games despite his poor shooting. In a modern NBA power forward, you need someone who can shoot and someone who will not quit in-game—someone who will battle for rebounds and fight for position in the post.  Also, if they can dribble and get to the rim, that’s a plus, and that is his skill that intrigues me most.

At 6’ 10”, Sabonis deploys pump-fakes and hesitation moves to get to the rim. Though he lacks elite speed at his position, if he creates an angle, his strength allows him to keep his driving lane to the basket once the defender recovers. Looking through his top 50 plays, you will find examples again and again of creating angles and attacking the rim. Discount the dunks in this video and focus on what might make Sabonis special: his jump shot, his power on the drive, and his positioning in transition.

In OKC, he didn’t see a lot of opportunities in the post, which was his bread and butter at Gonzaga. While he won’t be able to overpower opponents in the post like he did in college, his shooting percentage may rise with more opportunities down low.

Now, I have been very positive here, so let’s pause to be really, really negative for a moment and think worst-case scenario that does not involve injury or scandal, based on what one season has shown us: if Sabonis does not follow a standard rookie progression and improve elements of his game, he becomes a reserve big man joining the contingent and borrowing the combined skillsets of Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes, Luis Scola, and Taj Gibson to become a poor man’s version of these players.

If he is able to improve his consistency and become the starting power forward counterpart to Myles Turner, the Pacers could have a formidable front court for the next ten years (both players are 21). The Pacers are hoping the ~4 million dollars a year bet on Sabonis over the next three seasons returns a promising starting power forward—and you should too.

It is easy to dream about the potential of draft picks outside the lottery who might develop into starting-level talent and get upset with Sabonis, but avoid dreaming and realize he was last year’s 11th pick and the Pacers now have two lottery-level talents in their frontcourt.