Indiana Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis is due for an interesting second season with his team, especially after a very strong offseason.
Sabonis’ had a 26.2 rebound percentage during the preseason, which ranked third in the NBA among qualified players. Only Los Angeles Clippers big man Boban Marjanovic and New York Knicks starter Enes Kanter posted a better percentage.
He averaged 23.9 points and 18.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, which is obviously an unrealistic figure to reach during the regular season but shows just how productive he was during the exhibition games.
For comparison, Sabonis pulled down 11.4 rebounds per 36 in his first season with Indiana. It was a quite a bit more than what he produced as a rookie (6.4) for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He improved from just 1.0 offensive rebounds per-36 as a rookie to 3.3 offensive rebounds per-36 for Indiana.
Sabonis recently explained his rebounding philosophy (via Indy Star):
“You need that desire every possession to box someone out or go get the rebound. Fight for the ball. Fight for every possession. You can’t be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to run back on defense this time.’”
He clearly cares about cleaning the glass, which is the first step if one wants to become an elite rebounder.
Sabonis’ numbers drastically increased last season. With the Thunder, the percentage of his team’s missed field goals that he grabbed ranked in the 2nd percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. After he was traded to the Pacers, he was able to grab enough rebounds to land in the 72nd percentile.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is that he was no longer playing alongside Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams, who is considered one of the best offensive rebounders in the league. Against his old squad back in October 2017, Sabonis recorded a career-high eight offensive rebounds. His highest offensive-rebound total in a game while with the Thunder was just three.
James Herbert wrote about why he was unable to be as efficient next to Adams (via CBS Sports):
“He turned into a stretch-four with Steven Adams manning the middle, taking 159 3-pointers and making only 32.1 percent of them. He ran back in transition rather than pursuing offensive rebounds. Sabonis did his best to play his role but was not able to show all his skills.”
We have seen his offensive rebound numbers increase, but it could lead to more scoring as well.
The 22-year-old led all players in the preseason with 1.42 points per possession on putbacks. That was good for nearly a third of his total points in the preseason. Sabonis averaged just 1.1 points per game on putbacks last season. During the preseason, this rate improved to a remarkable 4.2 points per game on putbacks.
This would be huge for his development if he is able to maintain this kind of production during the regular season.
Indiana recently signed Myles Turner to a four-year contract extension, but the Pacers could have a fascinating duo in their frontcourt if Sabonis continues to show improvement.