Dario Saric has been candid about his adjustments to the NBA game. He admits there is a learning curve to a new league and doesn’t discount the toll his body took playing in the Summer Olympics after a long EuroLeague season.
Ideally, Saric could have eased into his first training camp. Frontcourt injuries, though, didn’t allow for that. Without Ben Simmons (right Jones fracture), Jahlil Okafor (right knee) and Nerlens Noel (left groin strain) having played a game yet, Saric has been inserted into the starting lineup at power forward sooner than if others had been healthy.
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“I think that Dario, under normal circumstances, could feel his way a little bit more comfortably,” Brett Brown said Tuesday after practice. “And yes, he has been thrown into the fire. But I bet at the end of the year, we all will look back and think that situation has helped him more than hurt him.”
Saric knew scoring would be a big part of his role when he joined the Sixers in July from Anadolu Efes in Instanbul. He shot a combined 9 for 13 from the field in his first two preseason games, then 5 for 22 in the last three. Saric is averaging 8.4 points per game.
He has noticed a trend when reviewing film.
“I saw I feel one problem. I rush the last couple games. I rush to shoot the ball,” he said.
Saric is aware of how much hype surrounded his arrival to Philadelphia. The Sixers acquired him on draft night 2014 from the Magic, then he remained overseas for two years until making the decision this summer to leave Europe.
Daily aspects of the NBA life are new to him. He is used to two practices a day in Europe compared to a single intense one in the morning. Saric is trying to establish a rhythm of the game schedule, traveling and sleeping. In the meantime, he wants to give it his all each possession, which can cause him to play faster than necessary.
“Maybe because I’m still young, you know?” Saric, 22, said. “Maybe because I’m still young I try to maybe to show the people like I can shoot, I can play. Maybe I’m so excited to show everything. Maybe that’s the problem. I think I need to slow down, step by step. If I do that, I think everything will be fine.”
The Sixers are working with Saric on setting up before receiving the pass. Brown has discussed the initiation of the possession, from the alignment of his feet to the positioning of his hands to the bend in his knees.
“I think that him getting his legs and his shot and not missing flat and short is a byproduct of the preparation, the starting point, the base,” Brown said. “Mostly we want to encourage the freedom ... to shoot. He can shoot. I just think that the fundamental ease, the technique part of his shooting are stuff I pay attention to.”
Saric is 0 for 7 from long range in his past three games after starting out 4 for 6 in his first two. He is learning the feel of the NBA three-point line, which is different than in Europe.
Saric estimated he had 20 days off after the Olympics and worked on his three-point game in 10 of them. He arrives early to the Sixers' training complex to put up shots. While he knocks them down in practice settings, games have a different pace.
“I think I shoot well in practice when I come before everybody comes,” he said. “But it’s a little bit harder here. When you get tired, for example, around five, six times you play defense and you have open shot, in your mind you must score because you can score. Sometimes when I see how far, it’s a little bit far. But everything needs time, and that’s a situation that needs time.”
The Sixers didn’t expect Saric to come to the team 100 percent NBA-ready. They waited two years for him to arrive and will continue to wait for his development.
“There is a strong belief and understanding that we have to be patient,” Brown said. “We know down deep he cares deeply and he’s talented enough for us to put him on a realistic expectation roadmap.”