Why Arvydas Sabonis was Nikola Jokić ahead of his time
UNDERRATED

Why Arvydas Sabonis was Nikola Jokić ahead of his time

When you hear the last name Sabonis in today’s NBA, most younger fans will instantly think of the Domantas, the tremendous young Pacers big man who is already a 2x All-Star on his way to building a great career. But every old-school basketball will firstly think of his father, Arvydas Sabonis, who was one of the best basketball players of his era and a true legend of Lithuanian basketball.

Unfortunately, NBA fans didn’t get the chance to see Sabonis in all of his glory, as he spent his prime playing in Europe, coming over to the NBA as a banged-up 31-year old center. But even though he was from his best days, Sabonis still held his own and managed to display what kind of generational talent he was. At 7’3” and with his skillset, Arvydas was impossible to stop. He didn’t have the athletic ability from early on in his career, but at 280 lbs, nobody could move him out of the paint.

The combination of size, strength, and skill allowed Sabonis to play great basketball even in his 30’s, as he managed to play 7 seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers before eventually retiring. In his whole NBA career, Sabonis would average 12.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, and 2.1 apg, but those numbers didn’t tell the entire story, as injuries and age eventually forced him to play less.

Those Blazers teams are remembered to this day as some of the most talented and problematic teams ever, as we recently interviewed Walt Williams, who was a vital part of those Portland teams alongside Sabonis. Walt shared his admiration for Arvydas’s game and versatility:

“You talk about Sabonis, man he was incredible…I would challenge he probably couldn’t jump over a telephone book, but his talent level was so unreal, like his hook shot, he had such a consistent hook shot, over the left shoulder, he can turn right shoulder, the drop step, he was so big, and his fundamentals were unbelievable. He could shoot from three on a high level like a guard.”

Walt Williams, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network

Williams would go on and ecstatically describe Sabonis’s best ability, his passing. As Walt managed to get many easy buckets of Sabonis’s passes, he obviously loved that part of his game, as Walt even put him above the current MVP Nikola Jokić in that sense. Pretty big compliment considering “The Joker” is also regarded as one of the best passers ever:

“But the best thing about Sabonis was his ability to pass that ball, man oh my goodness, he can pass that ball. They talk about the Joker now in Denver. Oh nah, he perils in comparison to the way Sabonis passes that ball. Sabonis was unbelievable at passing that ball. And a guy like me that liked to shoot all the time, I just was running all around trying to get open because I knew when he was going get double-teamed, and he would definetly find over the head, behind the back bounce passes, cross-court passes, over the head. He could see the floor, cutters cutting to the basket, unbelievable!”

Walt Williams, 1-ON-1 with Basketball Network

The Jokić-Sabonis comparison is valid, as the two big men have a lot of similar moves and skills in their bag. Strong centers with a great understating of the game, getting their whole team involved and dominating in the paint with their soft touch, alongside having the ability to shoot from outside. The only difference is that Sabonis did that in his older age, while Jokić grew up in the NBA and is currently in his best years. 

If Sabonis played in his prime, with the added athletic ability, he could have been even better than Jokić right now. Especially in today’s NBA that has so much more spacing and offensive talent. It’s a shame we never got the chance to see Sabonis in full power at the NBA level. That would have been a scary sight to see.