clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Stiffs Prospect Watch: Domantas Sabonis

New, comments

The Gonzaga Bulldogs center has the pedigree to be a NBA player, but will his physical style of play translate to success at the next level?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Time is an unstoppable force, and as it always does, has progressed to the point that NBA players that retired in the early 2000s are now watching their children declare for the NBA draft.

Few names should get basketball fans in the Pacific Northwest to drool more than Arvydas Sabonis. The Hall of Fame center was a hulking mass for the Trail Blazers, and had an incredible ability to pass the ball. Domantas isn't the playmaker his father was, but uses his physical gifts to impose his will and score the basketball.

Domantas, who I'll be calling Yung Sabonis until someone tells me to stop, was a double-double machine for Gonzaga, with 23 games of double-digit points and rebounds this season. With Kyle Wiltjer starting at power forward, Domantas played a majority of his minutes at center, but would slide to the four when Ryan Edwards, the Bulldogs 7-foot-1-inch center would come off the bench.

Gonzaga is an excellent college program, as head coach Mark Few has installed a team that executes with precision on both ends of the court. Everyone that plays is capable of making crisp passes, the guards know how to make entry passes, they'll run pick and roll, the big men learn how to pass out of double teams, and when things click, their offense rolls. Domantas has shown the ability to make the right pass out of the post, set solid screens, and use his strength to establish position on the block.

Working out of the block is a Domantas special. He's a lefty, which flummoxes opponents at times, and consistently tries to make moves towards his right shoulder to get field goal attempts off. If he is able to keep his balance when that right shoulder is taken away, he'll counter with an up-and-under. He runs into problems against defenders that can match his physicality and knock him off balance, but Mark Few has taught him to pass the ball back out in those situations where his offense is stymied.

Here's an example of Yung Sabonis working towards the middle, setting up a spin to his right shoulder, and finishing off glass.

Yung Sabonis had 110 offensive rebounds in 36 games, keeping offensive possessions alive for the times the Bulldogs missed a field goal attempt. He shot 71.9 percent at the rim, according to Hoop-Math, with nearly 60 percent of his field goal attempts coming in that area. Half of those attempts were assisted, which shows that he is getting some help on those shot attempts.

On defense, Domantas has a "never quit" mentality, banging into players for defensive rebounds and scrapping when the ball gets loose. He's 6-foot-10-inches, with a 6-foot-11-inch wingspan, so he has to hustle to beat his opponents to their spots. If he can't get two hands on the ball for rebounds, he's going up to try to tip the ball out, which is so frustrating to go against.

Domantas is able to stop players on defense with his physical style of play, as evident when he stoned Jakob Poeltl in the NCAA tournament, but he won't be able to grind against players in the NBA that will simply be able to jump over him. He's not going to be able to pad his blocks totals with games against WCC cupcakes like Portland, San Francisco, Loyola Marymound and Pepperdine.

Here's an example of Sabonis' post defense against Markus Kennedy of SMU. Kennedy is 6-foot-9-inches, with 245 pounds that he's able to pound Sabonis with on the block. Sabonis does a good job trapping him towards the baseline, but he's unable to recover when Powell spins off his left shoulder back into the paint. Since he's unable to match Powell's explosiveness, he needed to slide his feet over before Powell could complete his move - a moment's hesitation and it's too late.

If the Nuggets are looking to add a backup center with their final first round pick, Domantas could be someone they could consider. However, I don't see how he would be a good fit with the other pieces the Nuggets currently have. I am willing to go as far as to say that I don't see a path for Domantas to be a starter for a NBA team, and his ceiling is likely as a offensive backup center.

Yung Sabonis is a talented rebounder, who has nice touch in the post and gives 100 percent effort. But with his limited vertical game, lack of lateral quickness, and short wingspan, he's a throwback to an era of basketball that isn't likely to succeed in the current NBA. He won't be able to guard power forwards, and if the other team gets him in the pick and roll, they'll be able to get open shot attempts time after time.

Domantas too often gets caught in what I call "watchtower defense." Watchtower defense is when a big man is able to see a play develop, is able to tell which direction the play is going, and then stands there and watches the play unfurl. It's not usually an effective way to prevent the other team from scoring.

If players like Nic Moore are going to be able to do that to Domantas in college, what's going to happen when he has to help defend Eric Bledsoe, Chris Paul, and Damian Lillard on a west coast road trip?

Here's another example defensively that is concerning for me as well. Moore beats his man off the dribble again, getting into the middle of the paint. Wiltjer has his man sealed, which leaves Sabonis to help cut off the drive. If he waits for Moore to get closer to the paint and keeps with his man, Tolbert, he should be able to help at the rim after denying the lob. He takes door number three, which is to do neither of those things. Moore sees Tolbert with an open path to the rim, slows down, tosses the ball up, and Tolbert throws down a two-hand jam.

Hand down, man down!

Yung Sabonis did have better nights than the game against SMU. He had 20 points and 16 rebounds on the road, and was the Bulldogs best offensive threat the entire time he was on the court. When he gave up that layup to Powell in the earlier clip, he came down and scored on him on the next possession.

The team that drafts Domantas should make that decision knowing what they're getting - a physical center that will score and rebound. There's value in a known commodity, but for a team that needs to get as many home runs as they can in the draft, I'm not sure if Domantas is the right pick for them.

Stiffs Prospects to Watch

Caris LeVertNigel HayesDemetrius JacksonMarquese ChrissBen SimmonsBuddy HieldTimothe LuwawuJamal Murray