Welcome to the 2021-22 Suns Season Preview series, starting with individual PLAYER PREVIEWS. We go through the roster, recapping last year and analyzing how they can help the Suns in their upcoming championship.
Of all the Phoenix Suns players, perhaps none has a future as uncertain as Dario Šarić. The skilled Croatian national’s two-year tenure with the team has been marked with more ups than downs, but hopes of another title push could bring about roster reshuffling. With Chris Paul running out of shots at the Larry O and Dario unlikely to contribute much this season, the chance of a trade looms large as we creep towards the start of training camp.
Center/Forward, 6’10”, 250 lbs, 27 Years Old
Review/Grade for Last Year
Coming off his brilliant Bubble-run (14.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 52% 3PT), big expectations were surrounding Dario Šarić as Deandre Ayton’s primary backup last season.
He offered Monty a change-of-pace option, with a playmaking and space-centric style in contrast to DA’s interior game. With a bit more luck, maybe things would have gone to plan.
Šarić started well and came back strong after a cruel COVID/ankle situation forced him to miss early time. However, a rough and ineffective two-month stretch saw him cede minutes to Frank Kaminsky. Dario closed the season’s final week on a high note, but his playoff minutes were inconsistent. He tore his ACL in the Finals, and that recovery process clouds this season’s outlook.
With the injuries and inconsistency last year, Dario did not live up to expectations. With that being said, his relatively lackluster counting numbers belied the direct impact he had on the Suns’ success (+11.4 net rating, highest on the team).
Overall Grade as an NBA Player: B-
Relative Grade to Preseason Expectations: C-
Dario’s contract pays him $8.51m and $9.24m, respectively, over the next two years before he hits free agency at age-29.
Athleticism: While a vastly superior athlete to the couch potato writing this, Dario possesses lackluster mobility and verticality at the NBA level. He works his butt off, but these limitations cause him problems on both ends of the floor. On offense, Dario struggles to be an explosive finisher at the rim. The result is a consistent struggle to score inside against length and quickness. On defense, Dario’s lack of jumping talent makes him a non-factor as a rim protector, and he can struggle to stay in front of quicker players.
Playmaking: a threat to pick apart a defense from both the elbows or low-post, Dario is more than capable of operating as the hub of a bench unit. He can also create a bit off the dribble, and his unselfishness is a perfect fit with the current regime.
*shout-out to Sam Cooper for the superb videos.
High-IQ: his mind helps him appear quicker than he is. Despite his athletic limitations, he has a knack for positioning himself early and effectively. This helps him stay competitive on the defensive end, as well as racking up putbacks on offense.
Shooting: you can never have enough marksmen, and although not lights out, Dario is a capable floor-stretcher. He can knock down both above-the-break threes and elbow jumpers at a solid clip, and he makes defenses pay for not respecting him.
ONE KEY FACTOR: Health Timeline
While athletes are typically cleared to return to their sport around the six-to-nine month mark after ACL surgery, recovery time can vary. If Dario’s operation was performed around the beginning of August, he could be cleared around the all-star break at the earliest. It is possible that regardless of Dario’s progress, James Jones plays it safe and sits him the entire season.
Although it saddens me, I get the feeling that Dario has played his last minute as a Sun. I think that James Jones is going to go all-in this season, and that two different scenarios could lead to him being shipped to another team:
Trade 1: Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder all stay healthy
Barring injury to the mainstays, Jalen Smith and Frank Kaminsky are left to fight for garbage time scraps as Dario rehabs. With a full and effective rotation of bigs, James Jones packages Šarić (and maybe Stix) with draft capital to pick up an area of need.
Trade 2: One of the four gets hurt, and Stix fills in
Regardless of Jalen’s performance here, I think Dario finds himself included in a deal. If Stix’s play exceeds expectations, his performance and cheaper contract make Dario expendable. If Stix sputters, I think Jones packages them both to obtain higher-quality depth.