In a continuing discussion on the acquisition of power forward Dario Saric, we now turn our attention to his time in Philadelphia.
Saric has played three years in the NBA after an award-studded early international career, most of that with the building Sixers. Saric’s rookie year was the same year that Joel Embiid was coming back from a two-year injury (Embiid played less than half the season) and while they waited out Ben Simmons’ year-long injury.
In Saric’s second year, the Sixers won 52 games and made it into the second round of the playoffs. Saric, Embiid and rookie Ben Simmons led the charge with veteran help from JJ Redick and Robert Covington in the starting lineup. That year was Saric’s best of his three in the NBA, fifth on the team in minutes per game (29.6), fourth in scoring (14.7 per game), second among volume shooters on three-pointers (39 percent on 5.2 per game), third in rebounds (6.7) and sixth in assists (2.6).
He was traded along with Robert Covington 13 games into the 2018-19 season for All-Star Jimmy Butler, who was forcing his way out of Minnesota in ugly fashion. Saric’s spot in the offense was eventually filled by Tobias Harris in a big trade with the Clippers. The Sixers won 51 games last year, and got ousted in the second round once again.
Last week, I got some feedback from the CanisHoopus.com folks in Minnesota on Saric’s short time there. You can find Wolves Q and A in this article linked here:
Now today, we turn to the team that drafted him, cultivated him and ran to their first post-Process playoffs with him as a starter next to Joel Embiid.
That’s where I start the Q and A, with managing editor Kevin F. Love of LibertyBallers.com.
What was the reaction from fans at the loss of Saric last year, who’d had a really good sophomore season the year before during that playoff run?
I think if most Sixers fans were being honest with themselves around the start of the 2018-19 season, they probably ultimately saw Saric as a trade asset. His skill set, while far from an exact match, overlapped with that of Ben Simmons in a weird way. On top of that, the financial ramifications of keeping Saric around always seemed to be an impetus to move him (Saric and Simmons’ rookie deals were both due to expire in 2020, Joel Embiid had already signed an extension, at the time Markelle Fultz was still in the team’s future plans and his eventual extension needed to be considered, etc.). But that didn’t make losing the Homie easy. Very far from it. He’s a very enjoyable player: he works very hard, he’s animated and shows his emotion on the court, and he loves basketball and competition in general. I don’t think too many fans felt like the Sixers had traded a future all-star, but almost universally, people were disappointed over the thought that Saric wouldn’t be in the team’s future. He really connected with the city of Philadelphia. Many fans still miss Dario.
In terms of skills in relation to Joel Embiid, how did Saric fit next to Joel? What were the positives and the negatives of his time on the court together?
Offensively, Saric’s skill set as a stretch-four made his fit with Jo nearly ideal by giving Embiid as much room to operate in paint as possible. There’s not really any pressing negatives that come to mind in terms of the pairing. Honestly, I really can’t imagine an offense in which Saric wouldn’t theoretically fit. His willingness to space the floor makes him an easy plug-and-play guy.
On the defensive end, Dario is just generally a slight negative. So I suppose in terms of fit with Joel there, at least Saric had a defensive anchor next to him in the frontcourt to hide some of Saric’s deficiencies. Due to the time zone difference, I didn’t watch too many Suns games last season, but from what I understand, Ayton’s weaknesses are found mostly on the defensive end. To that point, I worry about the sustainability of a Saric-Ayton frontcourt. While Ayton will likely improve, Saric just about is what he is. Saric isn’t afraid to get physical, but he’s not a rim protector by any stretch and he struggles staying in front of players who like to put the ball on the floor. Saric’s presence places a lot of responsibility upon Ayton and the Suns should maybe try to pair Saric with Aron Baynes as much as possible.
How is Dario on defense? What is his best defensive spot on the floor?
Dario’s been a negative defensively since entering the league and given his lack of lateral quickness and hand speed, it’s hard for me to project Dario as ever being a plus defender. But he’s not totally helpless out there, the team won’t hemorrhage points due to his very existence on the court. If Saric can be sandwiched between a rim-protecting big and a plus wing defender -- a Sar-wich, if you will -- he should be passable. His block rates are putrid and his steal rates are average to below-average, so impact plays aren’t really his forte but he will come up with loose balls here and there out of pure hustle.
He’s a four on defense through and through. He’s not quick or light on his feet, so he can’t hang with speedy wings, and he shows no signs of adequately protecting the rim, so I’d never want him as my last line of defense. Ideally, you assign Saric to a spotting stretch-four who floats around the perimeter and doesn’t attack the rim much.
Dario had a strong assist rate in Philly -- what do you see as his best role in an offense?
Saric can make some flashy and impressive passes that’ll take you by surprise, but they often depend on opportune cuts by teammates. In other words, he can make a great pass but he doesn’t often create for a great pass. That’s still a valuable skill to have. While Suns fans shouldn’t expect Dario to initiate offense in the halfcourt, his height and vision out on the perimeter help him take advantage of angles that your typical point guard or wing can’t easily identify. He’s also an aware passer when on the move and can hurt teams when sharing in transition.
As far as role, he’s a complementary player and his role should reflect as much. Any team with Saric as a 2nd or 3rd option likely isn’t scoring enough points. I wouldn’t expect too many plays run with Dario as the focal point. But he’s a nice release valve when an offense breaks down and it’s always good to have competent passers on the floor, no matter the position they play. I want to say Saric is a good cutter, but he doesn’t get to or convert at the rim at a high level. He’s very comfortable in transition, passing or filling lanes.
What is Dario’s future in the NBA? Do you see him as a full-time starter in the league?
I think a good way to approach this question is to first make a comp, and there’s someone that comes to mind that I’m sure many of your readers are very familiar with: Dario is like a better shooting but overall less refined Boris Diaw. While Dario isn’t exceptional in any one area offensively, he’s a reliable shooter, passer and rebounder. As I touched on above, I don’t ever see Dario being a plus defender. But he’s at least going to work hard and be physical and his build/length keep him from becoming a total liability.
Every team could find a use for a guy like that, and some of those teams would do so with him as a starter. But if Dario is starting on your team, it’s probably not quite strong enough to win a championship, which is ultimately why we’re all doing this, right? In my opinion, Saric would best serve a team as a bench spark plug and spot starter, someone who will come in and be more than happy to sling a few threes, get out and run in transition, bring some grittiness and energy to the floor. Given that Saric is sort of a jack of all, master of none, he doesn’t have the go-to tools to exploit defenses when they clamp down in a playoff environment. As a result, I wouldn’t be comfortable with him finishing in the top-5 of playoff minutes logged on a team with high aspirations.
What kind of teammate is Dario? Did he get along with the other Sixers players?
Dario was beloved by his Sixers teammates. Simmons and Saric would occasionally get visibly aggravated with each other on the court, but it was always out of an effort and desire to achieve what was best for the team and also probably a result of both guys having strong, competitive personalities. Saric was often described by many Sixers teammates as being the funniest guy in the locker room, and as I mentioned in a previously, he plays with intensity night in and night out. There’s just not much about Dario that a teammate couldn’t like.
Dario Saric: good culture guy.
Can you tell us something else about Dario that we should know?
Saric is an elite on-court celebrator. I’m talking chest-pounding so intense that the folks all the way in Tuscon will feel the ground shake. His European roots are maybe most obvious when he celebrates -- imagine the sort of stuff from someone who just scored a golden goal in a Champions League quarterfinal. And the best part is that no play is too insignificant for Dario to get hyped up over. Also, I’m unsure of whether he continues to go by his old nickname, but it was “The Homie” when he was in Philadelphia (given to him by Joel).
Finally, I’d just say that since Saric has been traded, while all Sixers fans miss the person, no one really complains about the team not having him on the court, there’s not a point in any crucial game where someone is screaming, “If only the Sixers still had Saric!!”. So take that for whatever it is, maybe that’s more of a comment on the Sixers and their roster construction than it is on Saric.