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Gonzaga Basketball

Double Domantas: Gonzaga product Sabonis racking up NBA double-doubles at a historic pace

Sacramento center Domantas Sabonis goes after a loose ball during a game last week against Atlanta.  (Tribune News Service)
By Stephen Hunt The Spokesman-Review

DALLAS – Domantas Sabonis is churning out double-doubles faster than an In-N-Out Burger.

After the Sacramento big man totaled 17 points and 11 rebounds in a 120-115 victory at Dallas on Saturday, he followed up with a 20-point, 26-rebound effort in the Kings’ 103-94 win at Memphis on Monday – his 28th straight double-double game.

Only basketball superstar Oscar Robertson, who had 31 straight double-doubles in 1961 and 29 consecutive double-doubles, a streak starting in 1961 and extending into 1962, has had a longer streak in Kings franchise history. Robertson accomplished his feats when the franchise played as the Cincinnati Royals.

In 44 games with Sacramento this season, Sabonis, 27, a three-time NBA All-Star, is averaging 19.9 points, 13 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game.

He’s had 41 double-double games this season and his 26 boards on Monday made him just the 11th player in franchise history – and second in the Sacramento era (Chris Webber was the other) – to grab more than 25 rebounds in a game.

Since being traded from Indiana to Sacramento in spring 2022, the ex-Gonzaga player has proved a great fit, helping the Kings reach the NBA playoffs in 2023 for the first time in 16 seasons, which had been the longest active playoff drought in pro sports.

The Kings fell in the first round to the Warriors in seven games, but the organization liked what they’d seen from the big guy so much that they inked him to a five-year, $217 million extension in July , making him the highest-paid Lithuanian athlete in history.

“Oh yeah, I’m excited (to be here),” Sabonis said. “They trusted me to come in and change the franchise. Every player loves a challenge. It’s been really great for me.”

The Kings are the third NBA team for which he’s played. After the Orlando Magic drafted him 11th overall in 2016, he was traded to the Thunder on draft night. After one season in Oklahoma City, he was dealt to Indiana in 2017 and spent five seasons with the Pacers before the trade nearly two seasons ago.

Before he followed in his father’s footsteps into the NBA, Sabonis spent two seasons at Gonzaga. In 2015, he earned a spot on the West Coast Conference All-Freshman Team and the following season was a first-team All-WCC selection before forgoing his final two collegiate seasons to head to the professional ranks.

Sabonis said the busy life of an NBA player has precluded him from keeping close tabs on the Zags this season but has no doubt his former program will right the ship and quickly return to national prominence.

“I haven’t seen much. I’ve been off social media this year,” Sabonis said. “I know they did fall out of the Top 25 for the first time in a long time, but I’m confident in coach Few and his staff. They’re going to get it together. We had a rough year my sophomore year and we made the tourney and the Sweet 16, so I’m not worried about it.”

In his eighth NBA season, Sabonis has developed a well-deserved reputation as one of the league’s most versatile players, someone who can score, rebound and dish out a key assist when needed. For Kings head coach Mike Brown, however, there is one underrated aspect of Sabonis’ impressive skill set which he feels doesn’t get its proper due.

“As crazy as it sounds, he’s a really, really good passer,” Brown said. “I don’t think anybody really appreciates how good of a passer he is. It has a lot to do with real small or subtle things.

“(He thinks) ‘OK, when I give it up, how can I put the ball in a position so this guy can get a good look? Or, when do I need to give it up based off of how the defender’s playing and how my teammate is moving?’ What he does is extremely impressive. People just look at it as an assist, oh, he’s a good passer, but there are a lot of little subtleties that go into him passing the ball that makes it really, really beautiful, makes it art for a guy that’s that big.”

Sabonis takes such a compliment to heart, especially coming from Brown, a well-respected member of the NBA coaching community as a two-time NBA Coach of the Year. Brown has been an assistant for four NBA champions, the most recent being Golden State in 2022.

“Yeah, I’m all about team first,” Sabonis said. “I just want to make sure the team wins, so I just play aggressive and make the right read. He (Brown) just lets us play our offense. It’s a loose offense and we just play the game.”

In Dallas on Saturday, Sabonis’ biggest highlight might have come after the final horn sounded. Once he got showered and had a bite to eat, he made his way back out to the court to do a meet-and-greet with about 100 members of the local Lithuanian community, many wearing the country’s trademark yellow and green jerseys.

Whether it was signing autographs, posing for pictures or just conversing with his Lithuanian brethren, it was clear he was truly in his element. Sabonis only returned to the court for about 15 minutes, but the impact he made on those who came out to see him play will be felt for years to come.

Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.