The Oklahoma City Thunder are going to have to change things up with Enes Kanter sidelined. As a result, this should put less pressure on rookie Domantas Sabonis, as he will come off the bench.
Kanter has been the primary post option for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season, and he’s been very effective, with the highest average of points per 36 minutes of his career at 24 per night. Not coincidentally, though, Kanter has had the highest usage of his time in the NBA as well, at 26.4 percent. It will take some time for the Thunder to adjust their rotations with Kanter likely out for a few months, but it should enable Sabonis to thrive in the low-post role off the bench, as initially reported by Tony Heim of Fansided.com. That’s where he is most comfortable at the NBA level.
Sabonis is a tweener at 6-11, and he might just find a more permanent home in this league as a small-ball center. He doesn’t seem that comfortable in a stretch-four role right now, as he’s only taking about 2.2 threes per game. His reluctance in a starting role has only produced a 42.8 field goal percentage, but that will likely increase considerably with him taking more of a playmaking role now down low with Kanter out. When you look further into it, though, his effective field percentage is more respectable at 49.3 percent.
Moreover, the key difference between Sabonis and Kanter is the all-around game. Sabonis has much better mobility than Kanter, and he can really get up and down the floor. The Thunder are not a great shooting team — in fact, they’re the second-worst in the league in three-point percentage, according to teamrankings.com.
Taking this into account, they are at their best when they are getting out on the break, and Sabonis fits right in with that Russell Westbrook-led fastbreak style. In a game earlier in the season against the Washington Wizards, Sabonis demonstrated his impact on both ends, and especially on defense, where Kanter has always been a liability.
Sabonis is a guy that makes winning plays, and his activity in the paint and toughness go a long way in helping Westbrook maximize this team’s chances to win games with a key offensive threat not on the floor. The Lithuanian has an excellent basketball pedigree, learning the tricks of the trade from a former NBA great in his dad Arvydas Sabonis.
This youngster is not going to average a double-double with Kanter out suddenly, but he should allow the Thunder to be more athletic with him playing the five in select rotations. You saw glimpses of his toughness and veteran-type savvy near the rim against the Cleveland Cavaliers yesterday.
This guy is starting to figure out the NBA game, and the more opportunities he has to go against centers and stretch-fours, the more valuable he will be. He’s going to make a name for himself in this league, and I believe that’s going to be as a key contributor off the bench to start his career. Losing Kanter really hurts OKC offensively, but Sabonis and also Jerami Grant will be able to have more expanded roles.
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In my opinion, playing more down low will give Sabonis much more assertiveness, and you will see the Thunder be more athletic in the open floor. This rookie is an integral part of their team going forward, and if he becomes a more confident three-point specialist, his offensive game will be very formidable.
He’s already a smart basketball player. Combine that with his effectiveness both inside the paint and in pick-and-roll defense against smaller guards, he could be a nice piece to build around for this Thunder team in the future, and Sabonis is only 20 years old.
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