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2016 Draft Prospect Preview: Sabonis is a Safe Pick

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Domantas Sabonis, the 6'10 center out of Gonzaga, represents one of the safer possible picks in the 2016 Draft.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Arvydas Sabonis was one of the most versatile bigs to play in the NBA during the 1990s. Sabonis, from Lithuania, was once called 'a 7'3 Larry Bird' by Bill Walton, in reference to his amazing court vision and shooting stroke. If the just-ending Cold War had managed to come to a conclusion just five years or so earlier, Sabonis might have played the majority of his career in the NBA. Despite playing just 6 seasons in the league, Sabonis is one of it's most iconic players.

Arvydas' son, Domantas, is not the dynamic player his father was. Standing 6'10, five inches shorter than his father, in some ways Domantas is a much more traditional NBA big. Domantas game revolves around an offensive game that dominated NCAA competition in the post, but that in effect does not extended beyond the painted area at this point.

Sabonis is an intriguing player who has seen his stock rise rapidly following a strong season and great showing in the NCAA Tournament. What explains his rapid rise?

Strengths

Post Offense

Sabonis' greatest strength at this point is his offensive capability in the post. Sabonis was among the most effective players in post-up situations in the NCAA this season, scoring on a phenomenal 67% of his post-up opportunities. Sabonis' scoring capabilities in the post were on display in the NCAA Tourney this season when, against Utah and projected lottery pick Jakob Poeltl, he went off, scoring 19 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Despite Poeltl's advantages in height and athleticism, Sabonis took him to the cleaners, showcasing a series of post-moves that make it clear that his post game is ready for prime time.

Rebounding

Though not possessing great size for the center position, Sabonis looks to be a very proficient rebounder at the next level. While Sabonis isn't jumping out of the gym to get rebounds over other players, his superior positioning and hustle oftentimes result in him getting rebounds over more athletic competition. Unlike traditional bigs that rely on positioning for their rebounds, Sabonis looks to be equally skilled at pursuing both offensive and defensive rebounds.

Off the Ball Offense

While he does not possess the court-vision of his father, Sabonis is far from a slouch in half-court scenarios. The sophomore averaged two assists per game for Gonzaga this season, and was a willing and somewhat able slasher when called upon. Sabonis projects to be a solid pick-and-roll player, particularly as a finisher, but also potentially as an alternate ball-handler.

Weaknesses

Defensive Potential

The weakest part of Sabonis' game, now and almost undoubtedly into the future, is his defense. While Sabonis most of the time puts in adequate if not extraordinary effort on the defensive end, his lack of lateral foot speed and relatively short wing-span have contributed to struggles guarding players outside of the painted area. At Gonzaga Mark Few addressed this by having Sabonis largely stay inside, where he is an adequate post-defender. But given Sabonis' lack of elite size for a center, it remains an open question whether that strategy will work at the NBA level. The result is that Sabonis is something of a 'tweener.

Outside Shooting

That 'tweener status is problematic, not only because Sabonis would likely struggle to guard more athletic forwards on the perimeter, but also because he lacks the outside game to punish slower centers at this point. In a very limited sample Sabonis shot decently from outside, but not enough to be confident that he will be a capable shooter at the next level. Without this skillset, it remains to be seen whether Sabonis will ever be more than a skilled supporting player at the next level.

Fit with the Suns

At first, it might be hard to see a fit for Sabonis with the Suns. While a more offensively talented player might be a fair complement to Tyson Chandler, the defensive pairing would create matchup nightmares. A pairing with Alex Len would make even less sense. If he cannot be paired with either Len or Chandler, it seems to me he is a more expensive, though probably more offensively talented version of Alan Williams.

However, if Sabonis shows even a slightly above average ability to score from the perimeter, it dramatically changes the calculus on him as a player. An ability to stretch the floor even to the 15-18 foot mark would allow Earl Watson and company to pair any three of Len, Chandler and Sabonis.

Given the continuing problems both Len and Chandler have had with nagging injuries, getting a backup big is not necessarily a bad idea. Sabonis remains a very safe pick that would satisfy need. But at 13 he might be a bit of a reach. It is unlikely he is still on the board at 27.