Sports Illustrated has been releasing a slew of projections for the upcoming college basketball season including a list of their top 50 freshmen. The WCC has one player on the list as Domantas Sabonis of Gonzaga comes in at #32. Sabonis is projected to put up 8.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs in his first season in college basketball after coming over from Spain where he played for Unicaja Malaga.
The projections are based around high schools stats and rankings, so the article makes a point to mention that it’s more difficult with Sabonis being an international prospect. He was left off most rankings lists as a result, but according to the article scouts project him as a four star recruit. They also highlight his superior rebounding ability based on his closest games comparable to high school games in the Under-18 European Championships. His projected 8.1 rebounds per game is third-best among freshmen on the list.
At first glance, the numbers for Sabonis seem very ambitious. These are the numbers of a near full-time player, and even the projection itself doesn’t see Sabonis as a full-time player. To get more accurate numbers, the projection places each player in the context of their team to get a percentage of minutes each freshman will play. For Sabonis they have him at 62% of his team’s minutes. At barely over half would have to put up s0me very impressive production to average those numbers in those limited minutes.
Not only are the numbers high for his limited minutes, where is Sabonis going to find these minutes as a freshman? At 62% Sabonis would be playing a bit over 2o minutes per game. Last year just six players averaged over 20 minutes per game for Gonzaga, and just one was a bench player. Sabonis is not a projected starter for a deep Bulldogs roster, and they have even more depth than last year. So not only does Sabonis need to play at an elite level to match these numbers in limited minutes, it’s hard to believe he even gets enough minutes to match the amount the projection thinks he needs.
Sabonis is good, arguably the best incoming freshman in the WCC. But these numbers are quality numbers for an upperclassmen starting full-time. To expect a freshman playing part-time minutes to put up these numbers, even one as good as Sabonis, seems a bit of a stretch. If he hits the ground running there’s room to pick up more minutes, but SI may have reached a bit here. Perhaps they don’t like the transfers like Kyle Wiltjer as much as we do, but with the Bulldogs trying to win now the experienced players will get the first shot to carry the team.
While he has a great career ahead of him and will be a major piece of the Bulldogs rotation in the future, how he stacks up against the other freshmen will be interesting to see. Will his extensive international experience make up for a lack of minutes, or is he still a year or two away from being a big-time impact player? The projection says the time is now, but we will have to wait and see.