Sometimes Brett Brown will drop incredibly detailed pregame quotes that get lost in the shuffle of the actual game itself.
For example, on Monday evening, he was asked a simple question about Dario Saric, and why the second-year power forward has improved so much this season. Brett sort of perked up and went into a three-minute answer about shooting mechanics and footwork and defensive stance – all really good stuff to think about.
But then Dario went out and shot 2-9, finishing with only his third single-digit scoring output in the past 40 games.
That’s the irony of the whole thing; sometimes you talk a guy up, then he goes out and has a clunker. It’s the curse of the commentator (or the coach, this time around).
So I decided to save the quotes and put together a Saric sidebar, since he’s just crushing his rookie season output. Dario is hitting at 45.5% this year and 39.7% from three, numbers that are way up from the 41.1% and 31.1% he posted as a rookie.
Here’s the verbatim from the other night:
Kyle Neubeck (Philly Voice): Brett, is there anything with Dario that has stood out to you as a surprise, whether that’s his defense this year, his shooting improvement, obviously – what’s the one thing that stands out?
Brett Brown: Two things. First, the most blatant – his shot. That’s the thing that changes his world, and certainly our world. He really is now shooting the ball with legs, (with) air time, and less of a dart, and with confidence, not like rocker-step, rocker-step, shot – just rise up and shoot it. We’re still trying to get him to minimize his long twos. He has historically been a long two guy. We’re trying to have him go one more dribble to the rim, in that paint to (inaudible, I think he says “great”) mentality. But his three-point shot is one thing on offense. The defensive improvement in relation to the knowledge – like he’s not going to come out and all of a sudden be quicker – but his stance on a wing, his stance in the middle cylinder, his stance in those slot drives, which are now the NBA’s most difficult iso spot to guard, the catch/go on that sort of lane line, the slot drive. So if you were to look at a wing drive, just a stone cold, top of the key, he’s guarding somebody that he switched out on, or a catch/go slot drive, he’s improved with his feet. He’s improved with his spacing. He’s improved his ability to understand, “these are my physical limitations, or gifts, and this guy is quicker than me, and I’ve got to give him a cushion.”
Because the sport is still, let them beat you with long, contested twos. Once you sort of get that in your head both offensively and defensively, well if they pull up and hit some long contested twos, you kind of shake their hand sometimes. His footwork and his three have stood out to me as the two (things) that are most important to his growth, offensively and defensively.
(a few more questions, then a follow-up about his shot)
David Murphy (Inquirer): You mentioned the trajectory of Dario’s shot. Is that, mechanically, more legs, the angle of his release?
Brown: It’s all of that. I go right to his starting point, instead of playing out of a telephone booth, how do you load? If you were to come to our court, I tape a four-point line on the floor. You’ll see it. So we space far, you’re gonna space outside the four-point line on the flight of the ball. Are you gonna be a hugger? No. You’re going to be a stepper. You’re going to step into your shot. So as the thing’s in the air, as I step into my shot, the left/right mentality, I now have a base. I’m not going to catch it, give, (Brown makes a downward motion) then shoot. The NBA won’t let you get that shot off. So his preparation has improved dramatically. If you look at his elbow, it’s completely under the ball. It’s not a flying elbow. Therefore you get your legs and your elbow (under you) and his release point is about two inches above his forehead. He probably gets about a foot more of arc of airtime on his ball. It’s the mechanics of shooting. He’s embraced it and he’s improve doing it. He spent a lot of time with it.
There’s a lot to unpack there, so we’ll just go item-by-item.
Let’s take a look at his shooting charts over at NBASavant.com, starting with his rookie year:
Dario finished below the league average in most areas.
He rarely shot corner threes and instead took most of his looks from wing and straight-on positions, an area where he finished 30.6% on the season, just 88 for 288. He shot well inside the paint in short-range situations and finished respectably around the rim, but not much flew off the page in year number one.
Three-point shooting is up across the board. Look at him hitting at 39.2% from that same high/wing area of the three point line. That’s his spot, and it’s the same thing this year in avoiding the corners. He just doesn’t operate from there.
He’s still below average in the blue circle, that 32.4% mark in two-pointers taken outside of the paint. The good news is that he’s only tried 102 of those shots in 81 games (1.26 per game), while he tried 170 in 68 rookie year games (2.5). So he’s cut down on those longer two-point looks by a full one attempt per game as a sophomore.
His finishing at the rim is also up 6.4% this year. And free-throw shooting is up from 78.2% to 87.4%.
Across the board, you see better shooting and smarter shooting. The analytics guys approve.
Legs and air time
Brett mentioned the rocker step in his quote, which is the quick jab that guys like Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose used/use with a ton of success.
A quick primer:
Brett thinks that Dario is showing more confidence to catch and shoot, rather than throwing that jab step at defenders.
In the beginning of the year, when Saric was coming off the bench, he seemed to have a harder time getting into a shooting rhythm. In the play below, he finds himself in his favored wing area, but can’t seem to decide if he wants to shoot or drive:
With Daniel Theis guarding him, Dario throws a rocker step, then puts the ball on the floor and loses the handle. When he gains control, he throws a cross-court pass that’s deflected and almost leads to a turnover. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot doesn’t do a great job of keeping space there, either, since he walks Jayson Tatum right into the paint.
I honestly think a lot of Dario’s early-season issues had to do with playing on the second unit, but that’s beside the point.
To contrast the play above, here’s a similar sequence where he finds himself in the same position. No rocker step, no second-guessing, just a confident catch and shoot for nothing but net:
No hesitation there at all. Michael Beasley isn’t exactly yards away from him, and Ben Simmons spaces the floor by going down into the low post.
As far as “stepping into the shot,” as Brown mentioned, this is a really nice example here:
Again, look at how Ben Simmons creates space by taking his 6’10” frame into a pseudo-post position and allowing Dario to trail the play, catch the pass, and step into that shooting motion. The Sixers do a really nice job of getting open three-point looks on trails from their 4 and 5 men, which isn’t the case for about 85% of NBA teams. Dwight Howard isn’t ghosting into the front court to knock down a three-pointer, ya know? Andre Drummond isn’t doing it.
Looking then at Dario’s form, it matches what Brown was talking about.
Elbow under the ball?
Release point a few inches above the forehead?
Looks like it:
Sorry for the blurry images, that’s the best I can do while trying to crop and zoom.
As far as the differences from last year, I think you see it in the clip below, where the motion looks mostly the same, but the release point appears to be a little lower. His shot was a little more flat last year, I think because the elbow motion was just a little more “loose,” if that makes sense:
He front rims that ball but gets a shooter’s bounce for the bucket. Go back though and look at his shooting from last season and during his time at Anadolu Efes, and you’ll see that the arc isn’t the same. He’s now getting the ball up nicely and showing a lot of consistency in his second NBA season.
Brown talked about Dario’s defensive improvements in relation to understanding his physical limitations and providing the proper cushion to accommodate for that.
We know Dario is probably the least athletic among the Sixers’ starting five, and that’s reflected in his 104.4 defensive rating, the worst individual number of an overall excellent grouping. But he’s up from a 106.9 rookie year DEFRTG, a product I think is the combination of his solo improvement and just simply playing with better teammates this time around.
He’s definitely moving his feet better.
This is kind of a weird example, and it’s not what Brett was talking about specifically, but I pulled this clip from the season opener because it shows good footwork in a transition sequence where he finds himself defending a charging John Wall:
It looks like he’s on roller skates there, and could end up on his rear end, but he keeps his feet really well and then times the swat perfectly, turning transition defense into an offensive opportunity for his team. I don’t think that’s a play he makes as a rookie.
Brett mentioned in the quote that Dario isn’t going to be any quicker on defense, but that he compensates for that with a better stance and better spacing. That seems to be the case, but sometimes he’s just going to get stuck in bad situations, like this one here:
In that clip, he winds up on D’Angelo Russell in transition, a total mismatch.
So the Nets try to run a pick and roll, Joel Embiid hedges the screen, and Russell starts towards the lane line, the slot area on the right side of the floor. Dario’s footwork isn’t bad here. He actually keeps Russell in front of him, makes him go left, and forces a one-handed floater. It helps when a 7’2″ defensive player of the year candidate is standing behind you.
But when Brooklyn gets the offensive rebound, he has trouble keeping up with Russell, who slides back out to the three-point line for a triple.
That’s one of the few defensive issues Philly has this year. The starting unit is athletic enough to switch 1 through 3, and even Embiid can come out to the perimeter and defend admirably in mismatch situations. Dario is a different story, and sometimes he ends up on smaller and faster guys that he has trouble keeping in front of him.
On this play here, it’s a basic catch and drive:
Not great help from Richaun Holmes, but DeMarre Carroll isn’t exactly 2010 Monta Ellis when it comes to catch and drive situations.
So the defensive side of the ball is probably where Dario lags a little bit, but there’s no doubting his offensive improvement this season. It’s been really enjoyable to watch.