It’s easy to be distracted by the talent and charisma of Joel Embiid, the athletic dominance of Ben Simmons, and the head-scratching nonsense of the Markelle Fultz situation.
At the end of every recap I write, I usually think to myself, “shit.. did I even mention Saric in there?”
The answer is usually no and sometimes yes, but never with the appropriate amount of words or praise, because Dario Saric has been excellent in 2018, just a rock solid player with consistent contributions across the board.
For starters, he’s shooting above 50% in February and 44.4% from three. That continues the mostly upward trend that began in late October and early November when he was re-inserted into the starting lineup following a brief bench stint:
The trend continues when you go back through the last 10 games. It’s not just a five-game blip. Dario has been hitting above 46% on field goals and 40% on three-pointers dating back to the January 11th loss in Boston:
Steady improvement since we flipped the calendar to 2018.
Year-to-year, the difference is obvious:
Dario’s improvements through 52 games in 2017-18, versus 81 games in 2016-17:
- +3.6 field goal percentage
- +7.0 three point percentage
- +4.4 minutes per game
- -0.1 two pointers attempted
- +0.8 three pointers attempted
- +6.1 effective field goal percentage
- -0.1 total rebounds
- +0.7 offensive rebounds
- +0.5 assists per game
- -0.3 turnovers per game
- +1.6 points per game
- +11.6 free throw percentage
He’s up across the board in almost every category, and you should expect him to be slightly down in defensive rebounding with Embiid and Simmons on the floor. In exchange, his offensive rebounding is improved by almost 33% this season as he hustles and scraps on the attacking end of the court.
Obviously I think a lot has to do with being a starter and sharing the floor with better players on a better team. I’d look sharper playing alongside Embiid, Simmons, JJ Redick, and Robert Covington, vs. whatever the Sixers rolled out last year. There’s also the rhythm aspect, right? Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot actually hit some shots as a starter while he generally struggles off the bench. Dario started 36 of 81 games last year (44.4%), but has started 47 of 52 games this year (90.3%).
So he only came off the bench five times this season, back in October when Fultz was healthy, but look at the difference in this production vs. starting the game:
He wasn’t close to being the player he is now.
Same thing last year, with a much more robust sample size:
Everything drops when he comes off the bench.
Beyond all of the numbers, Dario is just a nice fit for this team, with the ability to stretch the floor and hit three pointers as a 6’10” power forward. That results in excellent spacing on plays like this:
You’ve got three shooters fanned across the perimeter with your 7’2″ big man working the post and your 6’10” ‘point guard’ hovering along the opposite baseline. Markieff Morris could double team Embiid, but then risks leaving Saric open.
It plays out like this:
Embiid drives, Morris gets lost, and Saric gets inside position to crash the glass for a put back.
If you want to throw the double team instead, you’re leaving yourself open to this:
That’s the sort of high/low option that Saric provides with Embiid, vs. having Simmons out on the perimeter, a guy who isn’t going to shoot from beyond the elbow.
And on a play like this, Embiid is pulling the opposing rim protector (in this case Hassan Whiteside) out to the free-throw line, which allows Saric to attack the vacated space in the paint:
They interchange naturally as a 4/5 combo that can shoot from distance, which provides a ton of awkward looks for defenders.
Speaking of defense, his is getting better. Dario’s DEFRTG is improved by two points, from 109 to 107. He was particularly excellent in the Minnesota road win and starts for one of the NBA’s best defensive teams. The Saric/Embiid/Simmons/Redick/Covington grouping has played 382 minutes this season with a 96.8 defensive rating. Only OKC and Boston’s starting lineups have a better DEFRTG with 275+ minutes on the court together.
All of this is pretty good for a guy who is never coming over.
stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference