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Stiffs NBA Draft Series: Domantas Sabonis

Domantas Sabonis is the son of a legend who is trying to write his own story as a big man in the NBA - should he do it in Denver?

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Stiffs will be covering all of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA Draft in our Stiffs NBA draft series. Check back daily for video, stats, and analysis of all the projected first round prospects.

Stiffs Draft Series

Thon Maker Denzel Valentine Marquese Chriss Jaylen Brown
Dragan Bender Cheick Dialo Furkan Korkmaz Skal Labissiere
DeAndre Bembry Jamal Murray Tyler Ulis Buddy Hield
Malachi Richardson

Domantas Sabonis


Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks Turnovers Field Goal % Three Point % Free Throw %
17.6 11.8 1.8 1.2 0.6 2.6 61.1 35.7 76.9


Craftiness - I seem to use this one a lot on players I like, but a player who knows where he needs to be on the court and has the awareness and anticipation to beat the opponent to the spot can do a lot for a team.   Domantas is a good passer and he understands where he belongs on a basketball court.  Getting to the right spot makes finishing the play that much easier, and helps make up for his mediocre athleticism.

Rebounding and energy - Domantas doesn't have a lot of quit in him and he has very strong hands.  He likes to rebound and he's very good at it.  He doesn't sky to the rafters for rebounds like Kenneth Faried, but he's fundamentally sound about boxing out and is willing to get on the floor or hustle to snag 50/50 balls.  His ability to clean the glass should keep him in the league a while even if the rest of his game doesn't come together.

Footwork - this is on both ends of the court.  He slides his feet  to stay in front of perimeter players attacking the paint and can work in the paint to get the best shot, whether with fakes, hooks, or up-and-unders.  He's crafty on both ends of the court.


Lack of athleticism - He doesn't have explosive quicks while defending the perimeter so if he can't slide to stay in front he might not be able to get there in time.  That leads to silly fouls and can prevent him from racking up big minutes.  It also may hurt his ability to finish inside with the same success that he had in college. He doesn't have the bulk to handle big 5s inside either.

Lack of length - He has a wingpan a couple of inches under 7 feet. For a player of his height those are practically T-Rex arms in the NBA.  He's not a pro shot-blocker with that length and he doesn't have the quick hops to get up and help there either.  That makes him a mediocre shot challenger and allows guards to score around him too.

Raw outside shot - For a player raised with basketball from an early age, he's not especially good at shooting.  He is improving, but prefers to straight-line drive rather than find space to shoot.  A better jumper would help his game significantly, much like Darrell Arthur's increased distance has helped him.

Pro Comparisons (Best to Worst):

Kevin Willis - he was a rebounding dynamo with shorter-than-expected arms who didn't have an outside shot but was a grinder with an unquenchable drive (the guy played til he was 44) and who was a complete professional.  He did not block shots but he once snagged 15+ rebounds a game for a season and his per-36 line of 16 points and 11 boards for his career would be awfully nice.

Mason Plumlee - Mason has a couple of inches in height on Sabonis, but they share the same wingspan and lack of blocks for a front-court player.  Sabonis is a better free throw shooter but the ability to get boards and interior points for a playoff team as a beneath-the-basket big using hooks and guile is useful. Mason had a couple of extra years in college to work on his body and expand his atheticism a bit so I'm putting this here as a goal for Sabonis after he gets his NBA body.

Joffrey Lauvergne - short arms, heavy-footed, good rebounder for his minutes but not a good defender, can get bullied by bigger 5s since he's a 4/5 tweener, commits some silly fouls... Joffrey is what Sabonis might be if he plateaus early.  Lauvergne is five years older than Sabonis, though: that future's far from written.

Fit with the Nuggets

Sabonis is an attempt to improve the 4/5 tweener backup role that Lauvergne currently fills, or to step in for the defensive-minded Darrell Arthur who also struggles with size issues.  Sabonis is a better rebounder than Arthur, though, and his shot is further along than Arthur's when he came out of college.

If Sabonis really can bring the effort and intensity to the rebounding game that Kenneth Faried does while having better court awareness, that would be a very nice bench weapon for the Nuggets with either of their middle-round picks.  The Nuggets have a lot of 4s right now but nobody who can do everything.  Sabonis would be an attempt to get a cheap rebounder and hustle player who can better fill some of coach Michael Malone's defensive needs.  He's not perfect for it with his lack of length, but if he was Denver wouldn't be able to get him.

Projected Draft Spot

SB Nation -  18 (Detroit)

Draft Express - 17 (Memphis)

CBS Sports (Parrish) - 14 (Chicago) - 9 (Toronto)

Final Thoughts

Domantas is the son of Arvydas Sabonis, who in his prime might have been the greatest international player ever.  Dirk is included in that statement; in a battle of Prime Sabonis vs. Prime Nowitski my money would not be on Dirk. That's a lot to live up to for anyone, and the younger Sabonis is not the same physical specimen his father was. That might cap his ultimate upside but he's still far from a finished product.

Sabonis is still raw in areas that can be improved (body, shot) while being more polished in his court awareness and instincts.  He has room to grow and is a tireless worker.  After watching him dismantle Poeltl in their NCAA Tournament matchup and hearing that his workouts are going very well in dispelling some of the fears about him, I have every confidence that he is going to be a contributor for many years to someone's roster.  He has a lot in common with our own Darrell Arthur as a player who could find his niche in the league and be around a long time, and that's not a bad thing at all.