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How Dario Saric has Improved his Offense

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Dario Saric has relied on his savvy IQ to increase efficiency on the offensive end.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It is a true shame that Dario Saric is never coming over. The Croatian forward was previously perceived by some, including myself, as a bad fit with the Sixers’ core due to what seemed a mediocre at best 3PT shot, combined with a skill set that mimicked that of Ben Simmons. But I am happy to report: I was wrong.

The Homie has made quite the leap in his second year, and is fitting in seamlessly with Simmons and Joel Embiid. Saric has improved the results of his long range shot by leaps and bounds while simultaneously making the most of his (lack-of) (through no fault of his own) time at the charity stripe. The result is a much more efficient scorer than we saw in the 2016-2017 campaign. He’s learned to make an impact as an off-ball player. And his improved defense, while still a work in progress, has been less of a problem as the play of Embiid, Simmons and Robert Covington can help even the most hopeless of defenders (which Dario is not, due to his motor).

What’s interesting about the box score numbers is that Saric appears to have maintained similar contributions between year 1 and year 2:

Saric is contributing just over 2 more points per game this year than last. He’s been about half an assist and half a rebound better in his sophomore campaign, but still not an overhaul from his rookie season. And his FGA and FTA are nearly identical year-to-year. Defensively, his contribution is almost exactly the same with 1.0 stocks (steals + blocks) in ‘17-’18 compared to 1.1 in ‘16-’17.

Now, without even having to look at the percentages, Sixers fans know that the big change for Dario has been the efficiency with which he’s scoring this season. Saric has made a major leap from 31.1% from 3PT last year to 39.6% this year, which is nothing short of incredible. Almost as impressive has been Dario’s free throw improvement: he has climbed from 78.2% to 88.2%.

But what is less obvious about the Homie’s evolution is this: his shot selection has gone through a bit of a metamorphosis. Last season, Saric attempted 325 shots between 3 feet and less than 3PT territory (81 games). When you shrink the qualifiers down to between 10 feet and <3PT, otherwise known as the dreaded mid-range jumper, Saric attempted 189 shots. He was taking about 4 shots per game that were not layups or 3PTs, and 2.33 mid-range jump shots.

This season, however, Saric has attempted just 222 shots between 3ft. and <3PT, and only 115 mid-range field goals. That breaks down to just under 3.5 shots between 3ft. and <3PT and 1.8 mid-range jump shots. It’s only around half a shot less in both cases, but it is making a pretty big difference when coupled with the fact that when he does take mid-rangers, he’s assisted on 54% of them, compared to last year when he was assisted on only 45% of them.

Speaking of assisted rate, part of the Homie’s improved 3PT shooting is due his being assisted on 100% of his makes. You read that right: Saric hasn’t created his own 3PT all season. Everything has come by way of an assist, which is just fine. Personally, I’m not sure I want Saric dribbling around the perimeter looking to create space for a 3PT.

Looking at the shot charts, it is clear Dario has made it a goal to limit low efficiency shots: less long mid-range jumpers, and you can notice that he’s taken only 9 3PTs below the break on the left side. I noticed this anecdotally, but as LB alum Jim Adair pointed out to me, the left side is generally his weakest.

‘16-’17 Shot Chart:

‘17-’18 Shot Chart:

To summarize, Dario’s IQ on the court has created a self-awareness leading to better shot selection and higher efficiency. He’s done so by:

  1. Limiting low efficiency mid-range jump shots
  2. When he does/has to take a mid-range jump shot, he’s looking to do so as efficiently as possible by taking more shots off of potential assists rather than dribble pull-ups
  3. Shooting 3PTs in locations he’s most comfortable and in scenarios that are most efficient (catch-and-shoot)
  4. Converting on shots at the rim at a higher rate than before (66.5% this year, 60.2% last year)

As the Homie becomes more of a Moreyball type of player, his performance further complements the styles of Embiid and Simmons. He is trending in the right direction, and there’s cause to believe he can only get better. While his 3PT% may be in for a bit of regression, I’m not expecting a whole lot. And if referees become more generous in sending Saric to the line -- it seems Dario gets the least amount of calls in the league despite seeking contact frequently -- his improved free throw shooting makes him a hyper efficient offensive threat. Yes, his percentages are much better, but it’s not due to luck. The Homie’s basketball IQ has helped the second year player morph into an all-star caliber player in an extremely short amount of time by simply taking shots that are easier to convert.

*All stats and shot charts are courtesy of Basketball Reference.