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Dario Saric happy about trade to Suns, looking forward to working with Monty Williams

Our Wolves blog partner helps us dissect Saric’s experience in Minnesota last year.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One of the Phoenix Suns’ least discussed acquisitions this offseason has been Dario Saric, a 25-year-old power forward from Croatia who just finished his third NBA season after winning a number of European league awards in his early professional career.

Saric has averaged 12.7 points (36 percent on threes), 6.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 240 games for Philadelphia and Minnesota, starting 150 of those contests.

Hmmm. Power forward. Early in his career. Starting caliber. Healthy. Stretches the floor. And he is still just scratching the surface.

Here is how the 6’10” Saric compares to the other power forwards the Suns have employed as the primary starter since Amar’e Stoudemire left in at the end of 2010.

On a recent Solar Panel episode, I declared Saric the best power forward the Suns have had since Stoudemire. Now, looking at the numbers, I can see that I was wearing orange-colored glasses a bit more than I thought.

Markieff Morris was pretty good a few years ago — young, starting caliber and healthy. His only on-court limitation was a lack of three point shooting. The Suns gave him a good rookie extension to be their starting 4 for many years. But you know the rest. That all went to hell in a handbbasket very quickly when he and his brother spiraled down the path of self-destruction.

Foolishness indeed.

Luis Scola was productive in his lone Suns season, but my first memory of Luis was him slumping at his locker after yet another loss for the 2012-13 Suns on the way to getting Alvin Gentry fired. Scola was getting old — though he still made the playoffs a year later with the Raptors — and his skills didn’t really translate to the modern NBA. He had good hair at least.

It might be Channing Frye who brought a similar skillset as Saric: could rebound a bit, defend a bit, and hit long range bombs. Sario’s advantage over Frye is his passing skill, something I hope we see in Phoenix this coming season.

Maybe that’s why people aren’t so excited about Saric, huh? His stats profile like most power forwards the Suns have had since Stoudemire, and the Suns have never made the playoffs with any of them.

Who knows, though. Maybe the Suns don’t need Saric to be a difference maker. Maybe they just need competence and floor-stretching so Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Kelly Oubre Jr. can shine.

The Suns have a year to decide whether Saric — who will be a restricted free agent next summer — is good enough to get a long term deal, or if he needs to be upgraded. Phoenix is set at the other positions for a bit, but with three one-year players on the PF depth chart and $36.2 million in expiring contracts available, don’t be surprised to see the Suns try to make a major upgrade during the season.

In the meantime, let’s see how DSaric can do in Phoenix as the seventh primary power forward starter in nine years.

Saric enjoyed Philadelphia before getting caught up in the Jimmy Butler drama and shipped to Minnesota where he struggled to fit in. He moved into the starting lineup as the season progressed and made over 40 percent of his threes in the final three months of the year under head coach Ryan Saunders.

After being traded to Phoenix on draft day, Saric shared with a Croatian reporter that he was not thrilled with his time in Minnesota.

“I’m not sad about this trade [to Phoenix],” Saric said. “I’m actually happy about it all and glad because I think I didn’t get a fair chance in Minnesota. In Phoenix, I very much expect it. All in all, I’m satisfied.”

“I’m also satisfied that the Suns coach is Monty Williams who was the assistant coach in my first year in Philadelphia and knows well what I can do. So, I’m not going to a completely unfamiliar turf. I expect my place in the Arizona sun.”

I asked Eric in Madison, a writer from our SB Nation partner Wolves blog, some questions about Saric, and here is what he had to say.

Question: Saric commented after the trade that he felt he didn’t get a fair chance in Minnesota, where he was 8th on the team in minutes per game on the Wolves. Did fans have the same impression? What is your reaction to his comments?

Answer: Well, he was moved into the starting lineup in place of Taj Gibson soon after Ryan Saunders took over as interim coach, so although his mpg overall was down from the Sixers, it increased later in the season. Still, he was on a pretty short leash quite often and I understand where he was coming from. He also had the ball in his hands less than in Philly, and I don’t think he was very impressed with the rudimentary offense the Wolves tended to run. Not a lot of ball/player movement, which I think is what he likes.

Q: In terms of skills in relation to Karl-Anthony Towns, how did Saric fit? What were the positives and the negatives of his pairing with KAT?

A: He and KAT were a good pairing, +1.7 net/100 IIRC. They are both able to stretch the floor, make plays off the dribble, and distribute well for big men. When KAT went in the post, Saric demanded at least some attention at the three point line, so it worked well on the offensive end. Defensively it wasn’t great, but then no Wolves lineups that didn’t include Robert Covington were any good defensively. Saric is not a terrible defensive player, but he isn’t a great rim protector, and he can beaten off the dribble by quick players. He’s smart, but pretty average physically.

How is Dario on defense? What is his best defensive spot on the floor?

Sort of answered above, but his defense is passable. He isn’t going to make you a lot better defensively, but he won’t sabotage a good defense either. He gives effort and is smart, but he is somewhat limited. He’s a guy you want guarding non-dominant power forwards, or centers who aren’t big, strong post-up threats. I think he got caught up in the misery that was the Wolves defense last season, because his defensive numbers were somewhat stronger in Philly.

What kind of teammate is Dario? Did he get along with the other Wolves players?

Hard to say about what kind of teammate he is. He wants to win very badly, and certainly roots for other guys. He never really settled in here and developed relationships, so it’s hard to say, but the sense I got was that his teammates in Philly liked him. He’s a very competitive guy, mostly I think in a good way.

Can you tell us something else about Dario that we should know?

I’ll tell you: I did not love the [draft day] trade for the Wolves. There were plenty of guys available at 11 that I would have liked to pick and keep Saric. Of course if Jarrett Culver turns into a star, it will have been worth it, but I thought they gave away Saric for not very much: Five spots in the draft.

He’ll be an RFA next summer, so of course that plays into it; How much do you want to commit to him?

But he fits the mold of the modern four-man, with shooting and passing chops, he is a willing passer, is smart, and wants to win.

Saric’s best game last season with the Timberwolves showed he’s more than a stretch-4. Let’s watch some highlights:

I can really see this guy making Deandre Ayton’s job a lot easier next season, not only stretching the floor but also looking for Ayton when the defense has to collapse on him.

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for a recap on Saric’s stint in Philadelphia on BSOTS.

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