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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Former Gonzaga star Domantas Sabonis working way up NBA ranks

Jan. 27, 2019 Updated Mon., Jan. 28, 2019 at 12 a.m.

The only thing that’s changed is the uniform.

Domantas Sabonis roams the court, setting concrete screens, collecting rebounds, taking high-percentage shots, dunking followed by an occasional Sabonis flex/snarl.

Just like his two seasons at Gonzaga.

Sabonis has 20 double-doubles, tied with former Oklahoma City teammate Steven Adams for 18th in the NBA. Sabonis, however, averages 25.2 minutes compared to Adams’ 34.2. The top 48 in double-doubles all average more playing time than Sabonis.

Sabonis has shown substantial growth in his game during his second season with Indiana and third in the NBA. The 6-foot-10 forward’s stats – 14.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists – are even more impressive factoring in his per-minute production.

The league has noticed. He’s being mentioned as a candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man and Most Improved Player awards. He was 17th in the All-Star voting for the Eastern Conference frontcourt.

Keep in mind he’s 22 years old.

“It’s not surprising to me because I know how hard he plays and how tough he is,” said Riccardo Fois, Gonzaga’s coordinator of analytics.

Fois is more than just an interested spectator; he spends part of August in Los Angeles helping Sabonis with his offseason training. Sabonis’ insatiable work ethic at GU was legendary during nightly sessions at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Nothing has changed during his NBA career.

“He always trusts the process. He’s a guy that loves the process,” Fois said. “He doesn’t get focused on the individual prize, he wants the team to win. I know it’s cliché, but he’s literally that guy. His answer is to work harder and get better.

“Outside of the court, he’s a sweet, simple guy. When he gets on the court, he has a crazy fire and desire for greatness.”

Sabonis had a rocky first season with Oklahoma City. He was a starter but often was stationed outside the 3-point arc while Russell Westbrook assembled one of the greatest statistical seasons in NBA history.

Sabonis began to blossom after being traded along with Victor Oladipo to the Pacers for Paul George in June 2017. Sabonis averaged 11.6 points and 7.7 rebounds last season. His shooting percentage soared from 39.9 to 51.4.

Sabonis is hitting 61.6 percent of his shots this season. He’s attempted 46 3-pointers as a Pacer compared to 159 in his lone year with the Thunder.

“He’s a great observer and learner. He sees things and I’m sure he learned a lot with Oklahoma City,” Fois said. “Going to Indiana, he found his role and team chemistry. Everybody is similar and looking for revenge, a young ambitious team.

“There’s a lot of similarities (to Gonzaga). He’s involved, he has the ball in his hands, gets into pick-and-roll.”

Sabonis is all business on the court, whether it’s an August shooting session at a high school gym in L.A. or a late January road game in Memphis.

He constantly works on his post moves, dribbling and shooting. He’s diligent in the weight room and spends hours improving his flexibility. He watches his diet closely.

Fois is happy to lend a helping hand.

“That’s what I tell people and I tell him, too,” Fois said. “I go with him to do shooting or training in the summer, but he could go with anybody. The secret is him and he would find a way to get better.”

Here’s an update on former Zags in the NBA:

Kelly Olynyk’s playing time has dropped recently in his second year with Miami. He’s averaging 8.8 points and 4.1 rebounds after posting career-bests of 11.5 and 5.7 last season as a part-time starter.

Olynyk’s minutes (19.6), field-goal percentage (43.7) and 3-point percentage (32.4) are career lows.

Zach Collins has posted incremental gains in his second season with Portland. The 7-footer’s per-game averages are up across the board from his rookie campaign:

Minutes: 18.6 (15.8 last year). Points: 7.0 (4.4). Rebounds: 4.3 (3.3). Field-goal percentage: 48.2 (39.8). Three-point percentage: 34.5 (31.0). Free-throw percentage: 79.5 (64.3).

Johnathan Williams, who is on a two-way contract, has played 89 minutes in seven games, six at the outset of the season, with the Los Angeles Lakers. He’s averaging 3.3 points and three rebounds.

Williams is producing 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game for the G League South Bay Lakers. He averages 28.5 minutes, shoots 53.8 percent from the field and 42.9 at the foul line, and blocks 1.1 shots per game.

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