It's hard to imagine that it was even in the realm of possibility Dario Saric wouldn't play on Thursday, but after being sat for Anadolu Efes first two games (leading to a tirade from his father), anything seemed feasible. But Saric was in the starting five for Efes in their first Euroleague game against Unics Kazan, and played admirably in the team's 82-76 victory. He finished with nine points (4-6 FG), three rebounds, and three assists in just under 22 minutes of action.
He started off his day with a real smooth jump shot from just inside three point range, a nice sign of what is (hopefully) to come. His offensive highlight of the day came on an ISO play from the top of the key, where Saric made a pretty spin move and finished at the rim with his left hand. Saric wasn't used as a point forward often(and frankly, his usage in general was low), but continues to show he has the potential to make it work.
His court vision is extremely impressive, and his ability to find open teammates is second to none. He constantly keeps his head up, and is pretty remarkable as a stationary passer. Saric also dishes it well on the break too, but his chances to show that part of his skill set off were pretty limited. Regardless, I'm very excited to see what he can do as a passer out of the corner. With the the Sixers seemingly dedicated to keeping Noel at the four, he'll have a ton of scoring opportunities courtesy of Dario, if he learns to slash from the foul line.
Kazan actually tried to target Saric a little bit defensively, as their usage of the pick & roll left Dario stuck guarding the main ball handler. Despite a speed deficiency, he did a tremendous job keeping the guards in front of him, which he can attribute to real solid foot work. The couple of times they were able to get around him, Saric did a real good job keeping his hands up and altering shots.
Rebounding was a struggle for basically all of the game. Kazan had forward Kostas Kaimakoglou defending him, a tactically smart move because not only did he give Saric fits at the FIBA World Cup while playing for Greece, he's also built like a Pro Bowl linebacker. Dario had a tough time establishing position, barely even attempting to box out.
The worst part of his game against Kazan was probably his defense of perimeter shooters. He gave them a ton of space, and for whatever didn't get his hands up at all; odd because he was so good about that when it came to defending players on the drive. Saric is bigger and stronger than most of the competition he's going to face up against, so he really needs to put that to his advantage when defending out to the three-point line.
Overall, a really solid all-around effort for the Croatian. It's incredible to think he can be this effective at the tender age of twenty.
Efes is back in Euroleague action October 24th as they travel to take on Dinamo Banco di Sardegna Sassari.