Game Preview | Saric Relying on Feel to Make Impact

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

CAMDEN, NJ - The surrounding cast may be different, and his role, too. But Dario Saric’s signature style of play hasn’t changed. Workmanlike and impactful. And as of late, he only appears to be getting more and more comfortable.

Last season, especially towards the end, when the 76ers were without Joel Embiid for the final two and a half months, Saric was depended upon heavily. His usage percentage, which finished the year at 24.4, had already ranked as one of the highest among the team’s regular rotation players, and grew even higher in Embiid’s absence.

Now, on the heels of a summer that saw the Sixers enrich their talent base, Saric hasn’t been required to assume quite as heavy a load. Entering Saturday’s match-up with the Detroit Pistons (7:30 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), his usage percentage stood at 18.2.

Nonetheless, the crafty Croatian’s spirit has stayed the same. He remains a dangerous Swiss Army knife-like threat, blue-collar, determined, and tough as ever. His presence has been critical to the Sixers’ encouraging start. 

“Just like anything, you get more comfortable the more you do something,” Brett Brown said this week, when asked to assess Saric’s play. 

Since the coaching staff decided to insert Saric into the starting line-up six games into the current campaign, the Sixers have gone 10-4.

Over the club’s previous four games, two of which have come against the Eastern Conference’s top teams (Boston, Cleveland), and another two without Ben Simmons (11/25 vs Orlando) and Joel Embiid (11/30 vs Boston), Saric has put up particularly impressive numbers, averaging 17.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. He’s reached the 20-point mark twice in the last week, and registered his fourth double-double of the season Thursday against the Celtics (18 pts, 10 reb).

“There’s just a rhythm to how we’re trying to how we sub our team,” said Brown. “I think that Dario, because he’s getting more into a rhythm of how I’m playing him, and some of the things we’re looking for, just allows him a high level of comfort and expectation, and knowing where he can most influence the game.”

And which areas specifically have these been? A couple stand out.

On the offensive end, Saric seems to be pursuing more opportunities and having more success on the interior. Again, zeroing in on his last four contests, the 23-year old has taken 62.0 percent of his shots (26 of 50) in the restricted area + paint, and converted 64.5 percent of those attempts (20-31). Furthermore, nearly half of his field goal tries the past four games (24 of 50) have come within five feet of the rim, a distance from which he has shot 70.8 percent (17-24).

By comparison, through Saric’s first 17 games of the year, only 34.4 percent of his attempts (56 of 163) came in the restricted area + paint, where he shot 41.1 percent (23-56). Additionally, only about a quarter of Saric’s field goals (41 of 163) were shot within five feet of the basket, where he had been at 39.0 percent (16-41) before these last four games.

Means of scoring wasn’t the only part of Saric’s game to undergo a change as the month of November drew to a close. His rebounding picked up as well, especially on the offensive glass, with his offensive rebounding percentage standing at 12.3 over his last four games.  

This development, without question, can be tied to Saric’s increased interior scoring numbers. His mindset has been to rely on instincts, and pick and choose his spots. 

“Sometimes in a game, when you have players around you, you feel what is your role,” Saric said in Boston. “You feel how to play, feel when to attack the rim, when to go downhill. Everything is about feeling.”

Having this past week surpassed the century mark for career games logged in a 76er uniform (he’s currently at 102), Saric, who’s also competed at the highest levels on the European and international circuits, has drawn confidence in his resume and experiences. He believes he’s learned how to fit in in any setting.

“Last year, I was one of the leaders,” he said. “This year is different. I think that is my quality - I can adjust on every position and every role on the team.”

Blending in while finding ways to stand out, Saric has stayed true to form.

Opponent Outlook:

The Detroit Pistons (14-7) were in action Friday, falling to the Washington Wizards, 109-91, in the nation’s capital. The loss, which halted a three-game winning streak, moved Detroit into a tie with the Toronto Raptors for third-place in the Eastern Conference.

For the better part of the first two months of the season, the Pistons have been one of the NBA’s more promising teams. Tobias Harris (18.9 ppg, 46.5 3fg%) has played at a high level, while Avery Bradley (16.6 pts, 42.9 3fg%) has proven to be a productive addition. Andre Drummond remains a beast on the block, averaging a league-best 15.2 rebounds per game.

Follow Along:

• Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app

• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network