Across computer screens and coaching whiteboards, ink—both digital and real—has been spent chronicling the rise of these Philadelphia 76ers.
And even at this early stage of the process, one would have to read for quite a while before coming across Dario Saric.
Nov. 7, 2017 — Philadelphia 76ers vs. Utah Jazz
Holding the Jazz at bay in the final five minutes, rookie phenom Ben Simmons emphatically blocks a Ricky Rubio layup off the backboard.
The ball falls into the hands of J.J. Redick, who quickly turns up the court for Philadelphia.
Transition defense in the NBA is a matter of establishing priorities at breakneck speed. Redick, a threat to pull from deep at any point, draws the attention of Thabo Sefolosha and Joe Ingles.
On either wing, Simmons has Rubio’s attention and T.J. McDonnell is met by Donovan Mitchell. This leaves Rudy Gobert to mark both Joel Embiid and Saric, who veers off his path to head towards the right corner.
Redick swings the ball to McConnell, who spots Saric cemented in the corner, hands straight up like a shy kid playing pick-up ball at the playground.
Saric isn’t just open, he’s forgotten. Not just by the scrambling Ingles, who desperately tried to recover from his defensive mishap; but by those who talk about the potential of this Sixers team. He’s not as quick-footed or athletically skilled as Simmons. Nor is he as dominant or loud as Embiid. He’s just Dario Saric.
And through his second season, that’s been a huge reason why the 76ers are on the verge of a playoff berth.
Less is more for Dario Saric
It’s an optimistic notion to assume a player can increase their productivity and efficiency while finding fewer touches, but Saric has done just that and more.
The strides made in his shot selection have paid dividends in almost every relevant statistical category. His true shooting percentage is up from 50.8 to 58.8. His three-point percentage is up from 31.1 to 39.5 percent. To put his shooting in context, only 13 other players shoot the same percentage or better while attempting at least five three-pointers per game.
Head Coach Brett Brown’s offensive sets and the attention drawn by Simmons, Redick, Embiid, and even Robert Covington, have created great looks for Saric.
Per Basketball-Reference, Dario Saric has seen his assisted looks rise from 51.3 percent to 65.0 percent. By stepping into the background, Saric has become the glue to one of the NBA’s best statistical five-man lineups.
Saric’s ability to consistently make the deep ball is devastating for opponents who often find themselves switching off the Croation forward towards perceived bigger threats.
Philadelphia’s second-year forward plays off Simmons and Embiid perfectly as an above average catch-and-shoot option.
Once thought of as a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate whose strengths duplicated Simmons’, Saric’s newfound efficiency entrenches him as an impact player in the starting lineup alongside him.
He also pairs well with lesser teammates, working as an interchangeable front court with Amir Johnson or as a center in smaller lineups.
Saric adapts with the rotations, peeling off screens on or off the ball for quick jumpers when playing with another inside presence, or stepping into the post himself.
Though not the most creative post option, Saric shows great touch on simple but effective moves. His versatility allows him to play in giant 76ers lineups, where he can draw favorable match-ups for quick duck-ins, or dribble into position for a quick hook.
Beyond his scoring, Saric’s vision is what makes him a truly dynamic big man.
Dario Saric backing down Tatum in the post and finding Ben Simmons on the base-line.
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) January 11, 2018
Though his transition passes were what awed scouts before his NBA debut, it’s Saric’s work as a passer from the top of the key where he’s been the most effective this season.
— Off the Glass (@otgbasketball) March 9, 2018
Quick decision-making is what makes the 76ers offense effective. Brown’s time with the San Antonio Spurs shaped his offense. Philadelphia’s schemes are predicated on ball movement and outside shooting.
Saric can pinpoint open shooters along the perimeter, or make quick reads on the move to find cutters; making his complementary passing to Simons’ vision a huge asset.
Mobile, coordinated length can make team schemes virtually impenetrable and few teams have longer lineups than Philadelphia’s Embiid, Saric, Covington, Simmons four-man unit.
In 736 minutes, the group has a 99.4 defensive rating, limiting opponents to just 42.7 percent shooting, including 32.6 percent from deep.
But in the playoffs, where teams have the time and focus to hone in on opponent-specific traits, teams might be able to isolate Saric from his teammates.
Saric is by no means a horrible defender, but his lack of athleticism can be exploited. He struggles to stay in front of face-up fours, though not for lack of effort. Though his post defense has improved dramatically from last season, he can still be backed down with relative ease by bruising big men.
Not overlooked, just hard to pin down
Dario Saric may spend the rest of his Sixers days in the shadows of Embiid and Simmons, but his talent is still finding its way into the light.
He’s already starting to show up on opponents’ scouting reports.
On March 8, the Inquirer’s Sarah Todd spoke with Charlotte Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford about Saric.
On Friday, the Sixers and Hornets met for the first time this season and Clifford said that Saric is someone that NBA coaches do not take lightly.
“His name was brought up this morning,” he said. “When we walked through stuff he was a guy that we talked about constantly. Guys like him are hard to find in his league.”
Across the league, the word is getting out on Dario Saric and the Philadelphia 76ers. Figuring out how to deal with them is another story altogether.