The Indiana Pacers are a little too prone to putting their money in the wrong place in trying to find an explanation for their breakout into the NBA’s upper echelon since Paul George left.
First it was a four-year extension for Nate McMillan, the second-worst case in the league (behind Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota) of a team that should’ve made a coaching change instead rewarding the guy who took them to the playoffs. Indiana going 48-34 is why they didn’t blow up the sideline and hire Mike Budenholzer (go ahead, imagine a team that’s been as good from beyond the arc as the Pacers having a shot chart like the ones the Bucks put up every time out.)
Then it was throwing $72 million at Myles Turner.
And while I’m OK with the Turner extension in principle, a solid 22-year-old who is an excellent defender getting a contract that, by the time it kicks in next year, won’t be in the top 50 salaries in the league, the simple fact is that if you look at the roster and the who’s-playing-crunch-time considerations, the Pacers paid the wrong guy.
Because Domantas Sabonis is the true star in the making in Indiana.
How insane has the Lithuanian been this season so far?
How about a 27.6 PER, .729 TS% that leads the entire goddamn NBA, .290 WS/48, 7.4 BPM (5.0 offensive/2.4 defensive), and 0.6 VORP?
Those are superstar numbers. And yes, it’s 10 games, none of which Sabonis started, but dear gods, how good does a guy have to get before you realize he’s better at basketball than the guy who’s starting?
Turner, in those same Big 5 advanced stats:
He’s posting a 16.2 PER, .557 True Shooting, .104 WS/48, -1.9/3.5/1.6 BPM splits, and 0.3 VORP.
Now granted, what we have established here is that Turner doesn’t suck, and he’s a better defender than Sabonis, but Turner has a disastrous 10.6 rebounding percentage that wouldn’t be particularly good if he were a guard.
Sabonis, meanwhile, is posting a 21.4 rebounding percentage, exactly the kind of thing that, at minimum, should’ve gotten him the start against Houston, where minimizing the impact at the rim of Clint Capela (who, oh by the way, threw down alley-oops like he and Chris Paul were goofing around in practice together pretending they were the 2015 Clippers) might’ve flipped the script on Houston’s 98-94 win over the Pacers. Combine Sabonis with Kyle O’Quinn and you could probably slow Andre Drummond down in Detroit, but Nate can’t think that far outside the box to figure out a way to involve them in the offense.
The incident where Turner couldn’t hold onto a rebound and Roberto Duran Hands of Stone’d it off the leg of Doug McDermott was just embarrassing.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this. The best player on the Pacers not named Victor Oladipo is the sixth man.
Now, given, this is me getting pissy about a team that is 7-4, on a 53-29 pace record-wise, and owners of a +4.3 point differential and, thanks to their snail-like pace (96.2, second-slowest in the league, and there’s the Mike Fratello impression we all knew Nate had in him), owners of a +4.5 Net Rating.
That point differential projects them at…53 wins! Imagine that. This team is what it is, and what it is just happens to be seriously good.
But at the same time, we’re watching an above-average, worth $18 million but far from a superstar center starting games when an honest-to-gods Sixth Man of the Year is hanging around waiting to come in, shoot 12-of-12, and go for 30 on any given night.
The Pacers have some time to make up their mind about Sabonis. It won’t be until next season that serious discussions about contract extensions start to enter into the conversation, but right now it looks like Sabonis is going to evolve into a superstar, get short-shrifted by the team that coached him into that position, and end up in Portland or something, where Blazers fans will be as in love with Domas as they were when his dad Arvydas Sabonis patrolled the lane in the ’90s.
In the meantime…well, we’ve got one thing going for us, Pacers fans:
He’s not my Domas, he’s not your Domas, he’s our Domas!