(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)
Dario Saric is the highest touted European prospect since Ricky Rubio and many were disappointed when it was announced the 12th pick in last June’s draft would not be transferring to the NBA until 2016. 76ers’ fans wait patiently, though, as Saric continues to add to his legend. Named the Euroleague player of the month in November, the youngest to ever do it, he’s off to a good start to the season in his first year playing for Anadolu Efes in Turkey.
Efes’ head-coach Dusan Ivkovic has utilized him as a stretch-four, which is technically the same position he played at Croatian club Cibona Zagreb last season, except for the fact he got to do more ball-handling from the perimeter. Saric even used to have the chance to run some offense when point guard Jerel Blassingame was subbed out, maximizing his top skill which is his feel for the game. Saric is an excellent passer who is constantly looking to assist teammates in better scoring position, particularly in transition.
But while Saric can pass off dribble penetration, especially as a ball-handler out of the pick-and-roll, he has limitations as a shot creator from the top of the perimeter. Saric has a good handle dribbling from side-to-side for somebody who stands at six-foot-10 but struggles with his left hand. He does not create much separation off the bounce due to a first step that is not at all explosive at the highest level of European ball. He is also a lousy pull-up shooter, missing 18 of his 26 mid-range shots in 10 Euroleague appearances this season, according to GigaBasket.
Saric no longer does much ball-handling from the perimeter and his new team doesn’t get in transition as much as his old one, but he still has plenty of opportunities to flash his feel for the game by attacking closeouts, passing up decent perimeter looks to better shooters, placing himself at the foul line when the opponent play zone, facilitating from the high post, and hitting cutters and shooters out of post-ups. Saric leads both the Euroleague and the Turkish league in assist-rate among power forwards, and has assisted on 22.3 percent of Efes’ scores when he has been on the floor, according to RealGM.
As a scorer, Saric gets most of his points within close range. He struggles to finish around length on straight post-ups and has had 10 of his 89 attempts in the Euroleague blocked. He doesn’t have a jump-hook or a fadeaway jump-shot to rely on, almost exclusively looking to pass with his back to the basket. But he is great in transition and filling open voids around the rim. Saric is also able to take it to the rim attacking closeouts on straight line drives, although it’s important to keep it mind he is a better athlete than most position peers he plays against, especially in the Turkish league. He doesn’t finish with much power but has shown great touch, converting 70 percent of his 40 attempts at the rim in the Euroleague and averaging five foul shots per 36 minutes.
Saric has struggled badly from three-point range, though. He has always been merely capable but has regressed this season, missing 29 of his 38 attempts from beyond the arc. Saric gets good elevation off the ground and has a quick release but doesn’t keep his off arm consistently pointed up, fails to angle his body straight towards the rim, and has a habit of kicking with his right leg. His jump-shooting struggles have affected his efficiency and impact on the team. Saric has posted a lousy .472 effective field-goal percentage on 161 shots and Efes has scored just 99.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, while netting 106.8 overall, per RealGM.
On the other end, Saric has been a more positive presence. It’s noticeable how hard he plays. That’s particularly impressive because players who become stars as teenagers often lose focus on defense. Saric defends on the ball with a lot of effort, getting on his stance and using his lateral quickness to stay in front of opposing power forwards. However, stronger players have found success in overpowering him in the post, and Saric lacks the wingspan to effectively contest these shots without leaving his feet, thereby making himself vulnerable to fouling.
On a team-level, Efes switches a lot on pick-and-rolls and Saric has been attentive with his help responsibilities, rotating to pick up opponents diving to the basket. He is able to play above the rim as a shot blocker but not in volume, which limits his impact despite his effort. Saric maximizes his athleticism as an asset protecting the glass, though, ranking 10th in the Turkish league and 12th in the Euroleague in defensive rebounding rate. That has translated on Efes allowing 94 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, while permitting 96.2 overall.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.