Clippers NBA Draft 2016: Can L.A. steal Domantas Sabonis?


With some luck, the Los Angeles Clippers could get an absolute steal in the 2016 NBA Draft with big man Domantas Sabonis.

If there’s one player besides that illusive wing that the Los Angeles Clippers want to land in the 2016 NBA Draft, it’s a talented big man. The future of Cole Aldrich in L.A. is uncertain, as a potential free agent with a player option for 2016-17 and the chance of getting a reasonable pay rise if he goes elsewhere after playing so well in a supporting role this season. Perhaps the Clippers can bring him back or use their mid level exception on him, but either way, some added frontcourt depth would be a huge bonus. Which is exactly where a rookie like Domantas Sabonis (son of Hall of Fame center Arvydas Sabonis) of Gonzaga should catch their attention.

With so many notable big men prospects scattered throughout the first round, from a combo forward like Ben Simmons at the front to a fluid, agile seven-footer like Dragan Bender, there are plenty of eye-catching prospects in this year’s draft. And even when moving towards the Clippers’ range in the mid 20s, the host of other bigs gives Doc Rivers some hope that maybe a name of interest could slide down to his first pick at 25th overall.

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Sabonis is such an exciting prospect for multiple reasons, which is why some luck to keep him available may well be needed for the Clippers. At 6’10”, Sabonis made his mark on offense with his impressive post game, navigating past defenders with crisp footwork and finishing well through contact, always having his reliable hook shot to fall back on whenever necessary.

With such skill, he shot a ridiculous 67 percent on post-ups this season. That kind of ability would be of great benefit to the Clippers’ backup guards who often struggle creating penetration or interior scoring. Yes, Sabonis will need time to develop his skill set and expand his fairly limited range against the superior athleticism and length of the NBA, but he’s only just getting started at barely 20 years old.

After averaging 17.6 points on 61.1 percent shooting this season, there’s no doubt how gifted he is on offense, despite using a skill set that’s rare in big men these days. Although, perhaps given his lack of a three-point shot (only five makes from deep this season and a fairly mild mid-range game, too), NBA teams who are solely searching for hyper athletes or bigs who can step out behind the arc may overlook someone like Sabonis, causing him to drop a few spots towards the Clippers.

On top of the touch and skill in the post, not to mention his solid agility at 6’10”, Sabonis’ excellent success and physicality on the boards could make a real difference to the Clippers’ ranking of 29th in rebounding rate. After averaging 11.8 rebounds per game this season (1st in the West Coast Conference), he certainly proved his ability on the glass. And along with his scoring, such an impact allowed Sabonis to record an exceptional PER of 29.3 and 7.5 win shares (both good enough for 1st in the WCC).

The best part about Sabonis is that the Clippers may have a chance of landing him at the end of the first round with the 25th pick (they also have the 33rd pick to kick off the second round). All it takes is for him to slide a few spots below some current projections.

For instance, notable mock drafts from Sports Illustrated and the experts over at DraftExpress both have Sabonis falling to the Detroit Pistons at 18th.

If Doc wants a guy like Sabonis, he isn’t too far away.

March 8, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Domantas Sabonis (11) cuts the net against the Saint Mary’s Gaels after the game in the finals of the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
March 8, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Domantas Sabonis (11) cuts the net against the Saint Mary’s Gaels after the game in the finals of the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

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So, while it may be slightly wishful thinking for the Clippers, it certainly isn’t out the realm of possibility that Sabonis could slide down a few spots to 25th. If he doesn’t workout for countless teams and his traditional post style isn’t quite as intriguing to some organizations, perhaps Doc will realize his opportunity to hit a potential home-run pick and bring Sabonis to Los Angeles.

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While the Clippers will need to keep all their fingers crossed that Sabonis is still available towards the end of the first round, there’s an awful lot about him to like that could make him an immediate feature towards the end of the team’s rotation. Whether Aldrich is signed or not, Sabonis could receive minutes to save the likes of Paul Pierce and Jeff Green playing so much undersized small ball at power forward, as Sabonis is thoroughly capable of playing at both big man positions.

And as the impact of Aldrich revealed over the latter stages of this season, the Clippers were far more successful with a typical big off the bench rather than constant super small lineups, who were destroyed in the paint and on the boards even more.

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If he can be combined with Aldrich or simply come in with some low minutes as a new type of offensive option and rebounding machine, Domantas Sabonis could be the ideal rookie big man for the Clippers.