Spurs Can Accelerate Rebuild With This Trade for Domantas Sabonis
By Ethan Farina
High-upside players and plenty of 1st round draft picks help Indiana rebuild
The players Indiana would be getting in this deal — Derrick White, Lonnie Walker, Keldon Johnson, and Jalen Smith, are an interesting bunch. A blend of stability, a young star, and some still unproven talent that has yet to realize its potential. Of the four, Johnson would clearly have the greatest value to the Pacers, but each brings Indiana something.
Olympic Gold Medalist Keldon Johnson is well regarded around the league, as he should be. The third-year wing is what I think you would get if you put the Energizer Bunny on a rigorous workout plan and forced him to drink nothing but Bang Energy drinks for the duration of an NBA game.
His non-stop energy and continual willingness to attack translate to plenty of points near the rim. He's getting 37 percent of his shots within five feet of the cup and converting on an impressive 52 percent of his looks from that distance. He's averaging 0.75 points per drive this season, higher than more renowned slashers such as Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and even Kevin Durant.
A fascinating development for Johnson has been the improvement of his 3-point shot. After a slow start, he's started to heat up. He's canning 50 percent of his looks from deep over the past 10 games and is up to 41 percent from behind the arc for the season. I don't expect that 50 percent rate to be sustainable, but if Johnson can continue to shoot in the upper 30's from behind the arc, it'll force defenders to treat him as a threat from behind the arc and open up plenty of opportunities for him to attack closeouts and get cleaner looks at the rim.
White and Walker both fall into the bucket of "intriguing but not overly compelling" as it relates to this particular deal. White is already 27 and might be reaching the ceiling of his abilities as a player. He had a rough start to the season but is averaging a smooth line of 16.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game over his last ten games while still playing stellar defense. He ranks 3rd among all guards in blocks and while he's not quite the pickpocket that DJ is, he's still managed to accumulate 26 steals on the season.
Lonnie....where to begin. Spurs fans have been waiting for Walker to unlock his tremendous potential for four seasons now and we still haven't seen him reach the ceiling we thought he had when the Spurs picked him in the 2018 NBA Draft.
He's made improvements as a defender and facilitator but his scoring hasn't improved in a meaningful way. Still, he remains an intriguing player. One that the Pacers could effectively try out for the remainder of the season while they could weigh whether or not to try to re-sign him this summer when he will hit free agency for the first time in his carer.
The real get for Indiana here is the three first-round picks. It's difficult to predict where the Spurs '22 pick will end up being if they added the players in this deal, but as it stands today, they look like they'll be picking within the top-ten, a position that could get further entrenched if the Pacers decide to hold out on any deal for their stars until closer to the trade deadline.
Additional first-round picks in 2024 and 2025 give Indiana even more bites at the apple as they look to the next iteration of their team.
As for Phoenix, they get Thad Young out of this and hardly have to give up anything in return. It's not as if the Suns need to rock the boat at all. They're tied for the best record in the league after all. But their frontcourt could use some depth. Deandre Ayton looked worn out by the end of the Finals last season and adding a versatile big man such as Young could help elevate their offense even further while giving them additional depth in case they run into Milwaukee in the Finals again.
There you have it. The Spurs get the stars they need to get back to the playoffs, the Pacers receive some intriguing players, a young star, and three first-round picks, and the Suns come away with a skilled veteran to add to their frontcourt as they pursue their first NBA Championship. Everyone's a winner in this one.