Dario Saric, 6-foot-10 power forward, Croatia
2013-14 stats: 16.7 PPG, 3.2 APG, .497 FG%
Saric might have been a lottery pick last year before opting to pull his name out and return to Europe, a scenario some observers believe could replay itself this time around, depending on whether the player’s father or agent is a more reliable source. Nevertheless, the versatile prospect has a unique game, as he can function as an offensive facilitator on the wing and in transition or use his size on the interior to rebound and finish around the basket. Behind Australian guard Dante Exum, Saric is arguably the top international player in the draft and after his success abroad, the point forward looks ready to bring his game to the NBA.
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Career highlights: The 20-year-old already has quite a resume, having dominated the same FIBA under-19 tournament in which Exum saw his stock rise last summer, leading his Croatian squad in scoring, rebounding and assists, while also being a strong contributor for the senior national team and helping them qualify for the upcoming FIBA World Cup. Saric also starred in the 2012 Nike Hoop Summit all-star game, showing off similar versatility and excelling against some of the top American prep talent in that year’s class. But probably the strongest testament to his ability was made this past season, as he was the clear focal point for Cibona, his club team, leading it to a title, winning league MVP honors and leading the league in scoring—he averaged nearly 17 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game, while shooting almost 50 percent from the field—despite being one of the younger players in the Adriatic League.
Strengths: Saric’s ability to handle the ball for his size is easily the biggest asset of his game, as he’s capable of taking the ball coast to coast off defensive rebounds, breaking down big men on the perimeter and even occasionally running the offense. Although he still needs to add strength, Saric is a highly competitive, aggressive player who attacks the basket, doesn’t shy away from using his height as a back-to-the-basket player and is an adept rebounder on both ends of the floor. He also plays with a great deal of finesse, runs the floor in transition, is a willing passer and clever finisher around the rim.
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Weaknesses: While he’s capable of knocking down open jumpers, Saric is considered an inconsistent outside shooter with room for improvement in that area of his game. He can also stand to add weight, as previously mentioned, because at this stage of his career, he doesn’t possess the necessary quickness to defend athletic NBA wing players and will likely have to defend power forwards—though he’s more of a small forward offensively—as dictated by his size. Saric’s competitive nature is a plus, for the most part, but it can manifest itself it what’s perceived to be a poor attitude and on occasion, he can force the issue with the ball in his hands, leading to turnovers.
Draft projection: If he remains in the draft, Saric is pretty much a lock to be selected in the lottery, with his range beginning at the sixth pick. There will be an adjustment process to both the NBA and the American style of play, but Saric’s understanding of the game should make that process relatively easy and it won’t be surprising to see him emerge as an important contributor early in his career, depending on his team, something he will undoubtedly consider before moving stateside. When he does arrive, Saric will ideally be surrounded by shooters and a scoring point guard willing to play off the ball at times, so that his gift for facilitating can be cultivated and he will have a chance to flourish as a jack-of-all-trades combo forward.