Off the court, he is quiet and unassuming. On the court, he does not pump up the crowd, or do pushups after getting fouled, or have any signature hand gestures on a three pointer. He doesn’t do anything to pull the fans out of their seats.
Yet new Phoenix Suns power forward Dario Saric is one of those players who may lack superstar skills but does all the little things to help a team win.
Saric would probably qualify as the Suns fifth best player, behind Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio, Deandre Ayton and this year’s Aron Baynes. Right there with Kelly Oubre Jr. as next on the pecking order.
The Croatian Cowlick is 7th on the team in scoring (10.3 per game), 2nd in rebounds (6.6), 7th in assists (2.0), 4th in steals (0.9), 3rd in three-point attempts (4.5) and 6th in three-point percentage (38.9%).
He’s not a great rebounder, but he gets the contested rebound in his area or boxes out his man to allow a teammate such Ricky Rubio to swoop in and grab the bound. He’s not a great scorer, but is an above-average three-point shooter and can make a post up whenever he needs it. He’s not a great passer, but posts a higher assist rate than all but a half dozen big men (6’10” or taller) in the game. And he’s not a great defender, but is always in the right position and holds his own.
He’s not great at any one thing, but does a lot of things fairly well and has always contributed to winning basketball.
Dario has gotten off to slow starts each year, for various reasons. For his career, Dario’s October/November shooting splits are well below the rest of his season. He’s a career 35% October shooter and 41.5% November shooter compared to 44.5% the rest of the season. On threes, he’s 28% October three pointer shooter compared to 38% after that.
Usually, he’s coming off playing the summer with his national team and needs time to recover physically. But he also just likes to make sure he knows how to fit in the best.
“You need some time understand the other guys, how they play,” Saric said when the Suns beat Atlanta to get to 7-4. “How they read the game, how they make plays on offense. You need time to understand them, to find your spots, where you can fit in.”
Saric played two seasons with the Sixers, then one with Minnesota and then this year with Phoenix. Three teams in the last 13 months.
He’s one of those guys that is both indispensable and entirely dispensable at the same time. While a player like Kelly Oubre got $15 million per year this past summer on the restricted free agent market because of his scoring abilities and connection with the fan base, Dario might be lucky to crack $10 million. League average is right around $9-10 million these days in a 450-player league.
“I like this team because everybody is good guys,” Saric says. “When you have good rapport, roles are just open for everybody, shots are open for everyone. It’s a marathon. It’s a long season. Some guys play well early, some play well after.”
He complimented nearly every player on the roster for the good team play so far this year. The Suns (8-8) have their best record after 16 games in half a decade and have only fallen back to .500 due to key injuries to Rubio and Baynes this week against a tough schedule.
Saric stepped up on Sunday in their absence, posting 18 points and 17 rebounds against the Nuggets (12-3), in Denver, on their 5th game in 7 days. The Suns kept the lead into the fourth quarter until the undermanned unit lost their mojo and the Nuggets — on full rest, and at home — ran over them in the final frame.
“We have a great group of people, and especially we are listening to our coach,” Saric says. “Monty has been great until now, and I hope he will keep doing the same thing. Guys just follow him. I think we are doing great right now.”
With the recent injuries, the Suns have dropped four of their last five games, but the next 10 games set up very well to get back over .500. Of the next 10 opponents, only two of them have a winning record and one is this Friday at home against the surging Dallas Mavericks.
The Suns need their best players back on the court soon, but in the meantime, Saric will do his very best to help the Suns stay competitive.
“We knew we would be good,” Saric said of the Suns confidence in themselves after a roster-churning summer that resulted in 11 new faces out of 15 on the roster. “Our first practice, Frank [Kaminsky] turned to me and said we would be good this year.
“It’s just the beginning for us. I think we can go far this season. I think we can surprise everybody and just go game by game.”
The Suns host the Wizards on Wednesday night at home at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The Wizards (5-9) aren’t winning many games, but they play a fun brand of basketball with the league’s 2nd best offense and 2nd worst defense. They’ve scored 121 or more points in five of their past six games but are only 3-3 because they give up just a bit more than that.
The Suns should be able to score. The key will be controlling Bradley Beal in the final minutes to ensure it doesn’t end like the Pelicans game a week ago.