Dario Saric Would Fill A Need For Sixers

Despite being a power forward, Dario Saric would fill a skill set, and a position, of need for the Sixers.

Dario Saric, selected 12th overall in the 2014 NBA draft, insists that he will join the Sixers next summer | Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Dario Saric, selected 12th overall in the 2014 NBA draft, insists that he will join the Sixers next summer | Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

According to David Pick, International Hoops Insider for Bleacher Report, Dario Saric was telling his teammates that he intends to play for the Sixers next year.

The Sixers acquired Saric, selected 12th overall in the 2014 draft, in a draft day trade with the Orlando Magic where the Sixers swapped their 10th overall selection for Orlando’s 12th, which the Sixers used to select the Croatian forward. In addition to Saric, the Sixers received two more draft selections to allow Orlando to move up two spots: a 2015 second round draft pick from Orlando, and extinguished the future first round pick they previously owed the Magic thanks to the ill-fated Andrew Bynum trade.

Saric, who played for Cibona Zagreb in the Adriatic league during the 2013-14 season, signed a three-year contract with Anadolu Efes in the much tougher Turkish League just days before the draft, although the contract had an option built into it which would allow Saric to leave after two seasons. That contract situation caused Saric to fall in the draft.

While it makes some financial sense for Saric to play the final season of his contract with Efes and avoid the rookie-scale, which locks Saric into a set amount based on where he was drafted, Saric has been adamant that he would come over to the NBA at his earliest opportunity. The comments from Saric, in that context, is really just further validation of claims he’s frequently, and consistently, made.

What does Saric give the Sixers if he does, in fact, come over?

Saric’s biggest strength has always been his passing, and that remains true today. His overall assist numbers – 1.5 assists per game in 22 minutes of action – don’t jump off the page, but that’s more representative of Efes’ overall talent. Saric averaged 3.3 assists per game in 32 minutes per contest during his final season with Cibona, and that creativity, that court vision, that ability to grab a rebound and push the ball in transition, then see passing lanes like few 6’10” guys can, is still what makes Saric unique.

Saric’s value has increased considerably from the moment the Sixers drafted him, for two reasons.

First, his per-minute averages, of 20.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per 40 minutes are virtually the same as they were two years ago, which is actually a good thing, because he’s facing much tougher competition in the Turkish League and the Euroleague than he did in the Adriatic League and Eurocup. For Saric to maintain that level of production with that jump in quality of opponents is a good sign, and should make his transition to the NBA significantly easier.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, has been the development of Saric’s three-point shot.

When Saric was drafted by the Sixers, his jump shot was one of the primary areas of his game that scouts deemed necessary for him to focus on. Saric was unlikely to translate much of the post-up game he utilized in the Adriatic League against NBA defenders, and his future was as a face-up power forward. In order to really maximize that – to be able to take defenders off the dribble, to use his incredible creativity and passing instincts to create opportunities for his teammates, to be effective in a half court offense – he needed to be able to force defenders to guard him out to the three-point line. The 32 percent on 175 three-point attempts he shot during the 2013-14 season wasn’t going to be good enough.

To Saric’s credit, he’s improved that shot tremendously. This past season with Efes, a career-best by Saric from the three-point line, saw the 22-year-old shoot 37.5 percent on 135 attempts. That mirrors a jump in his free-throw shooting that would indicate a steady, gradual progression, exactly what you want to see from a developing player.

dario-saric-shooting

That ability to pull his man 20 feet from the basket, create off the dribble, make quality and creative reads with the ball, and shoot off the ball makes him a good theoretical fit next to either Joel Embiid or Nerlens Noel.

New Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo recently talked about how he wanted to put a balanced roster on the floor. Saric doesn’t appear to help that on first glance, as he’s yet another front court player to throw into a mix that already includes Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Richaun Holmes, and, hopefully, Joel Embiid, not to mention anybody who may be taken by the Sixers in the 2016 draft.

But where all of those players have questionable fits with each other – they’re all natural centers, with games predicated on scoring around the basket – Saric’s game is more perimeter focused, and could help open up the floor for any and all of the aforementioned bigs. In a sea of mismatched pieces, Saric is the first one that truly fits. In that sense, his skill set is a breath of fresh air.

So what’s the catch?

The biggest concern with Saric is his defense. His lateral foot speed is average, at best, even for a power forward. He measured with just a 6’10” wingspan at the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit, which is well below the average wingspan for a 6’10” player, which comes in at just under 7’2”, according to DraftExpress.

His average lateral footspeed, short arms, and lack of explosiveness around the hoop bring into question exactly what, outside of rebounding, he’ll contribute on the defensive end against NBA competition. The good news, defensively, is that he gives maximum effort, and he’s gotten better at being in the right positions. That will help, but overcoming all of his limitations will be difficult in today’s face-up oriented, switch-heavy NBA.

That all brings into question exactly what level of prospect Saric is. If you focus on his strengths, you could see a legitimate starter and an important role player. If you focus on his defense, you could see more of a 6th man, a spark off the bench. Both viewpoints have some validity to them, and how Saric adapts to the NBA will largely dictate which path he follows. That being said, his fit with Embiid and Noel is so good that you may be more willing to overlook his flaws than in other situations.

For as much as Colangelo has been talking about finding glue guys and the value they can provide, he may already have one in his arsenal.

He would also, simply, add more talent on the court for the Sixers, a team which could have up to four additional first round picks in June’s draft. Prior to signing his contract leading up to the 2014 draft, Saric was projected as a top-10 pick in a much stronger draft class. With two years of additional development, success in the Turkish League, and a much more reliable three-point shot, he’d likely go anywhere from 4 to 10 in this year’s draft. For a team starved for talent, that’s important.

Saric’s career has been highly decorated for a 22-year-old playing professional basketball overseas. 2014 Adriatic League most valuable player. 2014 Adriatic League final four most valuable player. FIBA Europe young men’s player of the year in 2013 and 2014. He was recently named to Croatia’s preliminary roster for the FIBA World Qualifying Tournament.

For all of those accomplishments, it makes sense that Saric would want the challenge of proving himself in the NBA. Every indication to date has been that’s still his plan, and it seems Sixers fans might be one step closer to seeing that become a reality, to seeing that 2014 draft that former general manager Sam Hinkie staked so much of the team’s future on finally bear some fruit, and to seeing all of these pieces start to resemble a basketball team.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.