Dario Saric’s Slow Start is Killing the Sixers

Photo credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

We know Dario Saric is a slow starter.

He was sluggish to get off the blocks last year and it was the same story during his 2016 rookie year, when he showed some flashes early but really didn’t become a consistent double-figure scorer until after the All-Star break.

Saric has really struggled this year, and it’s putting a strain on a squad that already has scoring issues, specifically in a starting backcourt that features two #1 overall draft picks who are hesitant to shoot outside of five feet.

Dario’s numbers are down across the board.

He’s shooting just 34% from the field and 23.2% from three point range, which puts him 11 and 16 percent off last year’s averages in each category. The only areas of improvement thus far are in his free-throw shooting and turnover totals:

He’s committing more fouls and his rebounding is down slightly, too.

We asked Dario straight-up about his struggles a few weeks ago, and he didn’t shy away from the questions, saying this about his summer preparation and routine:

“I don’t know. It’s so weird, you know? Like always since I started in the NBA I’ve been bad in the preseason and the beginning of the regular season. I don’t know, I try to get in a rhythm, because I’m at home (in Croatia) for most of the summer and the rest of the team is over here playing. Maybe that’s the one reason. But I think it’s not something to worry about. I think I’ll be good in the next couple of games.”

“Maybe in the future I’ll think about (changing that routine), maybe I can prepare for the season better. But it’s not like something where I’m playing extremely bad and something where I need to change my whole life. I think I’m just right for now.”

Those quotes date back to October 22nd, when the Sixers had only played three games.

We’re up to 11 now, which doesn’t seem like much, but 11 out of 82 games is 13.4% of the season. That’s a decent chunk of time to struggle. Think of a guy hitting a rough patch for 11 games in February or March, right? That would be considered a pretty significant slump.

Over at NBAMath.com, Dario ranks 415th out of 426 players in their “TPA” metric, which is “total points added.” They use a formula that melds offensive and defensive contributions, and Dario is among the worst offensive players in the league relative to the amount of possessions he’s played:

You see Klay Thompson in there also, who has struggled to shoot the ball through the first few weeks of the season. You see a couple of bums in Jabari Parker and Hassan Whiteside in that range, along with rookies like Trae Young and Collin Sexton.

When you filter TPA to look at the Sixers numbers only, Dario is dead last, now behind Markelle Fultz:

So what’s the deal?

I feel like a lot of his shots have been coming out flat, a lot of three pointers hitting the front of the rim.

This is a pretty typical wing spot for him to catch and step into a deep ball:


He’s 2-9 from deep through three November games.

Dario hit one of those two shots on Saturday when the Sixers ran their “horns flare” set, which is usually reserved for JJ Redick or Landry Shamet if he’s in the game.

Here’s the play:

I like that because you’re dialing up something specifically for Dario there (even though Simmons can drive the slot off this look if the defender is playing high).

And maybe that’s how you get Saric into a rhythm, by calling his number. He’s not a guy they run plays for, similar to Robert Covington. Brett Brown’s play sheet features predominantly stuff for Joel Embiid and Redick, and some low post and cross-screen things to get Simmons the ball in the paint. There are not a ton of calls in there for the rest of the squad, but in this case you just put Dario into a common set and give him a shot.

Another way they can get him going is by throwing some smaller lineups out there. Let Dario play the five in the same fashion Brown used he and Ersan Ilyasova last year, that 4/5 front court interchange. It really was successful against Miami in the playoffs and down the stretch in the regular season, so I wouldn’t mind seeing something like this:

  1. Markelle Fultz
  2. JJ Redick
  3. Robert Covington
  4. Ben Simmons
  5. Dario Saric

Three shooters there with Markelle handling the ball and Simmons working the low block.

I’d also be interested to see how a Saric/Mike Muscala pairing would fare moving forward. According to NBA.com, they’ve only spent 17 minutes together on the court, 17 minutes in which the team was a -20. That’s certainly not ideal, but it’s really the only 4/5 combo you can throw out there sans Joel Embiid that shoots the three ball at a decent enough clip. You definitely aren’t getting shooting from Amir Johnson.

Looking through some tracking data, there isn’t too much that stands out. More than half of Dario’s attempts are catch and shoot three pointers, while a little more than a third are grinder type of plays inside of ten feet:

He’s hitting 24.1% of catch and shoot three pointers, which comprise 51.9% of his shots.

Dario also is not shooting a ton of stuff with people in his face. He’s not throwing up a lot of contested three pointers, according to the same tracking data, which shows that exactly 50% of his field goal attempts are three point attempts with defenders at least four feet away from him:

Right now Dario’s 9.8 points per game is good for 5th on the team. He averaged 14.6 last year and was incredibly consistent, with very few clunkers across the board.

So say what you will about Markelle and Ben and their inability or unwillingness to shoot the ball, but Dario can take on some of that burden if he starts playing like last year’s Dario.


23 Responses

  1. No, no, the brunt of the load falls squarely on Simmons regression and his complete non desire to develop a jumper.

  2. BFD the sixers stink.
    The only difference between now and 4 years ago is the tickets prices have been raised
    on all of the chump fans.

  3. And worse he is such a liability on D. Still, the poor play must eventually fall on Brown who was simultaneously coach and gm during the off season. And he has made no adjustments, and today blamed his 22 year old point and 20 year old two for poor spacing, as though they should be working it out between them. Maybe he should put Amir at the two.

  4. Brett Brown is a fine coach. Brett the coach isn’t the problem. Brett the GM is the problem with this team. Just because Mr. and Mrs. Tweets-a-lot embarrassed the franchise doesn’t mean the Sixers should shy away from having a real, competent GM.

    1. you would have to throw in that 2021 Miami 1st rounder as well at the very least, and probably another 1st rounder. That is if somebody competent was running the show for Minny. Fultz is increasingly looking like a total bust and headache to deal with, Dario is a fine player but is going to get pretty overpaid when his rookie deal is up. Jimmy Butler has some miles on his body, but is one of the top 2-way players in the league and adding him would put the Sixers a lot closer to the Celtics/Raptors than they are now.

      Hopefully for the sixers Thibs has more say than their owner and will accept the deal you posted

      1. With Butler being the ass he is, TWolves are desperate sellers. However, they’re not going to simply give him away for a Fultz and Dario combo. It’ll take those picks too as you said.

      2. Huh? The owner is the one who WANTS a deal to get done. It has been Thibs who has stood in the way of a deal this entire time. And with the offers he’s already rejected, there is no way in hell he’s taking that offer from the Sixers.

  5. Don’t the sixers have 2 hall of fame players on their team? how is it, that a role player is killing them? I’m more inclined to believe that the guy thats shooting career 23% outside of 8′ is killing the sixers. Mr a Dingo Ate his Australian Baby Ben Simmons

  6. I killed the Sixers. Remember? I did it on purpose. Everyone thought I was a genius for losing intentionally.
    My plan was to get lucky. Didn’t work.

  7. The schefty interviews aren’t the same with farzy . I miss the Cuz steering that ship

    1. What Did CSN PHilly do with the new chick that was doing the morning reports?

  8. Maybe the Sixers just are not a good basketball team? Perhaps this process is not actually a success?

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