By Warren Shaw
Domantas Sabonis spent his rookie season under the tutelage of Russell Westbrook and was witness to NBA history on a nightly basis. His work ethic garnered him a starting role with the Thunder for 66 of the 81 games he played—but not much attention as minutes and production were intermittent. The Thunder decided they needed flashier and more established players to team up with Westbrook which subsequently resulted in Sabonis and Victor Oladipo being traded for Paul George.
Now on his second team in two seasons Sabonis is flourishing in an established role with similar talent on a Pacer’s roster that hopes to develop together. Through 13 games he’s posting 13.3 points, 9.5 rebounds 2.8 assists and 62% shooting in 26.3 minutes. Extrapolate those numbers out to per 36-minute averages and Sabonis would be posting a very lofty 18.2 points, 13.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
On the court he’s hardworking and level-headed. Off the court he’s a typical 21-year-old guy. He’s hoping to catch the new Thor: Ragnarok movie soon, enjoys Call of Duty and NBA2K on Xbox in addition to spending time with family, friends and his dog. Sabonis spoke to us about his career to date, playing with the Brodie and why he’s enjoying his short time in Indiana.
Warren Shaw: You had a leg up on most rookies coming into the league in some ways having had your father play in the NBA. What is something that he might have told you about the league that is exactly the way he said it would be?
Domantas Sabonis: His first advice was just to take care of my body. He had a lot of injuries in his career and he just wants to protect me. There are many games and a lot of travel so taking care of my body was the main thing. Then on the court, just be aggressive—never let up because everybody in the NBA can play so you have to play hard the whole game.
WS: As a rookie last season can you describe what it was like playing with Russell Westbrook in his triple-double season?
DS: Oh it was amazing. Coming in my rookie year and playing with the M.V.P. it was awesome. It was a great year for me just being there learning from him. Learning his work ethic and how he approaches the game really helped. Seeing everything up close in the front row was just awesome.
WS: Do you think it was harder or easier for you to acclimate to the league with the attention Russ was garnering going on?
DS: No…I think once you are on the basketball court you are out there just trying to win. I was just happy to be part of the team and contributing with my role.
WS: I know it’s early but what do you think is the biggest difference has been between this season and last for you?
DS: I think I’m more comfortable here with my role and the type of play and situation we are in. I think it better suits my game and having had one year under my belt has helped a lot too.
WS: Have you and Victor Oladipo formed any type of special bond as a result of the two trades?
DS: Yeah of course. Since day one Victor and I have been really close and I think this trade has made us even closer. With both of us coming to a new team together I think it’s just made thing easier for both of us.
WS: What did you work on the most this offseason? Did the Indiana coaching staff ask anything specific of you?
DS: In the summer I was working on a couple of things right before I got traded. Once I got traded I just made things more of habit working on my touch around the basket, dribbling, passing, my shooting skills and free throws. Just overall during the course of the summer I ended up working on everything.
WS: Many thought this team would really struggle this season can you discuss the approach you all have taken and how you are playing near 500?
DS: Everyone here is a competitor. Everyone here wants to win. I think it’s cool because all the guys have something to prove and we’re all here for the same goal. It’s just a great group of guys who are working together really well.
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) November 18, 2017
WS: You’re a guy who plays two positions in today’s NBA. How do you see your role evolving with this team over the course of the year and do you feel more comfortable as a four or a five man?
DS: To be honest, on this team in the situation we’re in, the four and the five essentially have the same role. It’s just one is up and one is down. It doesn’t really matter they are both very similar. On the court I just feel my teammates do a great job finding me and I think I do a great job finding them. It just works out pretty well.
WS: Along those same lines how you feel you and Myles Turner complement each other?
DS: I think it can be really great. I can be the five he can be the four or the other way around. If’ I’m the five he spreads out the court. When I’m making passes I can kick out to three and he can get wide open easier looks for him. Obviously he brings defense, shot blocking, toughness to our team and we can complement each other in many ways.
WS: Do you have any goals for yourself this season, statistically, awards or anything like that?
DS: No, nothing like that. I just wanted to come in and prove to everyone that I could play. I think this is a great opportunity in front of me to show people what I can do on the court and I’m just trying to take advantage of it. That’s the main goal. Just to have fun, be somewhere where the team wants you to grow so that’s what I’m trying to do.
WS: This core is so young and you mentioned being in a spot where you can have some fun. Do you all talk about how good and how much fun you all can have together even past this season?
DS: Maybe once but we are just thinking about everything now. We are focused on the present and how we can get better during the season
WS: Is there a player at your position you look forward to playing against…do you smack talk?
DS: Nah not like that. Every game is important no matter who you go against. How I grew up you come out and play hard every game no matter what. You have to play basketball the right way, that’s just how I grew up.