Domantas Sabonis was 3 years old when John Stockton suited up for the 2000 NBA All-Star Game, the acclaimed point guard’s 10th and final selection.
Stockton is the only former Gonzaga player to make an All-Star game roster, but that could change in the near future. The 23-year-old Sabonis has put together an impressive résumé with the Indiana Pacers in just his fourth NBA season.
The 6-foot-11 Sabonis, who scored 24 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a 112-87 win at Phoenix on Wednesday night, is averaging a career best in points (17.9), rebounds (12.9), assists (4.3), steals (0.8), blocks (0.6) and minutes (34.1). After coming off the bench last season, the former Zag asked management to move him into the starting lineup. He’s developed into arguably the best player on the Pacers, who are 28-16 and second in the Central Division despite the absence of two-time All-Star guard Victor Oladipo (knee injury).
Sabonis has 34 double-doubles in 42 games, trailing Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo (37) and Detroit’s Andre Drummond (36). Sabonis had 30 double-doubles last season in 74 contests. He posted his first triple-double recently with 22 points, 15 boards and 10 assists in a road win against Denver.
“He’s done everything for us,” Pacers point guard T.J. McConnell told the Indianapolis Star. “It’s really hard to believe he’s only had one triple-double. He’s all over the place. Gets people involved, sets solid screens, rebounds, scores, passes. We don’t win without him.”
Sabonis was ninth in fan voting among Eastern Conference frontcourt players, which amounts to 50 percent of the process for selecting starters. Players votes and media votes each account for 25 percent.
Eastern and Western Conference head coaches each select seven reserves. Team captains – likely Antetokoumpo and LeBron James, based on the leading vote-getters in each conference – draft from the starters pool and then the reserves pool, regardless of conference affiliation, to fill out their 12-man rosters.
Sabonis is a strong candidate to be one of the reserves, which typically involves two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild cards. Others likely under consideration include Drummond (17.3 points, 15.7 rebounds), Boston’s Jayson Tatum (21.5, 6.9), Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic (18.9, 11.1) and Miami’s Jimmy Butler (20.2, 7.0) and Bam Adebayo (16.0, 10.5).
“It would be amazing,” Sabonis told the Athletic, “but I don’t think about those things.”
Starters will be announced Thursday with reserves announced roughly a week later. The All-Star game is Feb. 16 in Chicago.
Sabonis played in the Rising Stars Challenge for first and second-year players during All-Star weekend in 2017 and 2018.
Sabonis’ Hall of Fame father, Arvydas, was a standout internationally and in the NBA but never played in the All-Star game. He was drafted by Portland in the first round in 1986, but played overseas before joining the Trail Blazers in 1995 at age 30, his mobility and athleticism diminished by numerous injuries.
Sabonis played two seasons at Gonzaga. His stats as a sophomore – 17.6 points, 11.8 rebounds – are comparable to his current numbers. He averaged 9.7 points and 7.1 boards as a freshman coming off the bench during the Zags’ Elite Eight season in 2015.
Sabonis spent his rookie season with Oklahoma City under coach Billy Donovan before being traded to Indiana.
“He’s kind of like the engine to their offense,” Donovan told the Athletic. “He’s a matchup problem because he can step away from the basket and shoot, he can put the ball on the floor and he’s a really good facilitator and distributor offensively.”
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