Amid debates about D'Angelo Russell and Mario Hezonja, as well as Sixers' fans dream of four first-round selections in the 2016 draft, lurks another talent to fit into made up, future lineups: Dario Saric. His Turkish Basketball League squad, Anadolu Efes, will play a series-ending Game 3 in the TBL quarterfinals this afternoon against Turk Telekom. Megalodon himself has been the most effective player from either team so far this round.
Saric's rebounding and court vision, as I've previously outlined, are his predominant abilities, bolstered by his constant hustle on the court as a 20-year-old (now 21) and his innate basketball IQ. He's flashed a streaky jump shot, hitting only 31.1% (61 attempts) of his treys during this past season. Saric's lack of athleticism, particularly evident in his one-on-one defense, along with that unreliable shot, form the biggest challenges Saric faces if/when he comes to the NBA.
Two games into the TBL playoffs, both weaknesses have been notably absent. Saric's averaged 26.0 MPG (two starts), 17.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 3.0 APG against Turk Telekom, while shooting 60.0% (15-25 FGs) from the field and 40% (4/10 3PAs) from deep.
Saric goes through hot and cold spells in terms of his three-point shooting. Maybe he just has the blessing of Lil' B at the moment because he's hitting his both open and contested looks this series. Here are three long-range makes from Saric:
In the first shot from Game 1, he takes the kick-out pass from Matt Janning and nails a simple spot-up three. Bang (I imagine Mike Breen announcing every important Sixers game in the future). Good form. Good shot. Three points. That's how he should be expecting his shot to work each time he releases the ball.
Saric grabs a quick offensive board later in Game 1 and then hits some fool with a little stutter step and step-back crossover before sinking the long two. Part of Saric's talent that I tend to lump in with his court vision and passing ability is his great handle with the ball. Being 6'10" and able to create his own jump shot timely is so valuable in the pace-and-space era, ideally as a point forward who can spread the floor while letting Joel Embiid or Nerlens Noel work inside.
Beyond just make his shots more frequently, Saric worked better off the ball in Game 2, keeping himself within the flow of the offense and rolling around the arc to catch, shoot and score seamlessly in that third shot. Saric seemed to contract Dion Waiters Syndrome at times during his first year with Efes, frequently standing beyond the three-point line while waving for his teammates to dish him the ball. That can be equally attributed to Saric's spotty shooting history and the unfortunate way younger players are discounted in an older European league (see: Mario Hezonja's playing time).
Good shooters don't just stand in the corner waiting for someone to hit them with a crisp pass and an open look. They have to work for their shots as well, constantly moving, fighting through screens and crossing along the baseline. This is why sharpshooters J.J. Redick, Bradley Beal and Kyle Korver all rank in the top eight in terms of miles traveled on the court per game in the playoffs according to NBA Stats. Saric will never be a shooter on those greats' level, but getting him to act like one sure helps.
Now checkout this clip of his work defensively against Turk Telekom in Game 1:
Saric locks all windows and doors here, moving well laterally in the post and staying with his man long enough to have another Efes defender help and strip the ball. Ben McCauley, a 28 year old from North Carolina State, surely isn't Zach Randolph. Hell, he's probably not even Henry Sims as a back-to-the-basket player, but seeing that Saric is working on facets of the game that are red flags and exerting the effort to correct them in the confines of his team's defensive scheme is welcoming.
He's able to keep a driving ball-handler coming from the perimeter in front of him, a move he struggled with in my breakdown last month, while then transitioning McCauley into an uncomfortable post move. If Saric is able to keep a forward in front of him, force that player towards help defenders like Noel and then have the latter's sticky fingers pry the ball loose, that works perfectly within Brett Brown's system of having multiple defenders with size on the court in order to force turnovers and run in transition.
Consistency is the key to Saric's evolution. He's displayed the ability to facilitate, launch triples, crash the boards, move well without the ball and, to a lesser degree, play adequately on defense. Those capabilities just don't always seem to happen within the same game. With Saric carrying Efes into the final game of the series today at 1 p.m. EST, however, it appears closer to happening than previously thought.