(This is part 1 of a ten part series that will focus on the potential top ten picks of the 2014 NBA Draft this coming June 26th.)
Dario Saric is an intriguing prospect at the tenth position due to a number of things:
It is unknown if he will immediately come over from Europe if picked.
It is unknown what position he will play and if his style will translate in the NBA.
It is unknown if he will only be enamored by the Lakers and Celtics.
These question marks, coupled with a rebuilding team like the Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic owning multiple early picks in the first round, have made it a probability that a team may be willing to stash their pick abroad while the team develops it nucleus.
Saric has been on the NBA radar since he was 15 years old and at 20 years old he can be considered a "veteran" after numerous stints in the Adriatic league, where he led the league in scoring this year at 16.7 points per game, shooting 50 percent from the floor and 35 percent from deep.
This Croatian 6-foot-10 forward is as versatile as they come. He can shoot the three-pointer and midrange basket, rebound the ball and pass the rock. What he lacks in mobility, he more than makes in hustle and basketball IQ. Typical of European players, Saric is an ultra-competitor and crashes the board as evidenced by his 9.7 rebounds per game and 2 offensive rebounds per outing. Aside from this, he also runs the floor hard is always a threat as a ball handler or a finisher in the open court.
His passing ability is also what exhibits his high basketball IQ, and sets him up perfectly as a point-forward type of player. The ability to pass came early when he was utilized as a point guard in his developmental years, giving him a tremendous feel for the game. He also uses the proper positioning to overcome his lack athleticism to box out stronger opponents and gobble rebounds.
His skillset is reminiscent of a Toni Kukoc with more room for growth and potential. This is unsurprising given that Kukoc also hails from Croatia and displayed the same abilities to hit the three, rebound, facilitate and run the fastbreak.
Saric's lack of athleticism and limited reach have always been the gaping holes to his game. At 6'10, it would be extremely difficult for him to guard banging forwards in the mold of David West or be shifted to the small forward position and chase around versatile and mobile shooters such as Kawhi Leonard. Thanks to the changes in today's NBA he can be utilized in the mold of a Ryan Anderson, in a spot-up shooter role and in some cases a facilitator. While he has good size, he suffers from short arms and the lack of lateral mobility, which will limit him on the defensive end.
Although these observations are early, it can be conceded that at twenty years old, Saric has tons of room for growth and that his engagement in other areas of the game notably rebounding and passing is a great sign that he understands that all facets of the game must be developed. His competitive fire, being named this year's Adriatic league Most Valuable Player, will also factor in heavily on how he will be able to transition to a reduced role considering that he will come off the bench for most rosters in his early years in the NBA; All of these considering, if indeed, he comes over.
Where will he end up?
As mentioned in the early portions of this article, teams with multiple picks in the first round such as the Magic and 76ers may take a chance on Saric. However, there have been rumours that he will only come over if he is picked by the Lakers or the Celtics, two storied franchises in the NBA.
Most mock drafts project him at the mid pick to the top ten range, usually ending up 11th to the Denver Nuggets.
The buzzes in the rumour mill that he will only come to the NBA if the Lakers or Celtics will choose him may drop his stock. The Celtics have a lot of bodies at the power forward/small forward positions and are developing young guys at the same spots. Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk, Victor Faverani, Jared Sullinger, Kris Humphries, and Jeff Green are just some of the names he has to compete with if ever the Cetlics pick him at the 6th spot, which is a reach given the opposition there. But if Saric drops dramatically and is still available with the 17th pick, it will be worth the wait.
The Lakers picking him at the 7th spot is also a reach and would be frowned upon by most experts. While the Lakers need a lot of help at almost all of the positions, it has been a long while since they had a versatile forward in the mold of Lamar Odom. Saric fits the picture here and can be used as a Swiss army knife but it would be a waste of the spot if he is chosen too early over the likes of Dante Exum and Marcus Smart, prospects projected to be taken at the 6th or 7th pick.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that the 76ers would be the ideal partner for him given that they have both the 3rd and tenth pick and they could use the tenth pick and not be worried of Saric immediately coming over. The Magic is on the same boat with both the 4th and 12th pick, given that they already have two versatile forwards in their roster in Andrew Nicholson and Moe Harkless, players who are lengthy and can play inside out.
All in all while Saric is hoping to be a Laker or a Celtic, the 76ers or the Magic taking him later would not be much waste of a pick.
Watch Saric in action in this highlight reel (video courtesy: YouTube Too Mainey):