Today at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, team executives will get their first chance to sit down face-to-face with the draft prospects they’ve been scouting from afar for the better part of the past 10 months. But 5,500 miles away, in Istanbul, Turkey, another NBA hopeful awaits his chance to meet representatives from the team he hopes to soon join.
Croatian forward Dario Saric was selected 12th-overall in the 2014 Draft and subsequently traded by the Orlando Magic to the Philadelphia 76ers with the understanding that his contract with Anadolu Efes of the Turkish League would likely keep him in Europe for at least two years, if not longer. On the night of the draft, the 20-year-old told reporters that he expected he’d join the Sixers in the summer of 2016, emphatically adding in broken English that he is "not a liar." In the two years since, Saric has reiterated that desire a handful of times, with his father (and de facto agent) doubling down on his son’s statements earlier this year. A couple weeks back, David Pick, the Adrian Wojnarowski of European basketball, reported that Saric had informed his Efes teammates that he would indeed be leaving at the conclusion of their season.
But despite the fact that Saric has been incredibly clear about his intention to join the Sixers immediately, head coach Brett Brown and newly appointed president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo will soon travel to Istanbul to meet with the now-22-year-old forward and attempt to persuade him to give them a formal commitment. Saric and Colangelo have never met in person, so the trip will likely serve two purposes – firstly, it will hopefully show the two-time FIBA European Young Player of the Year that the team is still quite anxious to get him into the fold under Colangelo, and secondly, it should serve as an opportunity for the two to sell the talented young forward on the direction of the team post-Process.
"We’re going to sit down with him, we’re going to sit down with perhaps members of his family, his agent," Colangelo said in an interview with Breakfast on Broad. "We’re going to talk about all the alternatives and why we think it’s a good time for him to come over right now. I think this is a great opportunity for him. We think this is good timing for him."
Recently unseated president and general manager Sam Hinkie had seemingly built a nice rapport with Saric over the years, but fortunately Brown was also in frequent correspondence with him, using WhatsApp to attempt to communicate with the now-22-year-old despite a noticeable language barrier. In an interview with Brian Seltzer of Sixers.com earlier this week, Brown said that he recently sent Saric a picture of a young Sixers fan at a game wearing a #20 jersey with his name on the back (I can neither confirm nor deny that that individual was in fact Shamus Clancy). Saric’s response was simply, "I can’t wait to get there."
This week, the 6’10" forward completed his second regular season with Anadolu Efes. Through 50 games, both in the Turkish League and in Euroleague, Saric averaged 11.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in 22.6 minutes per game, shooting 48.4% from the floor, 36.8% from beyond the arc, and 85.0% from the free-throw line in the process. Although Efes used Saric, known for his outstanding vision and playmaking ability, in a primarily off-the-ball roll for much of the year (hence his paltry assist numbers), he was able to use the opportunity to continue to develop his perimeter jump shot. Over the past five seasons, he’s seen his three-point percentage increase from 23.2% in 2011-12, to 29.9% in 2012-13, to 31.8% in 2013-14, to 32.9% in 2014-15, and finally to 36.8% in 2015-16.
It will be interesting to see where Colangelo and Brown see Saric fitting on a team where the frontcourt is already crowded due to the presence of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, and Jerami Grant, not to mention Ben Simmons or Dragan Bender, should the Sixers use their pick or the Lakers pick to select either of them. In Turkey, the Croatian standout primarily logged minutes at the power forward spot this year, but he also started games at both small forward and center.
Saric’s season is not yet over, though, as Anadolu Efes tied with Fenerbahce for the best record in the TBL. Efes (24-6) will face Royal Hali Gaziantep (15-15) in the first round of the playoffs beginning Tuesday It will be a best-of-three series, and should Efes advance they would face the winner of Darussafaka Dogus (20-10) vs. Banvit (18-12) in a best-of-seven semifinals series. If Efes were to advance to the TBL Finals for the second straight season, their season would end in mid-June.
We’ll have more on the team’s discussions with Saric and about his performance in the postseason in the coming weeks.
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