The Indiana Pacers are wrapping up the last few practices before the regular season.
INDIANAPOLIS – Domantas Sabonis of the Indiana Pacers keeps his father awake at night, but for good reason.
When the Pacers play at 7 p.m., it’s 1 a.m. in Lithuania. That is where Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis lives, as president of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation.
The older Sabonis has NBA League Pass, so he can watch his son play when most people in his country are sleeping. That is what fathers do. After Domantas had another impressive performance (12 points, 13 rebounds) in the Pacers’ final preseason game, he checked his cellphone in the locker room. A congratulatory text from his father was waiting.
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“It was even worse for him when I was in college,” said a smiling Sabonis, who attended Gonzaga. “That was a nine-hour time difference.”
His father’s devotion was expected, but Sabonis has also impressed his new Pacers teammates. He was the Pacers’ most consistent player during the four-game preseason, impacting games off the bench as a scorer, rebounder and defender at power forward or center.
As the Pacers prepare to open the 2017-18 season at home against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, expect Sabonis to play extended minutes off the bench. He is more than just the “other guy” in the trade that also brought starting guard Victor Oladipo to the Pacers, in exchange for star forward Paul George.
Join Insider Clifton Brown and host Jim Ayello as they discuss the upcoming Pacers’ season and make their predictions.
Sabonis will help the Pacers this season. And at age 21, his best should be yet to come.
“He definitely surprised me, I definitely underestimated him,” said Pacers guard Lance Stephenson. “He’s showing a lot.”
Coach Nate McMillan already views Sabonis as a steadying influence, despite his youth.
“I think he’s a solid player, I really like him,” McMillan said. “He just brings a calmness to the game when he’s out on the floor. Handling the ball, setting screens. He’s making good decisions once he catches the ball. His basketball IQ is very high. I think he just makes players better because he understands the game.”
Sabonis will have more opportunity to showcase his game than he did last year, as a rookie playing for Oklahoma City. The Thunder centered around guard Russell Westbrook, who dominated the ball and averaged a triple-double on his way to winning the NBA’s most valuable player award. Sabonis averaged 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds, but with the Pacers, he said he looks forward to having a larger role.
“I’ve felt comfortable from Day 1 here,” said Sabonis, who was born in Portland, Ore., when his father was playing for the Trail Blazers. “Everyone’s been nice. Everyone’s been trying to help me. I love it here. The city’s great, people are nice, fans are awesome. I can’t wait until our first game.”
After being traded to Indiana on July 6, Sabonis spent the remainder of the summer in Indianapolis, working out with a group of other Pacers. Sabonis and Stephenson bonded quickly, finding chemistry running the pick-and-roll.
“We just know how to read off each other,” said Sabonis, who learned some pick-and-roll nuances from his father. “He always said, ‘If you set a good screen, then you’re going to be open.’’’
Sabonis admitted running the pick-and-roll with the unpredictable Stephenson is more challenging. Stephenson has been known to deliver passes when teammates are not expecting it.
“At first I had a couple that hit me in the head,” Sabonis said. “If the play’s not finished, look at Lance, because he might pass it.”
Stephenson loved running the pick-and-roll with former Pacers backup center Kevin Seraphin, but has found a new buddy with Sabonis.
“I don’t know what it is with me and big men,” Stephenson said. “They love playing with me. We figured out each other quick.”
The Orlando Magic selected Sabonis with the 11th pick in the 2016 draft, but he and Oladipo were traded to Oklahoma City on draft night. That was Sabonis’ first taste of how quickly things can change in the NBA. But he hopes to be part of the Pacers’ plans for years to come. He has already fallen in love with the team’s new St. Vincent Center practice facility, where he often works out after midnight.
“I like to take naps after practice,” said Sabonis. “Working out late works for me.”
Late nights run in the Sabonis family. But the Pacers like the results.
McMillan said forward Glenn Robinson III would require left ankle surgery. Robinson was injured early in training camp and was already expected to be out 6 to 8 weeks. But a re-examination this week revealed damage that needed to be surgically repaired. McMillan did not want to speculate on a timetable until after surgery.
“It’s a disappointment,” McMillan said. “We initially thought just a serious sprain. Now he has to have surgery. Until they go in and fix that, they really won’t have a timeframe. He’s disappointed with that and so are we. But it happens.”
Without Robinson available at shooting guard or small forward, Oladipo and Stephenson figure to log significant minutes, with veteran guard Damien Wilkins also part of the 10-man rotation.
Follow IndyStar Pacers Insider Clifton Brown on Twitter: @CliftonGBrown.