In this space, I have often gone after Myles Turner, suggesting that his ceiling is a lot lower than Pacers fans hoped it would be when Turner came into the league and effectively became a poor man’s Hassan Whiteside with his shotblocking.
Well, move over, Myles, because Domantas Sabonis is about to take your spot, and the Pacers are better off for it.
Consider this fun fact courtesy of Fanrag’s Andy Bailey…
In the 910 minutes Victor Oladipo & Myles Turner have shared the floor, Indiana's outscoring opponents by 5.5 PTS per 100 poss.
— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) February 19, 2018
Any time you play with Victor Oladipo, good things are going to happen, but plus-11.3 Net Rating for Sabonis vs. only 5.5 for Turner? That’s a damning issue, especially since both guys have put up a meaningful sample of minutes.
Then there’s that 13-point, 11-rebound double-double in the Rising Stars Game that announced to the world that “hey, this guy’s good now…”
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) February 19, 2018
The even weirder thing is just how much Sabonis and Turner are similar in their age-21 seasons this year.
Consider a side-by-side comparison of the two and marvel at the squeaky margins between them:
Sabonis: .534 eFG%, 23.9 pts/100 poss, 18.0 PER, .128 WS/48, 0.6 VORP
Turner: .532 eFG%, 23.8 pts/100 poss, 17.9 PER, .129 WS/48, 0.9 VORP.
Sabonis is also a vastly better rebounder (25.4 defensive rebounding percentage and 18.4 overall REB% vs. Turner’s 20.9 DREB% and 13.9 overall REB%.) Sabonis simply has a better nose for the ball compared to Turner’s shotblocking tendencies.
It’s kind of a shame basketball isn’t like baseball, because Sabonis and Turner are prime examples of guys who, on an MLB team, would be platooned; the NBA’s salary cap simply doesn’t allow for such things.
Turner’s rebounding is so awful that he is effectively useless against teams like the Pistons, Clippers, and Rockets, where Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, and Clint Capela can eat his lunch then hang around for dinner.
But Turner’s ability to pound the ball inside then force the opposing center out of position is a godsend against teams like Boston and Golden State. As good as Al Horford and Draymond Green are, they’re vulnerable to getting beaten to the rebound, which is part of the reason Houston’s created matchup problems for the Warriors this year; the Dubs have to play Zaza Pachulia to get a low-post presence but sacrifice the flow of their offense in the process.
Sabonis can do that too, but he’s got limitations on what he can do in the low post on offensive possessions where his shot isn’t a putback.
Consider this, via iPacers:
NBA tracking data for Post-Up possessions:
Myles Turner: 0.85 points per possession, 42% FG%, 18.3% FT Frequency, 11.3% TO frequency, 46.5% Score Frequency
Domantas Sabonis: 0.84 points per possession, 50.7% FG%, 10.0% FT Frequency, 22% TO frequency, 44% Score Frequency
— iPacers.com (@iPacersblog) February 21, 2018
Turner is better at getting to the line and on not turning the ball over; Sabonis is a better shooter out of the low post, but his inability to bull his way to the basket (and the fact that Turner is a better free throw shooter) point to his being less well-suited for the “bully the weaker center” role.
The Pacers are going to have to make a decision on this eventually, because while Turner and Sabonis are both on their rookie deals now, the day of reckoning in free agency is coming.
Sabonis just appears to offer more upside, because Turner has done nothing to show us that his rebounding will ever evolve past the level of Roy Hibbert.
Either way, brace yourselves. Don’t be surprised if one of those guys gets traded in the offseason, and it probably won’t be Sabonis who gets moved.