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Sabonis, Turner Providing More Answers Than Questions

Domantas Sabonis wanted to start and the Indiana Pacers obliged. Despite its old-school style, early returns on the Pacers’ frontcourt are good – at least after one preseason game. Jack Winter writes.

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Nate McMillan almost made it seem like the Indiana Pacers’ hand was forced.

With Domantas Sabonis eligible for an extension until late October or entering restricted free agency next summer, it was crucial for the Pacers to prove that he’s a part of their long-term plans. Coming off a breakout season that cemented him as one of the most productive young bigs in basketball, too, Sabonis made it clear he wanted a more significant role – and Indiana, positional redundancies and stylistic complications be damned, had no choice but to give it to him.

“Last season, you’re trying to find ways for him get more minutes,” McMillan told reporters on Pacers Media Day last week. “He feels he’s a starter. He feels he’s a starter, he wants to become a starter, he expressed that to us. We had to make room for him to do that. We felt that he was part of the future of this organization, and we had a starting center in Myles [Turner].

“We had to make room for him.”

There’s an important distinction between the Pacers honoring Sabonis’ desires at the expense of team success and doing so with that overarching factor in mind. In 2019, it’s taboo for a team to start a pair of traditional big men. The league is smaller than ever before and faster than it’s been in 30 years. Committing major minutes to an old-school frontcourt – even one including an established superstar – is contrary to not just where the game is right now, but all of the signs point to the trend continuing.

Indiana understands that reality, of course. If there’s anything to be taken from McMillan’s forthright explanation behind Sabonis’ promotion, it’s that both he and the organization at large understand the potential pitfalls of such a development. Sabonis and Turner no doubt do, too. But just because the Pacers are aware of the risk they’re taking by entering the 2019-20 season with a frontcourt better suited for decades earlier hardly means the possible rewards don’t outweigh it.

That much was clear on Friday in Mumbai at the inaugural NBA India Games, where Indiana beat the Sacramento Kings 132-131 in an overtime thriller that functioned much more like a game that mattered than both teams’ preseason opener.

Sabonis and Turner shared the floor for just less than 16 minutes in their first ever start as teammates, with the Pacers outscoring the Kings by 13 points. Indiana shot a scorching 18-of-32 from the field with Sabonis and Turner playing together and absolutely dominated both the offensive and defensive glass, which McMillan suggested at Media Day was key to their sustained viability as a tandem.

The Pacers won’t always put up a 144.1 offensive rating during stretches featuring their new starting frontcourt. Much of that gaudy number, for instance, is owed to the red-shot shooting of T.J. Warren, who poured in 30 points and went 5-of-6 from deep in his Indiana debut. Still, the eye test from Friday’s game certainly lends credence to the hope that offense may not hold the Sabonis-Turner partnership back.

Turner has received a lot of flak for his natural inclination to set up a step or two inside the arc as both a ball-screen partner and off-ball shooter. He took 3.3 mid-range jumpers per game last season, per NBA.com, hitting them at a solid 41.2 percent clip. But Turner has worked tirelessly to realize his pre-draft potential as a three-point shooter, and is comfortable enough in that regard by now that he should always launch triples rather than long twos.

On Friday, with Sabonis mostly serving as Indiana’s designated roll man, Turner made a concerted effort to retreat behind the arc if he found himself inside it when ball handlers turned the corner.

Turner tried just one three-pointer against Sacramento, a look from above the break he let fly in transition with no hesitation whatsoever. It would be supremely disappointing if he didn’t attempt at least three triples per game this season; four would be a number with which Indiana should be happy.

Don’t confuse Turner’s inability to get up threes on Friday as any harbinger of hesitance to come. The Kings were simply so overwhelmed by their opponent’s size and execution that there weren’t many opportunities for Turner to shoot threes within the flow of the offense and random ball movement.

The space provided by Turner stationing himself on the perimeter, like a stretch four, made stopping the Pacers’ real power forward next to impossible.

Sabonis has a keen sense of timing as a roller, frequently finding cracks within the defense to make himself available for a pass, and is one of the most accomplished dribble hand-off partners in the NBA. He went 9-of-11 from the restricted area all by himself on Friday, on multiple occasions out-muscling Marvin Bagley III for thunderous dunks and routinely using his patience and footwork in a crowd to find room to finish.

But it’s not just his effectiveness as an interior scorer that separates Sabonis from other offensively-minded bigs with limited shooting range. Sabonis is a dangerous, clever passer from all over the floor, a trait that seems to be rubbing off on Turner entering his fourth season in the league.

Most concerns about playing two traditional big men revolve around shooting. Small-ball has grown so ubiquitous across the league, though, that spreading the floor with one-dimensional shooters is no longer enough. On the game’s best offenses, those guys can make smart plays with the ball, too.

Sabonis was blessed with that ability from the womb, and Turner has already made the type of playmaking strides some thought he never would. The latter found T.J. McConnell on Friday with a slick bounce pass after letting him turn the corner on a would-be dribble hand-off, a staple of Sabonis and other impactful high-post passers.

But it’s the big-to-big passing that was most impressive in Indiana’s exhibition debut. There will inevitably be times when Sabonis and Turner both find themselves in the paint when the other has the ball, and it’s imperative they’re able to make quick passing reads in small spaces to get out of that bind – a difficult task they at times made look easy.

While most of the hand-wringing in Indiana about matchups comes on the other side of the ball, Sabonis and Turner were able to use their collective size to an advantage against Sacramento. With Luke Walton matching up positionally, slotting his centers on Turner, the Pacers consistently exploited Sabonis’ strength edge over Bagley and Nemanja Bjelica. Even Turner, showing off some canny deception, found him for a pair of baskets on early-clock post-ups.

The Kings are an especially favorable matchup for the Pacers. They don’t have a big man physical enough to bang bodies with Sabonis defensively, and ranked 26th in defensive rebounding percentage last season before adding Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes, average rebounders at best. There will be nights when Sabonis doesn’t have a favorable on-one-one matchup, and there will be nights when the Pacers can’t glean easy extra points from wrecking the offensive glass.

There were nevertheless enough signs in Sabonis and Turner’s first game as Indiana’s starting frontcourt to come away very encouraged. It shouldn’t have been all that surprising the double-big look was successful; lineups featuring Sabonis and Turner posted a plus-3.4 net rating last season, per NBA.com, mostly on the strength of defense. But with Victor Oladipo playing beside them, that number bumped up to all the way up to a dominant plus-13.0, as the Pacers scored nearly five more points per 100 possessions and managed to get even stingier defensively.

The sample size is small, and it’s foolish to expect Oladipo – whenever he returns – to immediately be the player he was before rupturing his quad last January. More likely is that he struggles to reach that level until after the All-Star break, or even next season.

Kevin Pritchard did well over the offseason to bring in ball-handlers and scorers who help compensate for Oladipo’s absence – and maybe more importantly, both now and going forward, delay the need for the Sabonis-Turner combination to be a clear strength offensively.

Warren, a natural bucket-getter, proved on Friday that his career-best campaign from deep last season was no fluke, and Malcolm Brogdon thrived playing full-time point guard, especially when running high pick-and-roll with Sabonis. Jeremy Lamb, starting in the backcourt in Oladipo’s stead, is a more dynamic scorer than any guard this team took to the playoffs last spring.

Sabonis and Turner are still a long way from proving their partnership is viable offensively. The Pacers were elite on defense with them on the floor together a year ago, but it’s telling that against Sacramento McMillan spent the last few minutes of the fourth quarter with Turner manning the middle, then had Sabonis take his place for the duration of overtime.

Harrison Barnes, playing power forward for the Kings down the stretch on Friday, isn’t exactly Giannis Antetokounmpo or Khris Middleton, any three of the Boston Celtics’ talented wings, nor Pascal Siakam, the players Sabonis will be tasked with checking when Indiana meets other likely playoff teams in the East. The Philadelphia 76ers’ similar size and far superior talent is another thing entirely.

Questions on both sides of the ball abound for the Pacers. As the regular season quickly approaches, though, there’s ample reason to believe the long-made decision to start a throwback frontcourt was the right one – and not just because they “had to make room” for Sabonis.

Jack Winter is a Portland-based NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. He has prior experience with DIME Magazine, ESPN, Bleacher Report, and more.

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2021 NBA Draft Top 3 Picks & Top 10 First-Round Selection Odds

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The 2021 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, July 29. The draft will begin at 8:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPN platforms at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and it is the first time the draft is being televised on both ABC and ESPN. Free agency will also begin on Monday, Aug. 2 at 6:00 p.m. (EST). For NBA Draft betting, there are several available apps for placing bets, like from Bovada, MyBookie, Intertops, BetUS, BetOnline, BetNow, 5Dimes, and Sportsbetting.ag. DraftKings and FanDuel are other feasible options, in addition to the sites listed above.

Anyways, the Detroit Pistons have the first overall pick of the draft, followed by the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, etc. Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is the projected first overall pick. Jalen Green, the six-foot-five NBA G League player who forwent college basketball and attended San Joaquin Memorial High School, is expected to get drafted by the Pistons. The Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (2021) winner, Evan Mobley, is projected to get picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, teams have been negotiating trades with one another, leading up to next week’s draft. Per Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors are expressing interest in trading with the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to move up to the No. 3 spot of the draft. In the second round, the Milwaukee Bucks have the 31st pick of the draft. There is a chance that these are just meaningless internal discussions, existing only to explore the values of specific players and to keep other general managers on their heels.

No. 1 Pick Odds

While Cade Cunningham has the best odds (-8000) of being selected first overall, there are a few other aforementioned players here that are at the top of the list, too. Jalen Green has +1500 odds, Evan Mobley has +2200 odds, and Jalen Suggs possesses +2500 odds. Needless to say, however, Cunningham will be selected first before everyone else. Here’s why. According to 247Sports, the six-foot-eight Big 12 Player of the Year (2021) and Consensus first-team All-American (2021) ranked No. 1 in the final rankings class of 2020. Heading into college, the native Texan was already an established top-ranked, talented recruit.

Green and Mobley were also highly touted stars coming out of high school, but hands down, Cunningham has the best résumé for NBA scouts and general managers. In 27 games played for the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ 2020-21 season, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, helping to lead his team to the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys lost 91-81 against the No. 3 Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament, and then the team lost 80-70 versus the No. 12 Oregon State Beavers in the NCAA Tournament. The Detroit Pistons need all the help they can get.

  • All table odds were retrieved from Bovada 

No. 2 Pick Odds

Jalen Green has the favored odds (-200) of being selected second overall in the 2021 draft, followed by Evan Mobley (+170), Jalen Suggs (+650), and Jonathan Kuminga (+2200). Regarding Green’s G League performance, in 15 games started, he averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. The 19-year-old also played for an average of 32 minutes per game. Despite oddsmakers projecting the highest possible odds for Cunningham’s No. 1 selection, the No. 2 pick is not as clear.

In 33 games played for the USC Trojans, Evan Mobley averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. Referencing the RSCI Top 100 rankings, the seven-foot tall forward/center was ranked third on the list. Below .500 NBA teams, such as the Magic and Raptors, could trade up to draft the big man. It all depends on the teams’ different needs and priorities.

 

No. 3 Pick Odds

Evan Mobley has the best odds (-200) of getting drafted third overall. In the 2020-21 USC Trojans’ season, they lost 72-70 in the Pac-12 Tournament against the No. 23 Colorado Buffaloes. Then, they proceeded to lose 85-66 in the NCAA tournament versus the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Mobley had a team-high of 19 points and seven rebounds in that Elite Eight loss.

Though, if Jalen Green is still on the board at this point, it would not be out-of-the-blue if he was selected third ahead of Mobley, considering his odds are +150. For the other odds, Jalen Suggs is next (+250), followed by Jonathan Kuminga (+900), Scottie Barnes (+1200), Davion Mitchell (+6600), and Josh Giddey (+6600).

“To Be Drafted in the Top 10” Odds

With all eyes on the top three picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, there might be some folks speculating if players like Kai Jones and Josh Giddey have reasonable odds of at least making the top 10 in the draft. Jones’ odds are +275, whereas Giddey’s odds are +135. UConn shooting guard James Bouknight has -250 odds. Six-foot-nine, 19-year-old German basketball star Franz Wagner has -150 odds of being selected somewhere in the top 10 overall. Moreover, Jonathan Kuminga’s odds are -10000. The 18-year-old G League player is projected to land sixth in the draft.

Plus, according to several mock drafts, Davion Mitchell is expected to be picked by either the Golden States Warriors (seventh) or New Orleans Pelicans (tenth). His odds are -300. Keon Johnson is another one. Per NBA.com’s mock drafts, K. Johnson is projected to be taken No. 8 overall by the Orlando Magic, assuming this team does not pursue any potential trades to move up. Additionally, FSU’s Scottie Barnes has -10000 odds of getting selected in the top 10, and some mock draft beat writers also have Barnes going to the Magic.

 

 

Draft betting is much like player prop bets and NBA Finals betting. There are plenty of uncertainties and variables one must consider before placing bets, such as a specific team trading up or down during the night of the draft. Think about all the possible outcomes and scenarios before placing a bet, even if you choose to play it safe.

It is imperative for gamblers to search for any news articles or videos the same day of the draft, in order to keep up to date on important breaking news. Before placing bets on professional basketball, keep in mind that Bovada is the best betting site for NBA-related content and requested wagers.

 

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Raptors, Magic aim to obtain No. 3 pick from Cavaliers in 2021 NBA Draft

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The 2021 NBA Draft is the 75th edition of the draft, and it is scheduled to take place next Thursday, July 29. According to numerous 2021 NBA mock drafts, the Cleveland Cavaliers are projected to draft Evan Mobley, the seven-foot tall forward/center and Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) for the USC Trojans, with the third overall pick. Referencing NBA.com’s consensus mock drafts, there were six top players who appeared in all twelve of the mocks they surveyed: Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, and Jonathan Kuminga. The Detroit Pistons are expected to take Cunningham with the first overall pick, followed by the Houston Rockets selecting Jalen Green with the second pick of the draft.

While the Toronto Raptors are currently set to pick fourth and the Orlando Magic are expected to pick fifth, per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, both teams have made trade offers to the Cavs in order to move up to acquire the third spot. O’Connor stated, “League sources say the Cavaliers have received significant trade interest for this selection, and the Raptors and Magic Orlando—the next two teams up to pick—have made offers to move up. But Cleveland might just stay put.” Now, it is unknown what the Raptors and Magic are prepared to give up. Orlando has the advantage over Toronto, considering they also possess the No. 8 pick.

On Mar. 25, the Magic traded All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the Chicago Bulls, in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks. The two first-round picks were for 2021 and 2023, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. This is why Orlando has extra leverage over Toronto. Some experts are speculating that Orlando will trade Mohamed Bamba, Gary Harris, and the fifth and eighth picks of the draft. To the fans, that right there sounds like a raw deal.

However, on the flip side, a team like the Raptors are in desperate need of a viable center. Last season, they finished 27-45 (.375), ranking 12th in the Eastern Conference. If not the Magic, the Raptors might be more than willing to give up the same, if not more. Toronto could trade Pascal Siakam and the No. 4 pick. In the previous offseason, a few of the notable departures for the Raptors were Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Both of these aforementioned players played important roles in helping the Raptors to win their first NBA championship in the 2018-19 season. Though, the Raptors would have to make it a top priority to re-sign Kyle Lowry as well. On Oct. 7, 2019, Lowry signed a one-year, $31 million contract with the organization.

Not to mention, the Magic already have Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., and Johnathan Isaac on their roster. Furthermore, after recovering from their injuries, Isaac and Markelle Fultz will be returning to the court this season. Maybe Magic general manager John Hammond is using a trial-and-error approach, hoping to keep the most talented, best center available on the roster. If one throws enough sludge at the wall, eventually something will stick.

Leading up to the draft, basketball enthusiasts can continue to speculate and ask questions, but none of these potential draft moves are carved in stone. The transactions will not occur until the night of the draft, so one person’s educated guess is as good as anyone’s right now. All too often, teams get fleeced every year during the draft because various coaches and general managers either underrate or overestimate a player’s value.

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Injury Update: Hawks’ Onyeka Okongwu out 6 months after shoulder surgery

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After Atlanta Hawks‘ Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder on Wednesday night, the 20-year-old center will take the next six months off. Okongwu is a 6’8″ two-time California Mr. Basketball (2018, 2019), selected sixth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. After agreeing to a rookie contract, Atlanta signed him to their roster on November 24, 2020, and he made his NBA debut on January 15, 2021. The signed multi-year contract was worth a guaranteed $11.9 million over the course of two seasons.

According to a report first published by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Dr. Neal ElAttrache operated on Okongwu in Los Angeles, California, and he suffered this shoulder injury earlier in May. He will likely be eligible to play as early as late February 2022. While the typical recovery time for a torn labrum after surgery is between three to six months, labral tears can negatively impact athletes in a sport like basketball, if they are not careful. It will not recover by itself without the proper care.

Yesterday, the Hawks organization released a statement: “Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery earlier tonight in Los Angeles to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Dr. Neal ElAtrrache of Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic performed the surgery. Okongwu will now enter a period of rest and rehabilitation and is expected to make a full recovery in approximately six months.”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, in 50 games played, he averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds. Over the course of the 2021 postseason, Okongwu played a total of 166 minutes, averaging 9.2 minutes played per game, in eighteen games for the Hawks. He scored five points in the first round series versus the New York Knicks, 19 points in the conference semifinals versus the Philadelphia 76ers, and 24 points in the Eastern Conference Finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

In his junior and senior seasons playing for the University of Southern California Trojans, he earned those aforementioned California Mr. Basketball awards. In 28 games played in college, he averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 total rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. His average field goal shooting percentage in college was also 61.6 percent. He will be turning 21-years-old this December.

Referencing his current contract negotiations via Basketball-Reference, Okongwu earned $5.8 million in this past 2020-21 season. Furthermore, he will earn $6.1 million in the 2021-22 season, $6.3 million in the 2022-23 season, and $8.1 million in the 2023-24 season. The 2022-23 and 2023-24 add-ons are team options.

Moreover, the upcoming free agency will begin on Aug. 1, 2021 and the regular season is scheduled to start on Oct. 19, 2021. For betting purposes, the 2022 NBA Finals will air throughout June 2022. The NBA has transitioned its schedule back to normal format. The league office anticipates that future playoff series will no longer get pushed back to the months of June and July. Similar to everything else, however, this current schedule is subject to change due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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