While you may have watched playoff basketball featuring many former 76ers this week, did you know there are actually playoff basketball games featuring a future Sixer going on? Dario Saric and Anadolu Efes are trailing 2-1 in a best-of-five series in the Euroleague Playoffs against Real Madrid. After its Tuesday win, Efes gets one more day to save its season, and Sixers diehards get at least one more shot at watching the Homie Dario, and also more time to project how his game could translate to Brett Brown's team.
Saric posted 10.3 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 1.7 APG and 1.0 SPG in 26.4 MPG during this series, shooting 33.3% from the field (6/18), 33.3% from deep (4/12) and 70.0% from the line (7/10). His shooting percentages in this small sample aren't impressive but only tell part of the story of Saric's play. To tell the whole story, we need some video, showing off his strengths and weaknesses.
The Point Forward
Saric should contribute as a passer right away in the NBA, using his 6'10" frame to see the entirety of the court and peer over defenders, while combining that physical profile with excellent basketball IQ and awareness. Here's a moment from Efes' Game 1 loss against Madrid, as Saric whips a pass to the perimeter, executing quick, decisive ball movement that Brett Brown will surely love:
The Sixers finished eighth in assist rate (60.9%) as a team this past season, per NBA stats, despite having a revolving door of players at point guard, and finished fourth in total passes per game despite having Michael Carter-Williams on the roster for exactly half of the team's games. It's clear that Brown wants to institute a system that relies on crisp passes. Saric's innate court vision looks to be an easy fit there.
More than just his passing ability, Saric has the ball-handling skills to capably run an offensive system, knowing when to push the tempo and get running. Saric is not a great athlete, but he makes up for it with hustle and smarts. Here, from yesterday, he bursts with the ball in his hand after a Madrid turnover, weaving through defenders and finishing at the rim:
He started yesterday's game, but spent the previous two games coming off the bench. That's not a huge reason for concern, as Saric is still quite young for European competition, turning 21 just this month. He's younger than anyone on Madrid and still played a lot off minutes effectively. Given the Sixers' assumed frontcourt of the future with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, that may be a role Saric continues to play and, ultimately, might be best suited for.
His ability to change the pace of the game as a primary distributor from the power forward position is not unlike Lamar Odom, an integral part of the Los Angeles Lakers teams that made three-straight NBA Finals from 2008-2010, winning the latter two, or like Josh Smith from last night. Brown is already studying film of that Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol starting frontcourt to see how he can best mesh Embiid and Noel, so he's likely already thought of different ways to deploy Saric best in Odom's role.
The Glass Grinder
While a flashy distributor, Saric also does the dirty work for Efes, diving on the floor for loose balls against Madrid and continuing to stay on the court despite getting his teeth knocked out back in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. That's not some Aaron Craft conjecture - Saric is fairly athletic. But he's tenacious and gets heated, maybe even a little too much, for instance when he was called for a technical foul back last week in Game 1 for mouthing off to the referees.
Other players and fans are going to hate him. Playoff battles with David West, Marcin Gortat and Nikola Mirotic are waiting to happen.
He displayed that tenacity when rebounding in his two most recent contests, grabbing nine and 15 boards (a career high) in the last two games, respectively. For someone who only averaged 4.5 rebounds per game (24.4 MPG) this season, that's a bit of anomaly, especially since he grabbed 18 total offensive rebounds over the course of the two games. It looks to be more than just luck too, as Saric anticipated missed shot attempts while positioning himself perfectly to either get a quick put-back bucket or get fouled.
Here are three examples of Saric crashing the offensive glass, with the first two plays coming from Game 2 against Madrid and the last one coming from Game 3:
Saric knew where these shots would fall when they're off-target, and he smartly took advantage. Saric is only listed at 220 lbs - if he's to play heavy minutes at the four in the NBA, he'll have to rely on outsmarting opposing rebounders like he does here rather than overpowering them.
Joining a Sixers squad that ranked 12th in offensive rebounding rate (25.5%) in 2014-15 due to the mid-season additions of Thomas Robinson (15.2%) and Furkan Aldemir (14.3%), Saric could fill in as a guy who enjoys banging on the boards, considering that T-Rob and Furkan may not be in Philly longterm.
The Stretch Four
Saric's shot from beyond the arc just isn't there yet, making only 31.1% (on just 61 attempts) of his treys with Efes during the regular season. If he's lacking in strength as a power forward as seen above, he needs to be making that up as an outside threat who can provide floor spacing. His inconsistency on threes has shown during the playoffs. When Saric makes it, his form looks clean and repeatable. It just doesn't happen nearly enough, not yet anyway. Here are two of his makes from this series:
Those are nice looks, though he wasn't heavily guarded. The defender in the first doesn't challenge Saric too seriously, while the second three comes with a closeout defender sprinting to Saric too late. His stroke did ultimately look good, though it seemed rushed at the beginning of games before settling down later on.
Saric impersonated Allen Iverson with a step-back jumper yesterday, complete with a shooting sleeve gracing his arm:
If only he could've stepped over Andres Nocioni's confused and disgruntled corpse after...
Most NBA bigs are more athletic and better defenders than Gustavo Ayon, but Saric being able to put the ball on the floor and beat players off the dribble like this could end up being a viable offensive option for the Sixers, as Dario stretches the floor for either Embiid or Noel.
The Iso Defender
While I'm very high on Saric's NBA potential, I'm not nearly as bullish on him as a wing player as I am as a point power forward who defends power forwards. His defense could be a major problem if he spends significant time at the three, due to a lack of lateral quickness. Here's him letting the corpse of Andres Nocioni, the one Doug Collins started at times over a rookie Evan Turner back in 2010-11, own him (warning: hide small children from viewing such violence):
It looks like Nocioni is getting away with a bit of an offensive foul there, but, man, it doesn't matter in that situation. It's just hard to defend his defense there. If Nocioni and anyone of his athletic caliber is beating him laterally like that, even on a close out, Dario's defense is a huge question mark despite his consistent effort. Nocioni also knocked out Saric's teeth on this play AGAIN. He's the same player who knocked them out back in the World Cup. Anyone know a good dentist for him when he comes to Philly?
He did look better at times, though. In one of the few situations where Saric found himself in one-on-one defense on the perimeter, he actually managed quite well, especially against Rudy Fernandez, a 30-year-old former NBA wing. Saric switches onto Fernandez here:
Saric forces him to take an off-kilter fadeaway and Dario even recovers quickly enough to grab the defensive rebound. That's a bit relieving after watching Nocioni smash a dunk in his grill. In the Sixers' excellent defensive scheme that calls for players to constant switch on pick n' roll plays, Saric's height fits what Brett Brown wants to do, and more plays like this could go far in instilling confidence that he could adequately switch between covering both forward spots and wing players in an NBA system.
His defense overall, because of his motor, isn't bad. He doesn't lack hustle and always gets back in transition.
Saric and Efes face another elimination game on Thursday at 1 p.m. EST against Madrid (which you can watch on Euroleague TV, a $10/month subscription service). It could be one last chance to get a glimpse of him in live action for a few months, leaving Sixers fans daydreaming all summer about him whipping passes to Robert Covington for three in a playoff game or banging on the boards against Jabari Parker in a national Sunday afternoon contest.