LOS ANGELES – Domantas Sabonis plays basketball with the sort of rambunctious, unbridled enthusiasm usually reserved for a puppy that finally gets to see its owner after being home alone all day. He wants to show off all his toys, flies around with (and without) purpose, has a million things he wants to do all at once, and instantly makes Indiana’s day brighter.
That sort of energy — complete with chest pumping, fist-bumping, grins, and screams — is infectious, and is part of why it’s becoming impossible to keep the third-year player from Gonzaga off the floor for all the right reasons.
“You need that,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said on Sabonis’ approach after the team’s recent 104-96 loss to the Lakers at the Staples center. “You need that with guys coming off the bench. He’s been able to provide that for us, which has really helped us, coming in off the bench, being a spark, making things happen, and it’s hard to keep him off the floor.”
Sabonis impacted the game with a flourish, as the walking Mario Star collected 20 points and 15 rebounds in 29 minutes of work. This marked his second straight 20 and 15 game off the bench, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since Shawn Kemp in 1992. As the anchor of the Pacers’ second unit, Sabonis is tasked with a grab bag assortment of challenges, from physicality on defense to rebounding, getting teammates involved, and trying to find ways to get his shot on the other end of the floor in limited time.
McMillan has a dilemma: He likes what Sabonis brings off the bench, but he’s performing at the level of a player who likely should be showcased a bit more. McMillan admits “there’s no drop off” from the starting five, and the numbers back that up.