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Looking ahead to potential moves for Suns: Extending PF Dario Saric

Dario Saric #36 of the Minnesota Timberwolves dribbles the ball against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on February 28, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns still have a two-way contract spot open, but for the time being, they are as good as done with shuffling their roster during the offseason. The overhaul is complete and the depth chart is clear.

Looking ahead to training camp through to the trade deadline, however, and there are a couple of moves we could see happen for the Suns that shift the direction of the long-term roster. Empire of the Suns takes a look at a few candidates, including a long-term commitment at power forward.

When the Suns traded down from sixth to No. 11 in the 2019 NBA Draft, it still remains unclear as to how much acquiring power forward Dario Saric factored into the decision.

Was he just a throw-in? A cheap, one-year rental to start? Did they just want to trade down so the reach on Cam Johnson was less significant, not valuing the guys in that range of the draft? Or is Saric the whole reason they did the deal because they love him?

Saric, on the end of his rookie-scale contract with one year remaining at $3.4 million, can be extended by the Suns before the season starts.

All of this depends on how much of a read the team has on Saric and if they can strengthen it enough through training camp and the preseason. That’s because the deadline for his extension is Oct. 14. They won’t be able to see him in-game and how he gels with Deandre Ayton, which will be the number one determination in any power forward’s staying power.

Saric, 25, is coming off a shaky year, where he was traded from Philadelphia to Minnesota 13 games into the season and clearly struggled to find his footing in a new city with a new team.

Now, that could mean the opposite of what you think in terms of what the Suns will do.

Instead of Phoenix being scared to pay him following that season, the Suns could try to capitalize on his value being lower and betting on him playing his best basketball yet. That’s what they did with T.J. Warren, extending him and projecting a breakout season in the future, but they also had Warren under their roof for those three seasons.

If Saric was a much more cut-and-dry guy to slip in as a role player alongside Ayton, I would bet on an extension getting done, but he’s not that seamless fit because of his lack of versatility.

It’s not really a thing for him on defense especially, nor is being anything more than a somewhat capable defender on his own man. This is important to establish because of the way Saric’s position is changing.

The idea of a traditional power forward is becoming more extinct by the day as multi-skilled guys who were once considered “small-ball fours” like Jerami Grant (can defend three-plus positions + shoot), Draymond Green (can defend three-plus positions + facilitate) and Pascal Siakam (can defend three-plus positions + facilitate + score) are redefining the position. Even looking at lower-tier players gets us to Harrison Barnes, Aaron Gordon and so on.

It’s the most athletic position on the court and that’s arguably Saric’s biggest weakness, so the power forward will need his offensive skill to carry his value.

The good news is “The Homie” can shoot. Until Cam Johnson plays in the rotation and Booker shakes off his funk from last year, Saric is the best shooter the Suns have.

With over 1,000 catch-and-shoot three-point attempts to his name, Saric is shooting 36.6% on those looks in his career. That is a certified “good shooter” at 6-foot-10, and a big headstart for his offensive value with all the little things he does.

While Saric is more talented than he gets credit for, he’s still a guy who makes the most off playing hard and making smart decisions on the floor. He’s not creating his own offense, with over 80% of his field goals the past two years being assisted. That’s one of the lower marks across the league for a big, per Cleaning the Glass.

But what about creating for others? Where to watch for him to possibly blossom into that guy is playmaking. In his first two seasons for Philadelphia, Saric’s assist percentage ranked in the high 85th and 81st percentiles for bigs, respectively.

On draft night I went over Saric’s rapid-fire feeds to big men helping Ayton and, unfortunately, the tape shows those types of “extra passes” and quick reads being the extent of his playmaking in the NBA thus far. Think less of a guy capable of bringing the ball up and more of a heady big instead.

But is a pass like this pointing towards an untapped skill or the ceiling of his abilities?

I’m not willing to bet on it.

He’s more of the dude who just makes the extra pass like the one below every time, which is good for those 2-3 assists a game he will average.

That extra bit of value Saric lacks is why extending him seems like more of a wait-and-see for the Suns to execute. He looks the part of a good player but it’s not immediately clear how he fits in Phoenix. If he can 1) prove he’s good in a Suns uniform and 2) co-exist successfully with Ayton, maybe that improvement isn’t even necessary to keep him around.

It’s not an awful idea to be patient considering he’s a restricted free agent anyway. Saric could wind up being the long-term piece that falls in the Suns’ lap like Kelly Oubre Jr. did before.

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