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Fantasy Deep Dive Week 6: Domantas Sabonis


Indiana Pacers big Domantas Sabonis was questionable with an ankle injury heading into Friday's meeting with the Spurs. He finished with 19 points and 16 rebounds while starting in place of the more-injured Myles Turner.

But even aside from that game, Sabonis is making a case for extended minutes and a place in fantasy starting lineups even if he's best served coming off the bench for the Pacers. The guy who was thought of as a throw-in in the Paul George trade has averaged 14.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in November and his 3.7 assists per game can be a welcome addition to fantasy lineups for owners looking for assists from a big.

Let's take a dive into some of Sabonis's advanced stats and film and talk about why he's a rising fantasy asset.

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Domantas Sabonis: Deep Dive

Background Information

Remember when the Indiana Pacers were supposed to be bad last year after they traded Paul George, and then they weren't? Refueling the team with Sabonis and Victor Oladipo was a shot in the arm for the Pacers, who currently sit as a top four team in the East.

Sabonis is a big piece of that success this year. Despite being the backup to starting center Myles Turner, Sabonis is averaging 26.3 minutes per game over the past month. That's enough time on the floor to ensure that he can make an impact, and at this point he appears to be one of the safest bench players for fantasy owners to start.

Turner and Sabonis have shared the floor for 84 minutes this year, and while the Pacers offense has struggled to an offensive rating of 92.2 with the duo on, they've fared well on the defensive end with an 89.7 defensive rating. Still, Sabonis has shined his brightest without Turner on the floor, as he's scoring 11.5 points in 20 minutes per game without Turner.

Sabonis is also an impressive passer. Tony East of BBall Index wrote a great breakdown of Sabonis as a passer, and I don't want to repeat too much of what East had to say except to note that Sabonis makes more passes per game that any Pacer. The ball is constantly moving around when Sabonis is on the floor, and he's one of the best passing bigs in the league. He's also the perfect big for the modern NBA; East notes that "72 percent of Domantas Sabonis’ assists are the best kind of assists: ones that lead to baskets either at the rim or from three." Sabonis doesn't take many threes himself, but his ability to get the ball to shooters outside the arc helps make up for that.

 

Game Tape

Here is the Sabonis shot chart from Friday's meeting with the Spurs.

Lots of shots in the paint, including three of them right at the basket! But one thing you also notice here is that Sabonis takes four of those dreaded mid-range shots, which is obviously a sign that he should not be playing in the NBA in 2018. (I'm kidding, by the way...mid-range shots are less efficient than threes and lay-ups, but they also can be a useful tool, especially for a big man whose ability to hit from there helps stretch the defense out some. (Not as much stretching as threes would create, but still some.))

Alright, let's look at some of Sabonis's plays from Friday. (Videos courtesy of NBA.com)

Here's the first basket for Sabonis. Sets a screen out on the wing, and when Bojan Bogdanovic curls around that screen and catches the pass from Darren Collison, Sabonis rolls toward the basket along with Bogdanovic, putting him in a good position to get the pass and finish the layup. Remember: Sabonis wasn't at 100 percent for this game, but you can't tell it right here as he completes his end of the play.

Little later in the game, same kind of situation. Sabonis sets the pick up top, then becomes the roll man as he heads towards the basket. Sabonis can finish at the rim, though last season he ranked in just the 37th percentile in points per possession as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, so there's still work that can be done.

Here's Sabonis getting the put-back off the Tyreke Evans miss. Sabonis is just 35th in offensive rebounds per game this season after ranking 29th last season, but of guys playing fewer than 25 minutes per game this year, he ranks seventh (or eighth if you count JaMychal Green, who has played in just six games). He does a good job on the offensive boards for the amount of playing time he has, though expecting him to suddenly grab a lot more of them out of nowhere feels unrealistic.

How about some mid-range?

Freeze the above video at the four second mark and just look at how open Sabonis is. I'm getting flashbacks here to Juwan Howard and Luis Scola when they were Rockets and I watched a lot of them, where they get to the top of the free throw line or somewhere close to that and through some actions, they get a pretty open chance to take that shot. Sabonis takes around 10 percent of his shots from outside of 10 feet and with the closest defender six or more feet away; he's hitting 42.9 percent on those shots. If the defense gives them to him, he should take them.

One more shot from Sabonis. Love his awareness here, as he's right down there at the basket but when the defense collapses in, he sneaks out to hit an open shot from just inside the free throw line. Sabonis seems to just, like, get open space around him a lot more than he should.

Here is an assist, and then after this sentence is another assist.

Sabonis makes good use of the hand-off out near the three-point line as a way of getting his teammates the ball in a good position to succeed. Sabonis is one of the best playmaking bigs in the NBA, and that's a trait that should be of good use to fantasy owners.

 

The Fantasy Impact

Domantas Sabonis is a very good NBA player. Not a shock -- look at who his dad is -- but it's something that can be easily forgotten since he plays on a Pacers team that far too many people don't pay attention to and he's mainly used as a bench piece.

Sabonis is a good shooter when he's open, a good rebounder (I didn't include any rebounding videos aside from the offensive board, but he's put up good numbers in that category), and a great passer for his position.

There's some worry for fantasy owners because, yes, he isn't a starter. Some slight minute fluctuations due to that shouldn't impact his value too much, but there is the danger that the game flow leads to a sub-20 minute night, as he's had two of those this season. But he's had more 30 minute nights, and the Pacers like Sabonis a lot. He'll be on the court 25-ish minutes most nights, more than enough time for him to help your fantasy team in plenty of categories. He's shooting 69.3 percent from the field and 71.6 percent from the free throw line. Maybe you'd like more blocks from someone that you play at center, but he does enough other things on the floor to make up for some lackluster production there.

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