2016 Draft Preview: Domantas Sabonis.

Now that I have done season reviews for all the Pistons players, it is time to look to the future. My draft preview stuff will look at different players that are being commonly mocked or suggested as possibilities to the Pistons, as well as some possibilities for trades involving the pick. (Which there is quite a bit of talk that the Pistons might trade the pick since, yaknow, they already tried to trade it once.)

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BIG DISCLAIMER!!!:

So I am going to be totally upfront about something here. I don't watch a lot of college basketball, I have watched so much NBA that it is kind of hard for me to watch college ball. I pay attention to Michigan and Purdue, and will pay at least minor attention to the tournament. But I do not watch more than a game every now and then. So for instance, I watched (live on TV) a single game that Sabonis played in, and I didn't even really know who he was until like halftime. Most all insights are based on what others say about him, and have been gleaned from watching whatever I can find on youtube, and reading whatever scouting reports I can find. As such, my draft preview will not be "Which player do I think the Pistons should take?" because I only actually know like 3 players in the draft this year. My analysis will be more along the lines of "based on what scouts say, what would his basketball fit be with the Pistons?" All that said, any draft preview has to make some predictions of what I think a player will end up being. So any time that I make my own predictions for a players future, it comes with the asterisk of may have no clue what he is actually talking about.

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Who Is Domantas Sabonis? (aka, the TL;DR of his wikipedia page.)

He is the son of former NBA player Arvydas Sabonis. He was born in Portland Oregon while his father was playing for the Blazers. He is currently 20 years old. He played on professional teams in Spain starting at just the age of 16, but refused to sign a pro contract so that he would still be eligible to play in the NCAA. He also has played for the Lithuania U-16, and U-20 teams and was really good. So good in fact that he played with the Lithuania national team at just 19. He was a highly touted recruit and decided to play college ball at Gonzaga, where he came off the bench for most of the season as a freshman, but still was fairly impressive. He had a bit of a coming out party in the NCAA tournament as well. (somewhat like Mitch McGary had his freshmen season if you remember that.) He returned for his sophomore season and picked up right where he left off and was really good all season long, and finished the season averaging 17.5ppg and 11.7rpg, and 1.8apg.

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The Good:

There is a lot to like about Sabonis. A big thing that SVG is sure to like about him that is mentioned in literally every scouting report on him, is that he is a fierce competitor. He plays his tail off on both ends and is relentless in chasing rebounds and loose balls, and it that competitive drive is something that you can't really teach. The other thing that Sabonis has that you can't really teach, is soft touch. There is a saying, that for some guys the ball just goes in the hoop. Sabonis appears to be one of those guys.

As far as skills go, Sabonis has plenty of those too. He is a monster in the post, with a really good jump hook (Lefty.) and is smart in using his size to straight overpower dudes, once again his physicality and competitiveness help him here. He is also fairly well regarded as a passer, and you can kind of tell that he has been been around high levels of basketball his whole life because he just has a pretty solid feel for the game. Even though he is not a great athlete, Sabonis is an effective big in the pick and roll by setting monster screens and rolling to the rim hard, he has really good hands to catch passes in traffic, and deft enough touch to finish in traffic as well. And once again, he has shown some ability to make the right pass in those situations when needed. He also is fully capable of putting the ball on the floor and going to the hoop himself, and once again, has a nice finishing touch once he gets to the hoop.

His shooting is kind of a wildcard, because he did shoot pretty well from 3 and the midrange, but he didn't shoot very much. His freshman year he was a total non shooter, and even though he shot 36% from 3 his sophomore year, that was on just 16 attempts. But at the very least, he has shown some potential to be a solid shooter.

On defense there are some issues, but at the very least he is big, strong, and competes. Making him fairly capable of banging with post up brutes and cleaning the glass.

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The Bad:

He is not a very good athlete, (by NBA standards at least lol) and does not have great length. Combine these things and there is some worry that he is a defensive tweener at the NBA level. He would be undersized against most centers, and be too slow against most 4s. And at either position, he does not figure to have much ability as a rim protector.

On offense, he did at times struggle to score on size and length, something which the NBA has in much greater quantities than the NCAA (especially with the opponents Gonzaga is playing against all season.) which should be a bit concerning. Throw in the fact that his jump shot is still largely exploratory and there is a chance that he might struggle to do much on the offensive end.

The big concern is with his defense. When you consider that even physically gifted rookies struggle with defense in the NBA, Sabonis is basically guaranteed to be a miserable defender for at least a year or two.

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Upside?

The upside for Sabonis begins with his offense. There is a very good chance that he is a capable postup/inside scorer, especially if he spends much time at the 4 because with the league going so small today he would be able to play his favorite bully ball style against most 4s in the NBA, while also abusing them on the glass. Against centers he would still be able to use his abilities as a pick and roll big to score against bigger guys effectively as well. If his shooting proves to be fore real then he would be a killer offensive player. He could play backup center as a part of a super space bench mob where he would drag poor opposing backup centers out to the 3 point line, and it would likely make his dribble drive game leathal against opposing centers. And then Sabonis could flip around and play the 4 next to Andre and the other starters, space the floor, abuse smaller 4s in the post and on the glass, and generally give the Pistons more size and a totally different look from (presumed) normal starter Tobias Harris.

Essentially it would give the Pistons major flexibility with the frontcourt, being able to go big and bully ball with Andre and Sabonis, or they could put Sabonis on the perimeter to provide size and spacing, or flip it all the way around and put Sabonis at center for a lineup with tons of space.

On the defensive end his drive to be great could be a wonderful mix with SVG and he could well end up being pretty decent defensively sooner rather than later. He does have some quicks and pretty good feet so he might not be as hopeless as some think he will be.

An added benefit of this upside hope is that it would allow the Pistons to try and move Baynes for something in return, which at very least could open up another ~5 million in cap space. (If Sabonis reached the upside while Baynes is still on his current contract at least.)

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The Downside?

He never really learns to shoot beyond occasionally hitting a midrange jumper, and he struggles to score agains the size of NBA bigs. And he is an abject disaster on defense who can't defend a chair. And he sits on the bench behind Baynes as a 3rd big who people complain about his minutes because people like me say "The ball just goes in the hoop for him" while ignoring that the ball doesn't go in the hoop that often and he can't defend anything. He ends up with no NBA skills other than decent touch around the rim and decent rebounding and he is the 3rd big until the Pistons give up on him in some manner.

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NBA comparison?

Greg Monroe. I know I'm breaking two rules here by not only comparing a white guy to a black guy, but I'm also not comparing a European player to another European player. But I'm dead serious, when I look at video of him playing, I see Greg Monroe. Mainly in his ability to catch at the elbow, and survey a bit for passes to backdoor cutters, and then put the ball on the floor and bull his way to the hoop. He is also ground bound but still large. Sabonis will likely never be as good a inside scorer as Monroe is, but Sabonis will probably be able to shoot more. (which is to say, shoot at all.) Don't believe people who force the comparison to DMo either, because I absolutely don't see it. Their names sound alike, and they are both left handed, that is where the similarities pretty much end in my view.

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The Verdict? (would I draft him or not.)

Yeah. A big reason has nothing to do with my own analysis. Of all the mock drafts that I have seen, the Pistons at 18 are pretty much the lowest I have seen Sabonis going, while many other guys mocked to the Pistons have gone much later in other mocks. This says to me that if Sabonis is still on the board at 18, he is likely to be the best player still there, and in the end, I usually want to get the best player on the board. The fact that he could fill a really needed hole on the team is just a bonus.

Based on my own eyes though, I think that even on the downside for him, he will at least be able to score a little bit. So even if he does not surpass Baynes as the backup center or really end up breaking into the regular rotation at PF. He would be able to fill in occasionally when injuries/fouls forced him in at either spot and he will be able to at least do one thing. Some other guys I've looked at so far could well end up being able to do nothing useful on an NBA floor.

The best argument against taking Sabonis is that he is likely to be a bad defender for at least a year or 2. And I think that people have made too much of the Pistons needing a 4 who is big. What the Pistons really need is another big who can really play defense I think. Because Andre is a good defender, but this past season, of the 4 guys who could theoretically play alongside Drummond at the 4 (Morris, Harris, Tolly, Baynes) none of them are very good defenders at the spot. Morris is a decent defender but I think he is less useful at the 4. (He loses his size advantage, which is were I think a lot of his defensive value at the 3 spot comes from.) I would like the Pistons to find someone who can really defend so that when Anthony Davis (or any other power forward) is torching them, they don't have to choose between prayer and sicking Andre on them. (which causes problems other places.)

Even so, the way I see it, Sabonis has just as much (if not more) upside than anyone else who figures to be available at this point in the draft, and his downside is much less depressing than a lot of the other guys.

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What is the best sort of player for the Pistons to pick? (PG? PF? Something else? Project? Surest thing?)

I'm only going to put this on this first post, but since I know the Pistons pretty well I actually feel like I can give some better insight here lol.

The Pistons should use the pick (whether by drafting someone or using it in a trade) to get the best player they can. They need to not get too full of themselves after 1 season of success. Marcus Morris is good but (as much as I freaking love him as a player) they could do better than him as a starter, and the same is true of KCP. Even Tobias could theoretically be improved upon (although harder to do than the other 2) and literally every bench player could be easily upgraded. Stanley should upgrade himself by developing more, but the point is that the Pistons only have 2 guys that are for sure keepers in Reggie and Andre, and 2 others who are pretty close to that in Tobias and Stanley. So if they really believe that "insert SG here" is bound for stardom, then who cares if they have 5 guys who can play SG on the roster already. As of now, none of them are good enough to justify skipping a guy for.

All that said, since there is not likely an obvious star to be had at the 18th pick, (especially since this years draft is generally regarded as being pretty weak beyond the top 2) I would like them to fill a hole, and of the 2 main holes, (PG and PF) I would much rather they go for PF. Because I think it will be easier to find minutes for a PF to get on the court some and play and learn through mistakes, while not killing the team if he sucks. If they draft a PG then they either give him the backup job and have to count on a rookie PG to give like 18 solid minutes a night, and if he sucks they are in real trouble. Or he rots on the bench behind whatever guy they sign to play backup PG. So once again, unless there is a guy they really have confidence in as a PG, I'd just assume them not draft one. (with their 1st round pick at least.) And if there is a guy they really have confidence in to contribute, I don't care what position he plays, because there should be minutes at every spot with the bench mob up for grabs.

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What do you think? Would you take Sabonis? How do you see him fitting with the team? Let me know! We all get smarter!