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30Q: Can the Kings get more out of Domantas Sabonis?

Domantas Sabonis is already very good at basketball, but can the Kings get even more out of the 26-year-old big man?

Domantas Sabonis does a lot of basketball things at an exceptional level. He's an elite passer, elite rebounder, near-elite foul drawer, and a very good offensive finisher. And despite all the areas where he excels, volume scoring is the one thing really keeping him out of the conversation among the elite offensive big men in the game today.

Sure, it'd be great if Sabonis suddenly developed a consistent outside jumper, and growth as a shooter would certainly contribute to fixing my shot volume critique, but I think the easiest solution is this –– Sabonis should be taking more shots. The Kings will hopefully empower him to do so.

Sabonis has only averaged more than 20 PPG once in his career: 20.3 PPG in 2020-21 with the Indiana Pacers, his last All-Star season.

In fairness to Domas, he's already proven himself as an All-Star level contributor without prolific scoring. He was an All-Star with the Pacers in 2019-20 averaging 18.5 points on just 13.7 shot attempts. The Pacers went 45-28 that year, finishing 4th in the Eastern Conference. Increasing shot volume is not something Sabonis has to do. I'm just wondering if it's something he should do to take his game, and the Kings, to the next level.

The Kings only had Sabonis for 15 games last season, so the data isn't great, but he finished 2nd on the team in shot attempts (13.5) post-trade. It would be really tough for Sabonis to overtake De'Aaron Fox in shot attempts, so 2nd on the team sounds right in the offensive hierarchy, but I'd still love to see that number increase.

I'll use Nikola Jokic as the example here. Jokic was an All-Star for the Denver Nuggets in 2019-20 scoring 19.9 points per game on 14.7 shot attempts. Jokic displayed similar strengths to Sabonis in those early All-Star years –– great passing, great shot creation, great rebounding, and not-so-prolific scoring.

Jokic's shot volume exploded from there (18 FGA in 2020-21, and 17.7 FGA in 2021-22) and he would go on to win back-to-back MVP awards. And it wasn't his 3-point volume that did it –– Jokic and the Nuggets made a conscious effort to instill aggressiveness and get him the ball where he was most effective. His increased aggressiveness resulted in more shot attempts, more free throws, and more efficient scoring.

We can safely assume Sabonis isn't going to be Nikola Jokic, but there is a middle ground reality where the Kings do feed him the ball more in positions to score, and Sabonis is more aggressive in looking for his own shot, and he does draw more fouls, and this helps the Kings win more games, and gets Sabonis into that elite offensive big man conversation.

The Kings don't need Sabonis to make a scoring volume leap in order make the play-in game. If Domas plays like his regular very-good self and the rest of his teammates do their part, that should be enough. But I'm very intrigued by the notion that Sabonis has one more offensive leap in him, and how that could turn the Kings into a playoff team instead of a play-in contender.

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andy_sims
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September 19, 2022 3:24 pm

If he adds a couple of more attempts a game when he’s got decent looks, that will make things easier for whoever is on the floor with him, since Sabonis will draw a help defender, and someone will be wide open. We already know Sabonis will find the open man, and things get fun when the defense has to scramble to catch up to the ball.

murraytant
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September 19, 2022 4:43 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

a couple more attempts will be fine as long as he is open. He is not a great creator, nor does he have a wide variety of offensive game, so he has to stick to his basics and that’s fine. Joker is much more of a creator, more varied in good slot selection, so he is a limited comparison.
DS: get the ball, shoot if good shot, otherwise pass

PretendGhost
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September 19, 2022 4:13 pm

I think he’s only gotta score as much as it keeps the defense on their toes. The more doubles he can draw, the more he can hit his teammates, and if they do their job, then it should result in points.

murraytant
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September 19, 2022 5:22 pm

an aside- rumor- Suns trade Crowder to Jazz for the other Bogie. Suns have to add a draft pick Some old speculation that Kings were in the mix with Suns, looking to move Barnes for C. Johnson but it appears he is in negotiations for an extension.
Suns want more firepower

TheGrantNapear
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September 19, 2022 9:46 pm
Reply to  murraytant

A deal revolving around Cam Johnson for Barnes would be great. Suns are in win now mode so a deal for HB makes sense.
Kings go super size with their core:

Fox
KH
Keegan
Cam
Sabonis

nonstripedzebra
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September 20, 2022 7:36 am
Reply to  murraytant

Crowder (or Saric) and Johnson for Barnes works, but if the trade off for the Suns is the Jazz accepting Saric and Crowder’s expiring and a first for Bojan thats clearly a better deal for them.

Maybe the Cam Johnson extension plays a big factor, but I doubt they couldn’t do better removed of us as a suitor. The two trades above in theory suggests Johnson and a late first are equal value which clearly isn’t the case. Even if Ainge is greedy, a deal for Bojan seems more plausible at less a cost.

That said if any version of that Kings deal is offered, they should accept it.

catterj
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September 19, 2022 7:10 pm

As the PnR roll man, Domas scored 1.33 points per possession (PPP) on 3.7 possessions per game while in Indiana. While in Sac, those numbers fell to 1.25 PPP on 3.0 poss. I’d like to see him get his possessions back up this season. It did seem to me that teammates were just not looking for Sabonis enough in PnR as the roll man. Stat table from NBA Stats.

One way I could see to get Sabonis more “roll” attempts is through the Chicago action AKA Zoom. I put roll in quotes since it is actually a dribble hand off with that DHO functioning as the pick. They actually did run this a decent amount last season, but I would spam it more with some of the new personnel or more specifically, Monk.

Here is a play diagram of it lifted straight from The Basketball Action Dictionary article on it.
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Sabonis is the 5 in Delay (that means the center has the ball at the top of the key which we have seen Holmes do hundreds of times) and dribbles to a wing area while a guard sets a pin down in the corner for another guard or a wing who comes off that pin down into a DHO. Where Domas can score is after giving the DHO, he can run hard at the rim. From the TBAD article:

If the guard’s defender is still recovering from the initial pin-down, the big (5 in the diagram above) will often pass to the guard (2) and slip to the hoop immediately — instead of screening 2’s defender, as he would in a typical DHO. This puts a lot of pressure on 5’s defender. If he defends 2 (the man with the ball), that leaves 5 wide-open as he rolls to the hoop.

Here are two gifs of Chicago/Zoom being run last season with Sabonis.
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Jokic recovers well, but Domas is just too close to the basket and scores.

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Aldridge, OTOH, has to completely switch onto Holiday allowing Sabonis to gain a head of steam and lay it in.

This is just one action, but there are plenty more screen or DHO actions that Sabonis could use to up his FGA and his PPG.

PretendGhost
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September 20, 2022 10:10 am
Reply to  catterj

Fox setting more screens is a good idea in my book. It could really unlock his off ball game, which will be vital for this squad to thrive

AnybodyButBagley
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September 19, 2022 8:21 pm

Can the Kings utilize an all star caliber player without asking “more of” of him in order to make up for the failure of the rest of the organization?

Let Sabonis play as he knows how and put players and people around him to support him. We need more from so many players and components of this organization.

Sabonis is not the one that needs be discussed as one who needs to do more to carry this team.

nonstripedzebra
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September 20, 2022 7:23 am

If I have one concern entering the season is Mike Brown having often began sentences with Fox over Domas, and alluding to pace more than a halfcourt offense being the teams offensive identity.

Sabonis is the Kings best player, and if a scheme was to highlight the gravity he generates from his ability in the triple threat and most of all his passing I think they might elevate his production and the teams results collectively.

Brown would be wise to simply steal some of Draymond and Steph dribble hand offs. Sure not with the spacing threat but similar designs could leverage Fox’s penetration and or the threat of Domas dimes in creating looks. Add viable spacing everywhere else and there are a lot of tools to tinker with in motion sets. In my opinion the rosters strengths are very heavily predicated on favoring the halfcourt oppose to transition. It may not have to be black and white but what is paramount is still important.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 20, 2022 9:02 am

Sabonis is the best player on this team. The focus on Fox is dumb. You are correct that a half court game and some simple things similar to what Steph and Draymond have done will help greatly.

This team has been built around Fox as a transition team because he is fast. Being fast does not win anything.

Maximus
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September 20, 2022 9:48 am

This team has been built around Fox as a transition team because he is fast

I don’t think they are a transition team
https://go.nba.com/q1iwm
As you can see here, they rank 16th in term of transition possessions. Either they are not a transition team or they don’t know how to be a transition team.

The Grizz is the perfect example of a team knowing how to play fast. Force a lot of turnovers and then get out in transition. And the Grizz is pretty bad offensively everywhere else except transition and offensive rebounding. It is amazing how they rank 2nd in offensive rating while their offensive execution is pretty bad.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 20, 2022 11:15 am
Reply to  Maximus

They are not a transition team because they have not been able to successfully do it.

The idea years ago was Bagley as a rim runner to pair with Fox’s speed, and Hield running as well. I think that was three years ago? Stupid plan that did not work. Sabonis is now a smart player that can create ball movement in the half court and play in transition when it makes sense.

Maximus
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September 20, 2022 2:08 pm

Stupid plan that did not work

Because they don’t have long and athletic wings or bigs to force turnovers.

In 2018-2019, the Kings force opponent TOV% 8th in league. That leads to 2nd most transition frequency in the league On the other hand, they were horrible in half court offense. That still lead to 39 wins.

Sabonis is now a smart player that can create ball movement in the half court and play in transition when it makes sense

His turnover is pretty high though. His best assist to TOV ratio year is 1.92. For comparison, Fox’s worst year was 1.96.
I do think Sabonis is better passer than Fox but Sabonis lacks execution. His passes sometimes are not accurate. He can see the angle and timing but lacks the accuracy. Fox on the other hand, actually has accuracy but lacks awareness.

We really don’t have to reinvent anything. There is a lot of past data out there to determine what works and what does not. Fox has proven that he can carry the offense in transition and in P&R. Sabonis has proven that he can carry the offense in high post. Possession-wise, P&R offense in general has higher number than high post offense. So it goes.

andy_sims
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September 20, 2022 9:04 am

“Hey, Domas, we’d like for you to look for your shot a bit more this season. If you’re in a good spot with an open look, don’t hesitate.”

“Fuck you! Fox doesn’t play defense!”

You are consistently hilarious when you’re serious.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 20, 2022 11:16 am
Reply to  andy_sims

?

aplumley
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September 19, 2022 8:22 pm

I think there is an expectation that one of the 24-25 year olds or Keegan will break out and exceed expectations. Say there’s a 15% probability that each of Mitchell, Fox, Sabonis, or Murray significantly outperform expectations. That means there is a 48% probability that any one of them does. If that happens, they are a playoff team and not a play in team. Roughly a coin flip.
On the flip side, there is a not insignificant probability of underperformance or injury. I’m which case “we suck again”

TheGrantNapear
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September 19, 2022 9:44 pm

He’s not a very good shot creator in space or at the elbow. If you want to increase his number of shots per game, go old
school by surrounding him with shooters and feed him in the post and let him work.

RikSmits
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September 19, 2022 10:45 pm

I think the main upside of Sabonis is that he triggers ball movement and movement without the ball. He is one of the better screen-assist guys and when he initiates from the top of the key, people move around.

With Fox you get the feeling that the opposite is happening. The ball often doesn’t move, people are not moving much, just clearing out and waiting at the perimeter for the kick-out. Occasionally, that is fine, but it is predicatble and relatively easy to defend.

Last edited 11 days ago by RikSmits
andy_sims
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September 20, 2022 9:06 am
Reply to  RikSmits

That must be how Fox has averaged over six assists per game for his career: Being predictable and easy to defend.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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Nostradumbass 14
September 20, 2022 9:56 am
Reply to  andy_sims

But is averaging under 7 assists per game for your career as the primary ball handler and facilitator a good thing, especially for a player that can’t shoot?

I get why Steph doesn’t average a ton of assists. You want him to shoot and you have a willing passer in Green. IMO, Fox is more in the mold of John Wall. A speedy PG who isn’t a threat from deep, but at least wall has averaged 9 assists per game for his career.

Or is the problem that Fox has just had sub-par teammates who can’t hit their shots or finish off of his passes?

RikSmits
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September 20, 2022 10:19 am
Reply to  andy_sims

I was talking about the team offense, but okay.
Fox’s assist numbers are easily replacable. In fact, Tyrese was getting there already.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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September 20, 2022 10:35 am
Reply to  RikSmits

I feel Tyrese had already surpassed Fox in his playmaking abilities. Maybe that is why Monte felt the pairing of Fox and Sabonis was better than the pairing of Fox and Tyrese. In many ways I can agree with that idea. Sabonis gives you good, but not great playmaking ability to help replace Tyrese, but also gives you an excellent rebounding and post play. Those last two factors are much harder to replace than Tyrese’s 40% shooting from 3.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 20, 2022 11:21 am
Reply to  RikSmits

That is why it took Tyrese to get Sabonis.

Fox is an average point guard that is streaky.

AnybodyButBagley
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September 20, 2022 11:19 am
Reply to  andy_sims

Wow…..six assists. Killing it.

Generates so many wins.

Maximus
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September 20, 2022 9:24 am
Reply to  RikSmits

when he initiates from the top of the key, people move around

The more passes the more turnovers. Sabonis does have a pretty high turnover rate. Eventually, there is a diminishing return to how much Sabonis should initiate the offense.

clearing out and waiting at the perimeter for the kick-out

This is pretty much how it goes for teams that rely heavily on P&R.

https://go.nba.com/cydx7
This is last year data ranking teams with passes made. You can see the top 2 teams with passes made, Nuggets and Warriors. You can also see the bottom 7 teams with passes made, Bucks, Hawks, Suns, Jazz, Nets, Bulls and Grizz. They are all good teams. There is no correlation in terms of winning and making passes.

RikSmits
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September 20, 2022 10:38 am
Reply to  Maximus

The Bucks, Hawks, Suns, Jazz, Nets, Bulls and Grizz have main players that have a TS% of ranging from .572 (Davion Mitchell) up to .663 (Giannis).

Fox’s TS% sits well below that, at only .549.

Unless Fox improves his efficiency, we should not rely too much on him trying to score from iso or the P&R. Sabonis sits at .603, by the way, and the much-maligned Harison Barnes at .623.

Maximus
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September 20, 2022 1:15 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

Fox is not an isolation player though. He mostly scores in transition or in P&R. He has one of the highest number of P&R possession and he is one of the better P&R finisher.

He was 0.9PPP last year and 0.94PPP the year before.
The Kings as a team was 0.88PPP last year and also 0.88PPP the year before.

So in both years, Fox was the one that pulled up the team’s P&R offense.

In order to maximize the P&R offense, the roll man is equally important as the ball handler. Teams that rely heavily on P&R like the Hawks have Capela and Collins, the Jazz have Gobert and Whiteside, the Suns have Ayton.

P&R offense is easy to scale up. Fox has already proven to be good at it. Now we have Sabonis and a healthy Holmes. Make it happen

As I noted, the problem with Sabonis is his turnover. That is probably capping him even though he is a good finisher. Putting more usage on Sabonis and hoping that he can transform into a version of Jokic is well wishing. Jokic made the jump when he was 22. Sabonis is already 26.
Honestly Sabonis is fine with the current usage. He is very good in triple threat position and he already has the second most touches there after Jokic. He is not good as post-up big so he should not get more touches there. The only place he can get more touches is as a spot-up shooter in pick and pop,

TerzoM
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September 20, 2022 7:36 am

comment image

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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September 20, 2022 8:03 am

Prediction: He’s gonna lead the team in assists this year.

Fox is a score first PG who, IMO, may not be best suited as the primary playmaker, much like Mike Bibby was. We sort of saw this when he shared the floor with Haliburton. Add Sabonis to the mix and the addition of shooters/scorers like Murray, Huerter, and Monk and we have the makings big man playmaker offense, much in the form of Jokic in Denver, or even Webber era Kings.

If you look back at the Pacers teams where Sabonis last made his all-star appearances Domas was surrounded by players like Brogdon, Warren, LaVert, Holiday, Lamb and McDermott. None were exceptional playmakers but were scorers who played off of Sabonis.

From all that, it would not surprise me to see Sabonis average around 7 assists, while Fox is closer to 6.

Jack
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September 20, 2022 8:45 am
Reply to  Adamsite

If Sabonis scores 16 to 18 a night on average plus 10 to 12 rebounds and 7 or 8 assists I’ll take that any time. I’ve seen him shooting outside in videos this tear. I wonder if this will somehow be include in his arsenal?

PretendGhost
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September 20, 2022 10:15 am
Reply to  Jack

It wasn’t really in his arsenal playing at EuroBasket earlier this month. I’m not counting on him taking or making a high volume of 3’s this season.

However, he he can make 10-15 foot shots at a good rate, that could open up the court in a big way

Last edited 11 days ago by PretendGhost
Kingsguru21
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September 20, 2022 2:23 pm

I don’t think the Kings can get THAT MUCH more out of Sabonis. He is Turnover prone to a point, unfortunately, and it comes with the nature of his playmaking. His second All Star year he avg’d 3.4 TOV’s to 6.7 assists. Some of that is offensive fouls, and Sabonis does pick up those.

Sabonis, to make a major leap forward, would have to average something like 21, 15 & 7 on the season on 65 TS% with a TOV% roughly 5-6% less than it was last year (18%). The 65 TS% isn’t difficult to believe as Sabonis was a tick below that in Indy before the trade last year. But the turnovers? Eh, that’s the tough part.

That said, I do think the Kings can figure out a way with Fox to get Sabonis a few easier shots so that he doesn’t try and create offense out of desperation. Sabonis makes you better in style of play, he forces you to play a ball moving style more, and his effort baseline to baseline is the best the Kings have had in many years. I don’t remember a better player in that regard in the last 15 years. Certainly nobody of All-Star caliber.

But the issue here is can the Kings figure out a way to tap into his scoring ability down low, maybe even at the mid range, use his great playmaking without the turnovers or the fouls. And that’s reqlly the conundrum more than anything else.

I’m looking forward to a full season of Sabonis with an improved roster and a year of Fox. But I don’t know the improvement on the court, if it comes, will be because of Sabonis getting better numbers. It will be because he makes you better in attitude and effort, gets you in transition with his rebounding, and gives you a great option in the halfcourt to work out of. Sabonis shot creation limitations won’t change as he ages, and he’s never going to block shots either. But if you can get a player more talented than he is, like a De’Aaron Fox, and have that player play to that level you have a 50+ win team and possibly a championship contender.

Domas isn’t the player who will win you a championship. But he is a guy who can probably lead you to 45 wins (take Fox out of the equation) with the kind of roster the Kings have around him. And since I think the Kings have spent the off-season tailoring the roster to fit better around Domantas Sabonis, I think you’ll see an improved product. How improved comes down to, I think, not whether the roster works better around Sabonis, but how to well Fox plays.

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