Coming off of a tough one point loss to the Chicago Bulls Monday night, Oklahoma City has a much needed rest period.
The Thunder don’t play again until Friday, as they take on the Indiana Pacers at home. While Indiana has been one of the more disappointing teams this season, there’s little questions about who their best player is. While his numbers are slightly down this year, former Thunder Domantis Sabonis has been the Indiana’s anchor for the past three seasons now.
The Pacers have unlocked a version of Sabonis that was unseen in Oklahoma City. Granted it was his rookie season, it’s hard to think that the two-time NBA All-Star is the same rookie that started many games for the Thunder in that 2016-17 season.
In Sabonis’s lone season with OKC, the forward averaged 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 20 minutes. His rookie season with the Thunder was the same season that Russell Westbrook took the NBA by storm leading a very average team to the playoffs behind his season average of a 30-point triple-double.
The Gonzaga product was clearly a late bloomer, as his NBA game took some time to development and progress. In OKC, Sabonis was used as a pick-and-roll guy that frequently popped to shoot 3-pointers instead of rolling to the basket. For the Thunder, Sabonis took 5.9 shots per night and two of those were 3-point attempts.
Last season, Sabonis’s second All Star campaign, he attempted over two 3-point attempts for the first time since his rookie season. In his first three years with Indiana, his highest 3-point shooting year consisted of 1.1 attempts per game. The Pacers truly developed his offensive skillset, especially as a passer, and expanded his game inside the 3-point line.
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Sabonis had his best NBA season by far in 2020-21. Sabonis averaged 20.3 points, 12 rebounds and 6.7 assists. Sabonis is a finesse big man with a smooth offensive game and is a walking double-double. His passing ability and vision as a big is quite the luxury.
It’s interesting to look back on the trade that moved him to Indiana, and think about where the Thunder would be had they elected to keep and develop Sabonis. One thing is clear: Paul George would have never stepped foot in OKC.
It’s obvious that Sabonis was an intriguing piece to the Pacers, as he was the young prospect that really tipped their interest scales. The Pacers were stuck in mediocrity and wanted to take a chance on a potential franchise cornerstone. Even though Indiana his still in the midst of mediocrity, it was the right move for them. Sabonis has been dominant, is still a young star, and has trade value through the roof.
The Thunder would be an instant playoff team if Sabonis was the starting center. However, OKC brought in franchise cornerstone Shai Gilgeous-Alexander through the Paul George trade to the Clippers. Without originally trading Sabonis, acquiring Gilgeous-Alexander would’ve been impossible.
Even though the original Sabonis-George trade didn’t bring either team a title, it’s a win-win looking back on it now. I’m sure Sam Presti and the organization are saying their prayers that they get another chance to draft someone like Sabonis in the next few drafts.