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The Dario Dilemma

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Saric has had a rough 14-game span. Is this his new normal?

NBA: Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Isn’t funny how we develop a connection to certain bench players on the Phoenix Suns? We gravitate to the nicknames we create and the personalities of our favorite players. Frank the Tank. Pyramid Papi. Stix. Langston Lagoon. C4. Super Dario. It sounds like a platoon of misfit Marines ready to head off into the Vietnamese jungle circa 1967.

Dario Saric has a special place in many Suns’ fans hearts for his hustle and grit. The dude does not possess the same athletic talents that many of his fellow players but through sheer determination he impacts the game. He’s like us, just 6’10” with patchy facial hair. Dario entered the 2020 offseason as a RFA and chose to return to Phoenix. Like Kelly Oubre before him, the fact that he chose to come back and resign with the Suns created a soft spot in our hearts for him.

The depth of the Phoenix Suns, coupled with the overall consistent health of the team in general, has been a primary contributor to the success of the team this season. Our bench squad currently has the best +/- rating in the league (+2.4) and their ability to continue to execute the offense and defense while the starters catch their breathe has allowed the closers to close the games.

We know that Monty Williams will soon tighten his rotations up in an effort to create cohesiveness and consistency between the players who will log the most playoff minutes. The Suns just completed two extremely intense games against top tiered NBA competition which gave us insight into what Williams will face when the post-season commences.

Unfortunately he did not receive the greatest effort from this bench which leaves more questions than answers.

The runaway favorite for concerns relative to the bench is the Suns’ lack of depth behind Deandre Ayton. The 6’10” Saric is undersized as a backup center but has made up for this with his technical approach to his game and ability to move players off of their spots. Still, he is undersized and other Western Conference playoff contenders have big front lines.

His performance against the Utah Jazz reminded us that, in spurts, he is the most effective option for the Suns. He posted a 6 point and 8 rebound stat line in only 11 minutes played. There are times he looks confident, taking that big ass of his and using it to create space.

Through his first 19 games played this season Saric averaged 11.7 points and 4.1 rebounds on 49.7% shooting including 38.8% from beyond the arc in 18.8 minutes played. These are numbers that fortified our belief that he is the correct solution for backup big minutes. His production came with that Dario flare and we all agreed that if we received this version of Dario through the playoffs, Phoenix could be a sneaky good team.

I still believe that.

But then there are the times in which he looks lost. His physical gifts and tools are not sharpened nor effective and he almost looks unplayable. And unfortunately this been the rule rather than the exception as of late.

In his last 14 games Dario has not been super. He has played 17 minutes a night but his production has drastically fallen off. Saric has averaged 6.9 points, 4.2 rebounds on 38.6% shooting and an abysmal 27.3% from deep. That includes that 20 point performance versus the Hawks in which we thought perhaps he snapped out of his funk.

You are seeing more moments like these:

Let’s just say that his 2 points on 0-4 shooting and 1 rebound night in Los Angeles was not the best birthday he has had.

While Ayton has continued to progress and impress, especially in the last two games, the chasm between his abilities as a starter and Dario’s as his back up are becoming wider. The fact that Suns did do anything in free agency or play the buy out market can spark frustration. We knew Damian Jones wasn’t the answer, but having a big body around surely would be better than what we are seeing now, right?

One thing we did not see in the past two games is how and when Monty Williams could and will deploy Frank Kaminsky. Big Frank, who has not played a game since March 19, might not be the solution. But he is an option. Seeing as he is recovering from COVID-19 related issues, now isn’t the time or place to add that wrinkle to our rotations.

What is the solution to the Dario Dilemma? It is quite simple: Dario needs to hit his head on some bricks, allow a magic mushroom to appear, eat it, and become Super Dario once again!

Of course I am being facetious. The simple fact is Dario is in a funk. We have seen what he is capable of. He is currently working his way through it, using his fortitude and spunk to try to get him to the other side. Should we continue to monitor the situation in hopes that he snaps out of it? Of course. Should we be worried to the point in which he should be benched? Never.