I am to blame. I know this. I am sorry.
Following a March 16th piece on the validity of Dario Saric and his case for consideration for the Sixth Man of the Year award, his performance has waned. Drastically. The player who was spelling Deandre Ayton with quality minutes and possessions is no longer present. The “funk” I referenced in an April 9th piece has continued.
Dario no longer is providing precise decision making and effective play. “The connector” that he was earlier in the season and in the Orlando Bubble appears to lack confidence, both in his shot and in his game. He looks lost. A man who once used his ass like a Caterpillar bulldozer to move guys off of their spots in the paint now lacks leverage and physicality.
My hope is the recent play of Dario Saric is a result of him learning to play with post-COVID fatigue. You may recall that he missed 13 games earlier in the season after battling both the virus and ankle issues. Although he played well initially upon his return — 12 points-per-game on 51.8% from the field with 4.0 rebounds and 40.5% from three in his first 13 games back — he has stumbled and stalled since. Literally.
And yes, those numbers align with my March 16th proclamation that he should be considered for the best bench player in the league. Since that piece, in 21 games, his numbers have plummeted to 6.8 points on 39.2% shooting from the field and 3.7 rebounds. His three-point percentage is has been 27.1%. I apologize. I jinxed him.
Joel Embiid on Dario Saric— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) April 21, 2021
The need for a secondary big man on the Phoenix Suns while only amplify come playoff time for the Phoenix Suns. The Western Conference is full of effective fives — Jokic, Golbert and Favors, Nurkic and Kanter. Even the aging duo of Gasol and Drummond or the interesting pair of Zubac and Cousins can pose a threat if you cannot protect the interior.
Deandre Ayton, who has had a stellar year, will need assistance in the postseason. The Suns will need depth, both to protect from Ayton foul trouble and to ensure the second team remains effective in DA’s absence.
Dario Saric currently isn’t cutting it. That is not to say that he won’t snap out of this valley of the season, but it does leave one question open and asked frequently:
Where is Frank Kaminsky?
The Tank has been noticeably absent as of late as, some of which is understandable. On March 31 it was announced that Kaminsky would be sidelined as he entered COVID protocols. Up to the point he hadn't seen much playtime — he had missed the previous 6 games. He sat for an 11-game stretch from mid-March to mid-April.
As Saric has struggled, the opportunity has not been granted to Kaminsky. He has played in two games for a total of 10:01 minutes since his clash with COVID and all of those minutes have come in garbage time.
Think back to the early part of the season. Remember the stretch in which Monty Williams not only provided Frank with minutes, but was starting him as well? For a 15-game stretch from February 5 to March 13, Kaminsky started 13 times for the Suns. The team went 11-2 in the games in which he started.
Kaminsky Kove prices are going up faster than GameStop and Top Shot combined.— Espo (@Espo) February 20, 2021
I won’t get carried away with the production he provided during those wins. He was averaging 18 minutes, 8.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.7 assists though (that’s a 16.2/7.8/3.4 per-36 stat line). What I will note, however, was his ability to fill a role that Dario has left vacant in recent play: the connector.
I understand that Monty is tightening his rotations in preparation for the postseason grind that lies less than one month away (the countdown to May 22 is on!). Part of that process is allowing players such as Dario Saric — and Devin Booker as of late — a chance to work through the mental and physical obstacles they are currently navigating. The hope is that, when the playoffs do begin, the fact that Monty kept the course and faith in Dario will be rewarded with production and wins.
Could Dario, a player who has played 34 of the last 35 games, need a break? If so, although Frank isn’t you’re prototypical backup center (which is weird to say about a guy who is 7’0” tall), Frank Kaminsky is the ideal candidate on this roster to provide that rest.
Back to the connectivity of Frank Kaminsky.
Offensively he has proven this season that he has an affinity for “connecting”: he has 5+ assists in 9% of his games played this year. Weak stat, sure, but Dario has 5+ assists a grand total of zero times. I have documented his partnership with Mikal Bridges in the past, and although he might not see as many minutes with Bridges, the option still exists.
Dario and Frank are obviously different type of backup fives. Dario lives in the paint defensively and has made his claim to the position with hustle and grit. Frank wants to be a wing who camps on the perimeter on both sides of the ball. In the long run Dario Saric is the solution.
The possibility exists that, if Frank does receive an uptick in minutes, he could suffer the same post-COVID fate that Dario Saric did. There is still plenty to learn about how this virus effects athletes following their recovery. The Jayson Tatum stories about his use of an inhaler and how it derailed is season fortifies this. We just don’t know.
What we do know is that Saric could use a break.
And I could a break from watching him struggle on every possession, get called for every foul, and take those high-arcing three-pointers. As stated above, he is hitting 27.1% from downtown since the ill-fated article I authored. Kaminsky is shooting 40% from deep this year. I would have much more confidence in Big Frank taking those shots than Dario right now. Wouldn’t you?