Player Review 2020: Domantas Sabonis

Age: 24
Years Pro: 4
Status: Entering the first year of a four-year contract extension signed in Oct. 2019.
Key Stats: Started all 62 games in which he played, averaging 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 5 assists (all career highs) while shooting 54 percent from the field. Set NBA franchise record with 50 double-doubles.

If a vote were held to name the MVP of the 2019-20 Pacers season, Domantas Sabonis would win in a landslide.

The 6-11 Lithuanian flourished in his first season as a starter in Indiana, putting up career-best numbers and earning his first All-Star selection.

Sabonis had come off the bench for all but 24 of 148 games over his first two seasons with the Blue & Gold. With the Pacers starting Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner in the frontcourt, Sabonis excelled in a sixth man role. He averaged 14.1 points on 59 percent shooting and 9.1 rebounds per game in 2018-19 and was one of three finalists for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award.

But the offseason departure of Young created an opening in the starting frontcourt, allowing the Pacers to finally experiment with a starting lineup featuring both of their young centers, Sabonis and Turner.

It proved to be a prudent move, particularly because it allowed Sabonis to spend more time on the floor. His minutes jumped from 24.8 per game in 2018-19 to 34.8 as head coach Nate McMillan deployed a rotation that played to Sabonis' strengths.

Sabonis started games alongside Turner, playing center on offense but generally guarding the opposing team's power forward on defense. He then subbed out midway through the first quarter, which allowed him to return to the game late in the first or early in the second quarter and play with Indiana's reserves.

With both lineups, the offense ran through Sabonis, who served as the primary ball screener. The combination of his size and playmaking abilities allowed him to create space for his teammates, bully defenders on the block, or use his gifts as a passer to find the open man.

In extended minutes, Sabonis averaged 18.5 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 5 assists, all career highs. Despite taking over four more shots per game, his shooting percentage was still strong at .540. He was second on the Pacers in both scoring and assists and led Indiana and ranked fifth in the NBA in rebounding.

After racking up 30 double-doubles while coming off the bench a season earlier, Sabonis was a virtual lock to collect 10 or more points and rebounds every night in 2019-20. He tallied 50 in just 62 games to break the Pacers NBA franchise record for most double-doubles in a season previously held by Troy Murphy, who had 49 in 2008-09 campaign.

Sabonis also flirted with a triple-double throughout the first half of the season before finally collecting the first one of his career (and the first by a Pacer in a regular season game in nearly five years) on Jan. 19 in Denver, when he tallied 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists in a win over the Nuggets. That performance opened the floodgates, as he collected a triple-double in four of his next 10 contests.

Domantas Sabonis at 2020 All-Star Weekend

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Sabonis was rewarded for his stellar season by being voted by the league's coaches as a reserve for the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago. Sabonis was the lone representative from the Pacers to participate in All-Star Weekend. He nearly won the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday night, then suited up for the victorious Team LeBron in the All-Star Game the next night.

Unfortunately for both Sabonis and the Pacers, his season did not end in planned fashion. The big man had scored 20 or more points in three straight games before the NBA halted play due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When teams finally reconvened for training camp in July, Sabonis came down with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

The nagging foot pain caused him to leave the NBA restart bubble in Orlando to seek medical treatment. He missed all eight seeding games to close the regular season as well as Indiana's first-round playoff series with Miami.

Sabonis was sorely missed, particularly in the series with the Heat. But the good news is he should be ready to go for next season, he is still only 24 years old, and he is under contract for four more seasons thanks to an extension he agreed to last October.

The offseason has already been a special one for Sabonis, who recently announced his engagement on social media.

And coming off the best year of his young career, plenty more good things appear to be on the horizon for Sabonis.