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Sixers Overseas Film Room: Saric in Year Two

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Where the 21 year-old Croatian has improved, and still needs work, as momentum builds for his jump to the NBA.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Year Two with Anadolu Efes has been a roller coaster of sorts for Sixers 2014 lottery pick Dario Saric. His productivity has been higher than ever on the floor this season, but head coach Dusan Ivkovic put a knife to his minutes starting in late October, limiting him to just 10-12 minutes a night. Guard Thomas Heurtel was riding a hot streak and swingman Bryant Dunston had all but assumed Saric's secondary ball-handling role with the first unit.

Now, he's back in his starting role and we're in a better position to evaluate how his game has progressed. And with momentum seemingly building for his Philadelphia debut in the fall of 2016 - although I would urge you all to take everything said with a grain of salt until he's sitting next to Sam Hinkie at his introductory presser - it's time we start trying to better understand his game.

The Steadily Improving Jump Shot

Much has been made of the necessity that The Homie Dario (TM) develop a reliable outside game to complement whichever of the twelve lottery centers he's playing with by the time he comes stateside. Well, he's made marked improvement on that front as a jump-shooter with his feet set, which should ease his transition into playing with Joelilens Okabiidel.

I know you want to see him draining off-the-dribble triples in the face of Alessandro Gentile. But baby steps, people. Having the time and space did him a favor here, but this was the first time I've seen him with his feet set so perfectly off the catch and a release this quick in one fluid motion.

This is another encouraging example of Saric having the aggression to shoot the ball. He definitely doesn't command the respect yet shooting from the outside, but last year you'd see him pass up a lot of these looks. The release was slower here, and who knows if he can get that off against NBA length, but seeing him look to make defenses pay when they dare him to shoot is a legitimate development we haven't seen from him.

Saric is now converting on 39.5 percent of his threes this season on over 2.5 attempts per game. They've largely been in-rhythm catch-and-shoot opportunities, and that's all he'll really need to do in what his role would likely be here - i.e., a secondary ball-handler and supporting offensive cast member.

This doesn't make him anywhere near a lock to shoot the three that effectively at the next level, given that the FIBA three-point line is more than a foot and a half closer to the basket than the NBA three-point arc is. But it gives you an idea of his expanding range, which is something to get reasonably excited about from a player who shot under 33 percent from distance last season.

The Increasingly Worrisome Defense

This is something that could prove to be a bit disconcerting going forward. Physically is not where Saric should struggle at the NBA level. He moves incredibly well for his size, and I think his ability to move his feet and laterally defend gets a bad rap. Plus, above all else, he works his tail off. His instincts are just not there, and he often gets caught ball-watching, which not only leads to him over-helping, but he gets beat backdoor and loses his man too much.

Efes switches on most ball screens and lots of cuts too, so to see Saric struggling with his awareness in a system predicated on being aware is a tad unsettling.

Here, he gets caught ball-watching and misses the switch onto the cutter who ends up with an open floater.

In this instance Saric rushes to contest the three from his man off of the inbounds pass, but it looks like he misreads the help coming from teammate Jayson Granger (No. 15). He completely abandons the shooter after the contest, ostensibly expecting the switch onto Granger's man, who's about to cut backdoor. Instead, Thomas Heurtel has to scramble to try to close out on the shot at the last second (at the risk of being beaten backdoor himself now, if the shooter makes the extra pass), and Saric's man drains the three.

This is only a couple examples of some bad reads he's made of late. It's at least a little encouraging how hard he tries to work on the defensive end, and again, I think the mobility concerns are way overblown. But if he and Jahlil Okafor ever share a front-court together, that may be some, erm, questionable defensive awareness.

But Don't Worry, He Can Still Create

Don't look at his assist numbers and make the assumption that his ability to create for others isn't there. His no-look dimes at EuroBasket got everyone riled up, but that's not the type of passer he really is. He's not initiating pick-and-rolls, or even driving and probing so much in the way that T.J. McConnell gets his bread and butter.

Saric is fantastic at reading the defense, knowing where the help is coming from and using his size and vision to find the open man. Similar to Okafor's ability to pass out of the paint, he usually racks up more hockey assists.

Ok, sure, wacky assists under intense pressure are cool too.

In all seriousness, as you'll see in the first clip, he has the potential to be a real weapon as the screener in short rolls. His combination of size, mobility and vision as a playmaking four could give him some of the gravity Draymond Green has in those types of situations rolling with the ball in his hands. He just needs to show consistency as a threat from deep and/or on the pull-up from mid-range.

Other Notes

  • Saric is super active on the defensive glass. He's a textbook rebounder - (usually) boxes out, and is really, really physical. He's grabbing about 5.8 boards per game in 21 minutes (9.9 per 36 minutes).
  • A contributing factor to his sub-optimal and inconsistent playing time his foul trouble, which I touched on here. Part of it is again, how physical he is on both ends, which I can't overstate (seriously, Philadelphia is going to be obsessed with this guy). Another part is smarts. This is characteristic of young bigs in the NCAA, so it's not totally shocking to see this development in a professional league with grown men.