The final weekend of March Madness is here, which means the final profile of the international and D-League player portion of my prospect series is here as well. Before I dive into the college prospect landscape next week, we take one last look overseas to Croatia, where we can find Dario Saric.
Dario Saric was first on my list to cover in the series before a report emerged that he may not declare this year. After some confusion at the end of March, it is now clearer that Saric is still likely to declare and the report that he had reached a three year deal with a Turkish team that would have kept him overseas for two more seasons has been proven to be false.
At 6’10″ and 223 pounds, Dario Saric is considered the top international prospect in this year’s draft. Saric has been on the cusp of a move to the NBA for two years now, as he declared for the draft last year as well before pulling out and choosing to stay in Europe for another year. He was considered a late lottery talent before removing himself from the draft. DraftExpress has Dario in the 9th spot in their 2014 NBA mock draft and some believe he may end up even higher by the time the draft rolls around in June.
The extra season in Europe has proved to be a success for the 19 year old Croatian. As a member of Cibona, a Adriatic league team based in Zagreb, Croatia, Saric has made a big step forward this season and has helped remove some of the labels as a boom or bust prospect. Saric has seen a bump in playing time this season with Cibona, averaging 16.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals in 32.5 minutes a game in Adriatic League play. The most notable improvement he has achieved is better shooting from the field, 50.2% in comparison to 36.8% last season. His 3-point shooting is still hovering around 30%, but the potential of Saric having success in the NBA as a scorer seems more of a possibility.
Saric has carried the label of a point forward since he first landed on the NBA radar, but his passing numbers leave much to be desired. His assists to turnover ratio, at just under 1, will push teams toward keeping him off ball and a transition to a scorer on the wing seems like a better fit for him. However, Saric’s position in the NBA has yet to be defined.
Similarly to Jan Vesely of the Denver Nuggets when he entered the draft in 2011, Saric is considered a possiblity at either forward spots in the NBA. He seems more capable as a scorer than Vesely did when he entered the draft and a lack of skill in post situations will likely push him to the perimeter as a small forward. The biggest worry for Saric will be on the other end of the floor. With a below average wingspan for his height, listed as 6’10″, Saric has struggled to defend on the perimeter, and his lack of strength allows for post players to take advantage of Saric as a power forward. Improving his technique when defending on the perimeter may help in the long run, but he will likely always struggle against more athletic wings. Adding strength would also help on both ends of the floor, but with a better playing style for the wing, he’ll be a liability on the defensive end when he is matched up with NBA small forwards.
The Hawks are continuing their push for a playoff spot, and with the Knicks right on their tail, a slip out of the playoffs and into the lottery is a real possibility at the moment. It is a long-shot for Saric to fall to the 15th spot, where the Hawks would select if they hold onto the 8th seed, but he could be available at the 10 or 11th spot, where the Hawks could be if they miss the playoffs. The wing positions are a clear priority for Atlanta and Saric may be the best option on the wing after Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Saric could be stashed for another year in Europe, and with Joe Ingles on the Hawks’ radar, there may already be an option for the team to fill the void as Saric continues to develop in Croatia. Saric could be another target to fill the role as sixth man for the Hawks going forward as his scoring ability would make him a great weapon off the bench.
Saric still may be a project for the first few years in the NBA, but his ceiling will put him on the draft boards of many teams. He’ll continue to be a name linked to the Hawks as he was for a short time before the 2013 NBA draft, but his stock continues to rise and he may be off the board when Atlanta is on the clock.
Check out my other draft profiles on Serbian shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, 6’11″ Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkic, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s older brother Thanasis, 6’10″ Swiss big man Clint Capela and NBA D-League standout P.J. Hairston.