It’s only one day to preseason, leaving us just a few more hours to wildly speculate on the talent James Jones acquired this summer before we see that talent take the court.
Today, I’m interested in a closer look at our mystery man, Dario Saric.
All we know about Saric at this point is that he was unhappy with his situation in Minnesota and that he’s ready for a fresh start in Phoenix. This is based on comments he made to Dave recently where he checked all the right boxes in praising his teammates:
“I think it will be easy to play,” he said. “With Ricky always looking first to pass, and Book who is a great scorer, and he is an excellent player who can place the ball too. And Ayton is a monster on the block. Some guys will go to double team him down there, and that makes a lot of space for me. I cannot wait.”
But throughout the summer there has only been limited discussion on the topic of what Saric’s offensive role will be.
In theory, it’s easy enough to pigeonhole Saric into a role as a pure stretch four, taking several threes per game as the 5th option in the Suns offense. To be fair to this idea, Saric has shot 39.1% on catch-and-shoot threes over the past two seasons, so it makes sense to treat him this way.
However, there are big differences between Saric and your typical stretch four. The Suns have had plenty of stretch bigs over the past decade, ranging from Channing Frye to Mirza Teletovic to Dragan Bender (kinda). I’m here to tell you that Saric is substantially more skilled than all of them, and that to spend all of his possessions spotting up behind the perimeter would be a waste of his potential. Let’s break down why that is.
A Moving Shooter
When we analyze three-point shooters, we often make the grave mistake of looking at raw percentages without taking into account any context.
Saric can definitely catch and shoot, as previous stretch bigs for the Suns have all done. What makes him special is his ability to catch and shoot off of movement.
Notice in this series of clips how Saric is constantly working to get himself open. He’s not particularly athletic or fast, but he has a keen sense of awareness of where he should be on the court at all times to maximize spacing. I’m not suggesting that he’s JJ Redick, but the ability to run actions for Saric that involve him running off a screen and then shooting off balance is a privilege to have in a 6’10” player.
As a bit of a side note, this is also why I’m against the argument that some Suns fans have made that Deandre Ayton can play PF as long as he’s paired with Aron Baynes. An effective floor spacing big does much more than just stand behind the perimeter, even if that’s all we give them credit for. Baynes proved last year that he can hit a trailing three standing still, but he’s a much stiffer player than Saric. It’s impossible to imagine Baynes taking a handoff from Ayton and immediately rising up for a three, as Saric does in the last clip on an Embiid handoff.
Shooting will be Saric’s go-to move, but his reputation as a sharpshooter opens so many doors for him to attack in other ways on offense. His season in Minnesota was the first time we’ve seen him take advantage of that extra space and work to become a more versatile scorer.
Last week I tackled the issue of how the Suns should run their offense in the first place, and ended up showcasing a series of plays initiated by Saric setting a screen for Ricky Rubio. That wasn’t just because Saric can shoot in pick-and-pop situations, but because he’s developed to the point where he is a dangerous player in pick situations altogether.
This video contains several plays of Saric operating on pick plays and gives you a little bit of everything. In a couple clips he simply catches and shoots like you’d expect from Dragan Bender. But in two clips he drives and takes the ball right into the body of Draymond Green. In another clip he runs the pick-and-roll to perfection. In another one he pump fakes John Collins out of his shoes and opts for the wide open mid-range jumper.
Clearly this is not a one-dimensional offensive threat.
And the stats back that up too. While Saric is not an athletic dunker, he scored 1.30 points per possession as the roll man in pick-and-roll actions last season, ranking in the 86th percentile in the NBA. He is not a high volume roll man, but he can do well enough to keep a defense honest. And if his assignment presses up on him a bit too close on the perimeter, he’s not afraid to attack.
Playmaking and Rebounding
If basketball were just about scoring and shooting, T.J. Warren would have been the perfect long-term fit for the Suns at PF. Unfortunately, Warren never passed and the Suns hemorrhaged rebounds whenever he started next to Deandre Ayton.
I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the stability that Saric brings in both of those areas.
First, take a look at these playmaking clips. Is it just me or is there a bit of Boris Diaw in there? It’s unlikely that Saric can average 5-6 assists per game like Diaw did on the 7SOL Suns, but the same skill operating out of the low and high post areas is there. He’s constantly looking for open teammates when the double comes in the post, and he’s got a tendency to perform give-and-go plays as well.
When it comes to rebounding, Saric may not be elite but he’s a lot better than what the Suns have been trotting out at his position as of late.
Saric had an offensive rebound rate of 6.6% last season, much better than Bender’s mark of 4.5% and in another league entirely from Warren’s putrid 2.5%. He had more putbacks than Warren and Bender combined, something you have to consider when trying to add easy points.
I’m choosing not to cover Saric’s defense in this article, because it needs a decent amount of work to be considered above-average. But the rest of his game is somewhere on the spectrum of decent to elite, and that versatility out of the Suns’ 4th or 5th best starter (depending on who you ask) is a welcome surprise for a team that has struggled so much at the PF position this decade. If the Suns work to involve Saric in the offense rather than treat him like a Mirza Teletovic 2.0, don’t be surprised if he returns to 2nd-year form and becomes the most successful Suns PF since Stoudemire.
For more on Saric, read Dave’s piece on his frame of mind entering the year.