Sabonis Goes from Sixth Man to Starter to All-Star

If 37 double-doubles and two triple-doubles weren't enough, what was it going to take?

Domantas Sabonis, who led the Pacers to an expectation-surpassing 30-17 record while they awaited the return of Victor Oladipo, was named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team Thursday via voting from the conference coaches.

While the starters are selected by a combination of fan, media and player votes, the reserves are selected by the coaches in each conference. They are not permitted to vote for players on their roster.

Sabonis — a fulltime starter for the first time in three seasons with the Pacers — becomes the second player on their current roster to be named an All-Star, following Oladipo's selection in 2018. While not a highlight-producing performer along the lines of Oladipo, Sabonis has excelled with rugged consistency and unique versatility that don't show in the stat lines. He plays about an equal amount of time with the starters and reserves and defends both centers and forwards.

Still, the numbers are good. He averages 18 points, fourth-tenths of a point behind T.J. Warren's team-leading average. His shooting percentage (53.5) leads the team as does his rebounding average (12.8), which ranks sixth in the NBA. What sets him apart from most centers, however, is his passing ability. Often place in the middle of the Pacers' halfcourt offense, he averages 4.8 assists, third on the team behind point guards Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. McConnell.

He ranks third in the NBA in double-doubles, one behind Detroit's Andre Drummond and Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo. His two triple-doubles are the second-most among centers, behind Denver's Nikola Jokic (nine).

Sabonis is primarily a grinder, a player who scores mostly around the basket with a throwback post-up game. That style isn't likely to attract the votes of fans on an All-Star ballot, but it certainly impresses coaches. Chicago's Jim Boylen was the latest to offer praise before Wednesday's game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, when Sabonis scored 15 points, grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and passed out five assists.

"What people don't realize about him is his physicality," Boylen said. "He's extremely physical. He wears you down. He gets to that left hand and it's very difficult to handle him."

All true, but what a lot of people also don't realize is that Sabonis is a bit undersized for his position. He weighs 240 pounds, which is 40 pounds less than the likes of Drummond and Philadelphia's Joel Embiid and 20-30 pounds less than most starting centers. He pays a price for mixing it up with bigger bodies, and it can be measured by the scars on his upper body.

Sabonis might not ever become as highly regarded internationally as his father Arvydas, one of the game's all-time great centers and a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, but now he'll always have something on Dad. He's an NBA All-Star, something Arvydas didn't achieve as a 30-plus member of the Portland Trail Blazers in seven seasons at the end of his career.

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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

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