Australian point guard Dante Exum may be the 2014 NBA draft’s top international man of mystery, but Croatian forward Dario Saric isn’t far behind.
If Saric is still on the board at 10, should the Sixers consider using their second lottery pick on him? Given what we know about the 6-foot-10 power forward (umm, not that much), there’s a legitimate case to be made.
If we’re to put stock in his numbers for his Croatian squad, Cibona, the 20-year-old can play. He averaged 16.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 32.9 minutes this past season and was named both Adriatic League MVP and Finals MVP while leading his team to the league championship.
At 6-10 and 223 pounds, he possesses ideal height for a stretch 4, although he could stand to pack on a few pounds. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla, a college basketball analyst and former coach, told Celtics.com’s Emily Austen that Saric is an “outside-in” player; in other words, he’s more in the mold of Miami-era Chris Bosh than Julius Randle. (ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton compared him to Al Harrington and Tobias Harris.)
What sets Saric apart from the draft’s other top power forward prospects is his floor vision and ball-handling ability. For a guy his size, Saric is an unbelievably gifted passer and playmaker.
Check out this nifty behind-the-back pass:
Saric has shown a Blake Griffin-esque ability to snare a rebound and bring the ball up the floor in transition. That skill is a major perk, one that could be magnified playing alongside athletes like Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel (and Andrew Wiggins?) in the fast-paced Sixers offense.
Here, again, he demonstrates his ability on the fast break:
Saric’s outside shooting was a weakness in his earlier days, but his jumper has improved over the past year. He knocked down 30 of his 87 attempts from downtown on the year in the Adriatic League (34.5 percent), compared to 10 of 33 (30.3 percent) in 2012-13.
Having a floor spacer to pair with Noel would certainly behoove the Sixers, who ranked dead last in 3-point percentage this past season. Bigger, bruising post players would likely bully a Saric-Noel frontcourt at first—Memphis might legitimately pound the duo into dirt—but that weakness could be addressed by adding a third, physical big man. This frontcourt duo would have the potential to develop into something special over time.
According to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, the Sixers’ interest in Saric dates back to last year, when he withdrew his name from consideration two weeks before the 2013 draft. Per Ford, Saric was “concerned he wouldn’t get playing time in the NBA or would spend all of his time in the D-League,” and thus opted to return to Europe for another season.
UPDATE (6/24 at 11 a.m.): On Monday, Ford broke the news that Saric has agreed in principal to a three-year deal with a Turkish squad, Anadolu Efes, which includes a player option for the third year. “The move will essentially prohibit Saric from playing in the NBA for a minimum of two years,” a source told Ford.
That shouldn’t necessarily dissuade the Sixers from drafting him, though. With Noel and the No. 3 overall pick both set to make their NBA debuts this fall, throwing a third lottery-pick rookie in the mix could complicate matters for Brett Brown. Saric staying abroad and continuing to improve in a familiar environment—against competition that’s at least the equivalent of D-League talent—could be construed as a positive, especially given the Sixers’ disincentive to make the 2015 playoffs. (They owe their first-round pick to Boston next year if they do make the postseason; otherwise, they’ll send their 2015 and 2016 second-rounders to the Celtics.)
With Saric unlikely to come to the NBA until the 2016-17 (at the earliest), he’s almost guaranteed to be available when the Sixers come back on the clock at 10. Depending how the board shakes out and who Philly picks at No. 3, he could be a highly intriguing draft-and-stash candidate.