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Domantas Sabonis would bring an offensively minded skill set, his father's legacy to Nuggets

Dan Fatigato Avatar
May 28, 2016


Up until the NBA draft on June 23, the BSN Nuggets staff will review first-round prospects the Nuggets may target. We’ll look at their skill set, the role they will play in the league and how they could potentially fit in Denver.

Domantas Sabonis, F/C, Gonzaga

The name Sabonis has been missing from the NBA for far too long. Lithuanian great Arvydas Sabonis retired in 2003, spending the latter part of his professional career with the Portland Trail Blazers, but prior to joining the NBA at age 31, he was a 7-foot-3 monster and one of the greatest European basketball players of his era.

He passes the torch to his son, Domantas Sabonis, who thrust himself into the national consciousness when he crushed fellow draft prospect Jakob Poeltl of Utah in the NCAA tournament to the tune of 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Sabonis led Gonzaga to the Sweet 16, showing the agility and footwork at 6-foot-10 that made his dad so special in his pre-NBA days. He played the five for most of this past season and solidified he can play both frontcourt positions at the next level.

“He’s never off-balance,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told ESPN at the time. “He just moves so well. I tell my kids that I call him the ‘big cat.’ He’s like a Siberian tiger, a 1,000-pound tiger. He’s big but he’s agile.”

On top of his agility, Sabonis also loves to initiate contact and sports great hands. He’s also a fierce rebounder in traffic and a bear to guard off the dribble as a roll man. During his sophomore season, Sabonis averaged a healthy 17.5 points and 11.8 rebounds per game and was super efficient at the college level, with a 66 percent True Shooting percentage.

From the perimeter, Sabonis is a work in progress but made strides this past season in that area of his game. The 20-year-old converted on 22 of the 45 perimeter shots he attempted his sophomore season and has a compact release that he replicates shot after shot. He only went 5-14 on 3-pointers in two seasons at Gonzaga and shot nearly 48 percent on 2-point jumpers last year, according to hoop-math.com. But Sabonis did convert on 76.9 percent of his free throws in 2015-16 and it’s not a far stretch to think he could become a legitimate 3-point threat at the next level.

On the block, Sabonis has a great lefty hook though he tends to go to that well too often and he’ll need to develop his right hand or risk being too easy to gameplan for. He’s also a bit mechanical on the block but can get position on smaller defenders and easily back them under the hoop.

Though he’s no Nikola Jokic, Sabonis is a willing passer and particularly adept at kick-outs to 3-point shooters, which he has to do often last season when teams typically doubled him down low.

A concern for Sabonis is his lack of verticality. He has a below-average 6-foot-10.5 wingspan meaning he will struggle as a rim protector and to finish against lengthy defenders at the next level. To counter that limitation he has mastered a savvy pump fake, which gets him to the line often while his tenacity and willingness to get on the floor for loose balls helps him make up for the lack of athleticism.

Sabonis’ defensive limitations may max him out as a solid role player at the next level. He doesn’t have the wingspan to contest post-ups against longer defenders and he’s not great at helping on driving guards. He also has a penchant for committing fouls.

Sabonis is one of the safer picks of the first round in the sense that he can be plugged in to secure the defensive glass and play passable offense early on. Still just 20 years old, he has the potential to grow into a slightly smaller, less dominant version of his old man.

Potential fit in Denver – Sabonis is physically similar to the 6-foot-10 Jokic, though not quite the shooter and passer the fellow Serbian is. Like Jokic, he’s a tweener defensively, not quick enough to guard many fours and not enough of a rim protector to consistently limit fives. His shooting is also not necessarily a strong enough of an asset for a Nuggets team looking for a deadeye stretch four.

With Jokic, Kenneth Faried, Jusuf Nurkic, Joffrey Lauvergne and maybe Darrell Arthur in the mix, the Nuggets probably aren’t the best fit for Sabonis but his ceiling could be higher than many of those bigs.

Current projection – Sabonis is charting in the late lottery to low-20s in most mock drafts. Denver could take a flyer on him at 15 or 19 if they keep those picks, but with the Nuggets’ youth, the crowded frontcourt and the needs Denver will look to address this offseason, it’s hard to envision Sabonis in the Mile-High city next season.

Credit: Kelvin Kuo, USA TODAY Sports
Sabonis could become a workhorse in the post at the next level if he puts on weight and builds up his body. Credit: Kelvin Kuo, USA TODAY Sports



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