Welcome back to LWOS NBA Draft Coverage, the column that brings you player profiles for the next crop of professional basketball players that are likely to be selected in the upcoming draft. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow us on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical profiles and scouting reports. Check out our complete coverage of the 2016 NBA Draft. Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for all things 2016 NBA Draft!
Domantas Sabonis – 6’10” 240 lbs, Gonzaga Bulldogs, 20 Years Old
Domantas Sabonis is the son of basketball legend Arvydas Sabonis, and is looking to follow in his father’s footsteps. The Gonzaga product has just concluded a fantastic collegiate career where he helped his Bulldogs reach unprecedented heights in the NCAA Tournament. The Zags have been a powerhouse in the WCC for years, but have seemed to fall short on the national stage. Over the past two seasons they have done exceptionally well, advancing to the Elite Eight in 2015 and the Sweet Sixteen in 2016. Both years they boasted arguably the best front-court in the nation, to which Sabonis played a key role.
Physically, Domantas inherited his father’s size and strength, measuring in at 6”10 and 240 lbs, the Lithuanian is a grown man and knows it. Possibly the best rebounder in this year’s draft, it is his most ready NBA skill. Averaging 11.8 rpg as a sophomore, Sabonis was utterly dominant on the glass at both ends of the floor. Defensively he collected 28.2% of all available rebounds, and at the offensive end he was similarly impressive with a mouth-watering 11.7% orp. His proficiency on the offensive glass actually dipped slightly from 13%, but only because he was able to develop a freethrow line jumper where he often operated from the high post. Sabonis has absolutely fantastic instincts and establishes weakside position on almost every possession. With excellent boxout technique, intelligent position and a motor that never stops working, the big man’s rebounding tools will leave general managers and scouts wanting more.
Pegged as a power forward, the new small ball lineups will allow Sabonis to move to the center position if a team so chooses. He has remarkable range defensively for someone his size, and although is by no means a rim protector (less than a block per contest last year) he is strong and much quicker than most centers in the NBA. His positional flexibility will aid his draft stock considerably.
Offensively Sabonis has improved greatly, and shot 61% from the field scoring 22 points per 40. Still extremely left-hand dominant, the Lithuanian has a natural advantage because he is a lefty, but he is overly reliant on getting to his strong hand to finish. Sabonis runs the floor well and is quite fluid in the open court, he has big hands and a soft touch that allows him to catch difficult catches in traffic, and even though he is not wide, he is strong and sets firm and solid screens. In the post his jump hook over his right shoulder is a thing of beauty, and he can extend that move to 8 feet from the rim consistently.
Always using ball fakes to get his man in the air, Sabonis led his conference in free throw attempts and finished 6th in percentage (77%). This is very encouraging as his jumper has significantly improved since his freshman season. He shot 48% on all jumpers, and even though he only took 14 three’s he connected on 35% of those. The development of his spacing ability is crucial and will greatly help his ability to put the ball on the floor as he is very comfortable attacking closeouts and getting to the rim. Finally he is the son of a Hall of Famer, and as such has a terrific feel for the game. He 2 assists per 40 on 11.3%, impressive for a guy who was used primarily as a scorer inside and offensive rebounder.
Athletically Sabonis is not up to par and plays well below the rim. Although he was a good finisher in college it remains to be seen whether he can be consistent in the NBA. He uses ball fakes often to get his man in the air but when his defender does not bite he struggles at times. In the post Sabonis is far too left hand dominant and almost refuses to finish with his right. If he had a turnaround jumper it could help. He lacks pop as a leaper and doesn’t separate well from his defender on such a move. Because of this defenders overplay his left hand and he will often try and force the issue resulting in him turning the ball over 16% of his possessions.
He took great strides as a jump shooter but still needs to improve if he wants floor time at the next level, and although he is comfortable driving, he lacks a counter if his defender recovers to him. A move such as spinning to his right for a jump hook or jumper would suffice but seeing as he does neither of those well it would almost be detrimental.
Defensively his lack athleticism hurts him as well. Although he moves well for someone his size he can struggle to contain some stretch fours and guards attacking him off the bounce. Move him to center and his short arms and poor leaping ability make it so he isn’t a threat to protect the rim (only 6’10.5 wingspan and 1.1 blocks per 40) and it’s possible that some centers’ may be able to shoot right over him. He did play beside defensive black-hole Kyle Wiltjer, meaning the Lithuanian often checked the opposing teams best front-court player, he did not excel at this.
NBA Potential and Draft Forecast
Sabonis’ position will be called into question, as he lacks the mobility to guard some power forwards and length to protect the rim if he plays center. General managers should not simply shy away from him. The NBA is getting smaller, and Sabonis is an extremely mobile center who isn’t afraid to step out of the paint. In his matchup against Jakob Poetl (arguably the best center in the draft) Sabonis won this matchup. The Gonzaga big man collected 16 rebounds and scored 21 points; while holding Poetl to only 5 points and 4 boards. Using his strength to push the 7 foot Austrian far outside the paint and quickness and guile to score at the rim he was able to dominate on both ends.
Some may question his raw numbers as he played in a weak conference. However, he was masterful in the NCAA Tournament averaging 19.5 points and 14.3 rebounds while barely missing a shot. Such excellence in big games show his winning mentality and that he is not afraid of the moment. That coupled with his wonderful performance against Poetl show just how valuable Sabonis can be used at center. This is especially true with how small the league is getting. Move him to power forward and punish opponents who want to go small by utilizing his wonderful rebounding ability. Slotted as an early to late 1st rounder, Sabonis could go in the top-10 or fall to 30th. It’s impossible to tell.
Domantas Sabonis has often been compared to Luis Scola. He has similar size, shooting, and issues with his quickness.