Today’s featured draft profile will be on European phenom, Dario Saric. The 19-year-old forward is believed by many to be the best international player available in this year’s draft, and his uncanny passing ability in combination with his size has led to his fans labeling him as “The European Magic Johnson”. While I wouldn’t go that far, it isn’t hard to look at Saric and notice the immense potential he possesses when he’s on the court. After winning the gold medal with Croatia in the 2012 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship, where Saric was unanimously voted tournament MVP by averaging 25.6 points per game (1st) and 10.1 rebounds per game (2nd), he was pegged as a lottery pick by many scouts, but his stock has begun to sink due to his sub-par performances this year with his new club, and there is a possibility he makes it into the late 1st round.
Birthday: 4/8/94 -Projected NBA Position(s): Small Forward/Power Forward – Class: International – Ht: 6-10 – Wt: 225 – Team: Cibona Zagreb – Hometown: Sibenik, Croatia
2012-13 Per Game Averages: 7.7 Points – 2.1 Assists – 6.1 Rebounds – 36.8 FG% – 30.3 3P% – 50.0 FT%
– Gifted passer with exceptional court vision
– Terrific ball handler for his size
– Threat in transition/Fluid when running the floor
– High Basketball I.Q./Has a strong feel for the game
– Considerable potential as a Point-Forward
– Good rebounder who always brings effort on boards
– Not a great athlete
– Defensively, slow feet will hurt him against 3′s/Lack of strength will hurt him against 4′s
– Shot is improving, but still inconsistent
– Needs the ball in his hands to make an impact
– Character concerns over the last year/Speeding ticket, DUI, fined by club for breaking curfew
Saric is in an unusual position in 2013. His draft stock appeared to have peaked last year at the conclusion of the 2012 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship, where he led his club to the gold medal and his dominant performance earned him MVP honors. NBA scouts were drooling over his game, and he saw himself projected as a sure lock for the lottery whenever he decided to declare for the draft. But that has begun to change, as Saric is now playing on a professional club, and is going through the growing pains you’d expect a 19-year-old to experience when transitioning to playing with grown men. His numbers have been less than stellar, and along with his recent screw-ups, including a DUI where he hit three parked cars and had his license suspended, he has fallen out of the lottery in most mocks and is currently labeled as a mid-to-late first round selection.
Offensively, Saric’s game reminds me of Paul Pierce with a little Hedo Turkoglu mixed in. While he lacks considerable athleticism to beat defenders off the dribble with his first step, he’s crafty. Using his exceptional ball handling and body control, he works to get his man off-balance and then attacks with his long strides, also making him a threat off the bounce. He’s very good at changing direction and timing his dives to the basket, similar to Pierce and his “slow yet smooth” style.
But without question, Saric’s true potential lies in his ability as a creator for others, and similar to Turkoglu, can be a legitimate Point-Forward. A gifted passer with incredible court vision for his position, Saric can grab a defensive rebound, turn, and be across half-court in three steps, looking to initiate the offense. It also makes Saric a power in transition, as he is very good as getting his teammates shots at the rim on the break. He’s just as strong a passer from the post, always keeping his head up and reading the defense, then firing the ball to a shooter on the perimeter or a cutter as soon as he senses a double coming or sees an opening.
Saric’s weaknesses begin with his inconsistent jumper, which features a slight hitch just before the release. Instead of the ball coming off his fingers, it sometimes launches from his hand, taking some arc out of his shot. It’s mostly an issue with his mechanics, and although some time with a shooting coach could remedy this, it hurts his ability to threaten a defense in the half-court.
Saric also has a somewhat small wingspan for his size, and his lack of lateral quickness makes the idea of sticking him on the perimeter as a defender less than ideal. Despite his size, Saric’s game is one of finesse not physicality, so although he is a solid rebounder, don’t expect him to be throwing down in the paint. He clearly is a better defender in the post, utilizing active hands and his basketball I.Q. to deny the entry pass, but he must add more mass and become stronger to handle the battles he’ll be having against some 4′s on the low block.
I’m usually wary of drafting European players, as it is often difficult for their games to transition to the NBA, and for every Dirk Nowitzki, there is a Darko Milicic. However, Saric’s ability and potential is hard to ignore, and despite his recent struggles, one must remember that he is only 19 and still maturing. If the Knicks were thinking towards the future, like in 2015 when they have several contracts coming off their books for example, they could pull a “draft & stash” with Saric. Let the young forward continue to grow in Europe for another year or two, then in 2015 when the rebuild begins, they’ll be adding a 6’10/235-240 pound Point-Forward. Whichever way New York decides to go in this year’s draft, Saric’s upside is evident, and he presents himself as a very interesting option if available at #24.