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Could trading for Domantas Sabonis put the Jazz on another level?

Sabonis is reportable available for trade by a suddenly rebuilding-minded Indiana

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Indiana Pacers Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Athletic reporters Shams Charania and Bob Kravitz dropped a minor bombshell Tuesday afternoon in saying that the Indiana Pacers are “moving toward a substantial rebuild and are expected to open up trade conversations around some of their veteran stalwarts.”

The Utah Jazz are looking to be a distant third place behind the surging Golden State Warriors and red-hot Phoenix Suns. If the front office deems it fit to make a mid-season move, are any of these “veteran stalwarts” an option?

According to Charania and Kravitz, the three most available names are center Myles Turner, forward/center Domantas Sabonis and wing Caris LeVert.

Two other potentially desirable players on the Pacers, forward T.J. Warren and guard Malcolm Brogdon are either unlikely or unable to be traded. In Warren’s case, he’s reportedly said he wants to stay in Indiana. Brogdon is unable to be traded because of an extension he signed in October (the extension prevents him from being traded for six months after the signing date and that date is after the trade deadline).

To put it briefly (my rough draft spent five paragraphs and 200-plus words to say this), Turner and LeVert wouldn’t fit on account of there either being no room or them not adding new skills that would change the Jazz for the better. Utah simply isn’t in need of another rim-protector or a slasher with limited defensive prowess.

The interesting man in this discussion is the two-time All-Star, Sabonis.

Whether Sabonis could work on the Jazz is a very interesting discussion with plenty of tantalizing possibilities that are laced with crippling worries.

One of the things Sabonis would immediately bring is rebounding outside of the center position, something Utah almost entirely lacks. The best non-center rebounder on the Jazz is either Rudy Gay or Royce O’Neale; the former plays just 19 minutes per game and the latter isn’t good enough to match up with elite rebounders in the paint.

Typically, rebounding isn’t a problem for the Jazz since Gobert eats them up. But in the playoffs, teams have a tendency to try and either swarm Gobert or keep him away from the rim, limiting Utah’s rebounding. Case in point, the Jazz were fifth of 30 teams in defensive rebounding percentage last year but were ninth of 16 playoff teams in the same stat.

One question that might be asked is how Utah’s defense would perform with a 6-foot-11, presumably slower, player at power forward. Well, if previous history in Indiana is any predictor, it would be just fine. Indiana’s defense was usually good, sometimes elite when Sabonis played the four and almost always better than when he played center.

Comparison of Pacers’ defensive rating with Sabonis at power forward vs at center (per CleaningtheGlass)

Season Def Rtg at PF (%-tile) Def Rtg at C (%-tile)
Season Def Rtg at PF (%-tile) Def Rtg at C (%-tile)
2021-22 101.7 (85) 112.6 (27)
2020-21 110.9 (67) 113.9 (42)
2019-20 104.1 (92) 110.0 (59)
2018-19 103.0 (96) 106.8 (82)
2017-18 111.1 (28) 107.0 (68)
2016-17 103.8 (91) 118.0 (N/A)

It should be noted that Sabonis’ minutes at power forward in recent years are exclusively played alongside perennial DPOY candidate Myles Turner, could explain these numbers. But Sabonis’ rookie year with OKC is nearly the same as his time with Indiana and Turner. Plus, does that factor even matter since who would Sabonis play alongside in Utah if not Gobert or Hassan Whiteside?

Defensively, Sabonis checks out as a solid potential addition. But what about offensively? Surprisingly enough for a guy averaging 19.1 points his last three seasons, this is where some of the worries are.

The one notably intriguing thing about Sabonis is his playmaking. He’s kind of a poor man’s Nikola Jokic in that the only players since the NBA/ABA merger to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and 6.5 assists are, well, Sabonis and Jokic. Both are able to do some amazing playmaking as post players. Quin Snyder could probably dream up some very interesting offensive sets utilizing Sabonis’ passing acumen.

Unfortunately, part of what allows Sabonis to flourish offensively is that he spends around half of his time in Indiana playing center. In fact, if you take the above table with Indiana’s defensive ratings and flip them to offense, the story completely reverses. Indiana’s offense suffered when Sabonis played power forward.

Comparison of Pacer’s offensive rating with Sabonis at PF vs at C (per CleaningtheGlass)

Season Off Rtg at PF (%-tile) Off Rtg at C (%-tile)
Season Off Rtg at PF (%-tile) Off Rtg at C (%-tile)
2021-22 107.7 (37) 112.1 (67)
2020-21 106.9 (21) 113.7 (57)
2019-20 106.6 (21) 116.0 (88)
2018-19 107.9 (33) 111.3 (60)
2017-18 109.0 (57) 109.7 (61)
2016-17 106.8 (40) 86.0 (N/A)

In Utah there might not be a great fit offensively for Sabonis. The best way for him to work with the Jazz would be if Sabonis could get at least back to his 3-point shooting percentage from last year (32.1) and also hopefully exceed it. Being a below-average 3-point shooter could result in clogging the paint, cutting down Sabonis’ efficiency and Gobert’s space in the pick-and-roll game.

The final thing to consider in this discussion is what it would cost for Utah to obtain Sabonis. Two-time All-Stars aren’t cheap. The Jazz would likely need to send out draft picks, the kind most don’t want to give up. This is ultimately what would kill any discussions. Utah isn’t exactly loaded with picks and doesn’t have too many young pieces to give up.

Will it happen? I’d say unlikely. But it’s an interesting idea worth thinking about.


Should Utah try to trade for Domantas Sabonis?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    (96 votes)
  • 33%
    No, he wouldn’t fit in Utah’s system
    (125 votes)
  • 40%
    No. Even if he would fit it’s not worth the price
    (152 votes)
373 votes total Vote Now