Sabonis expected to be even better next season

Pacers, Domantas Sabonis

The Indiana Pacers pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games before they were eliminated from the playoffs. And thanks to their performance this season, the Pacers will have favorable NBA betting lines next season.

… unlike before last season, when the over/under on wins was 31.5. They went on to win 48 games.

One of the big reasons for Indiana’s success this season was Domantas Sabonis, who was acquired — as a throw-in, some said — in the Paul George trade for Victor Oladipo during the offseason.

Sabonis and Oladipo were traded from the Orlando Magic, who drafted both players, to the Oklahoma City Thunder last season. After a disappointing rookie campaign with the Thunder for Sabonis, he was shipped off once again with Oladipo.

After the trade to Indiana, Sabonis reached out to Oladipo, who went to school in Indiana, about what to expect from the Pacers fans.

Oladipo told Sabonis that if they can win with the Pacers, they will be embraced by the fans, who are very passionate about their team.

During his rookie season, Sabonis averaged 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1 assist per game. This season, he averaged 11.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2 assists per game. In most seasons, he would have been a finalist for the Most Improved Player award, but, with Oladipo having a breakout season, Sabonis’ chances of winning it this season are very slim.

Not diminishing the improvements Sabonis made this season, but you also have to credit the Pacers for the way they used the second-year center.

In Oklahoma City, the Thunder tried to make Sabonis a stretch 4, and had him waiting on the corners for Westbrook to find him, which forced him to take a lot of three pointers, which isn’t his game.

With the Pacers, Sabonis was allowed to play in the post and bang with other big men, which was more his style. Since he has a decent shot, the Pacers also used him to draw out defending big men from the post, freeing up the lane for Oladipo and other perimeter players.

Sabonis’ success this season was also aided by the fact that the Pacers play a team oriented type of game, which means everybody gets to touch the ball and open teammates got to take the shot.

With the Thunder, their offense revolves around Westbrook, who tends to dominate the ball and also leaves his man open to grab a rebound, which leads to easy points for opponents.

Travis Knight, Sabonis’ strength and conditioning coach at Gonzaga, chimed in during the season about his former player’s success this year.

Knight said that Sabonis was taught physicality at Gonzaga, which is what big men are supposed to be taught. Knight also said the fact that Sabonis is allowed to bang with big men in the post, provided him with better scoring opportunities than standing in the corner waiting on Westbrook to look his way.

While he was with the Thunder, Sabonis’ career high was six points, this season, he scored a career high 30 points, and scored 20 points or more five times.

Despite his success this season, Sabonis’ game still needs a lot of work. He needs to improve his three point shooting and committing fewer fouls. He also needs to work on finishing with his right hand, after favoring his left hand 96 percent of the time he went to the rim.

[Photo: Frank McGrath/PS&E]

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