BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Previously written on July 30, 2015
Philadelphia 76ers’ General Manager Sam Hinkie and 76ers’ fans need 2014 first round selection Dario Saric to be an impact player. Unfortunately, history and the play of the Croatian forward do not appear to be cooperating with those needs.
To be clear there is a gargantuan difference between an impact player and a special player. It is virtually impossible to uncover a special player.
This should not surprise anyone, as the list of European players that were supposed to be “special” is significantly shorter than the list of European players that were “special”.
Now Philly basketball fans would LOVE if the Euro enigma could morph into a fundamental piece to a legitimate championship puzzle. An impact reminiscent of champions like current Chicago Bulls’ center/forward Pau Gasol and Dallas Mavericks’ legend Dirk Nowitzki.
That bar may be too high. However, is it too much to ask for the 2010 and 2011 FIBA Young Player of the Year to be an instrumental cog to a perennial championship contender? Perhaps a career on par with former Portland Trail Blazer center Arvydas Sabonis or San Antonio Spurs’ guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Nowitizki and Gasol (some might argue Parker as well) would classify as that special player NBA general managers salivate over. Players who have fulfilled the potential foreseen in their early age. It is unjust and downright irresponsible to believe Dario will have that type of NBA career.
But if you are the 76ers’ General Manager, it might take that type of career to justify making such a selection.
One of the litany of issues surrounding Saric, who has been playing professional basketball since 2009, will be the pedigree that European players have established in the NBA. A pedigree that is significantly heightened based on where they are selected in the draft.
The success of the aforementioned players has created this careen to find the next great overseas sensation. In that pursuit there has been an abundance of atrocities selected.
From 1999 (the year after Nowitzki was selected) to 2013 there have been 68 international players selected in the first round of the NBA draft. Of that 68, four have played in an All-Star game.
Now a player does not have to be an All-Star to have an impact on their perspective club.
Unless, they were selected 12th overall, mentioned in the same accord as a Hall-of-Famer and were sold as an intricate part of a rebuilding effort.
Under those circumstances, the impact of say Mehmet Okur, Detlef Schrempf and Hedo Turkolglu will not suffice. In fact, the impact of irreplaceable cog such as Boris Diaw and Toni Kukoc would not be ideal.
Yes, each of those players were/are contributing members of their clubs. Yet, none impacted their clubs enough to warrant being selected 12th overall.
For example, the Dallas Mavericks selected Schrempf eighth overall in the 1985 draft. The 6’9 German forward started a whopping 22 games in slightly over three seasons with the Mavs, before being shipped to Indiana.
This brings us back to the 76ers and their Euro phenom. Just what type of impact can Sixer fans expect from the player Hinkie described to sports writer Mark Sielski in 2014 as “a warrior and a champion at all the junior levels of competition,"
Based on where Saric was selected and the morbid state of the franchise, the Sixers must receive a return on their investment.
Simply put the higher the pick the higher the expectation.
These expectations are tapered because it is difficult to assess just where the forward is in his development. European basketball is completely different than American ball.
In Europe, ball movement is king and rarely does a player break away from the offense to go “dolo” or for theirs. Therefore, gauging Dario’s offensive output most be put in context. Also, the NBA game is as much about the immeasurable, such as heart and toughness, as it is about talent and skill.
Nevertheless Saric’s numbers are less then overwhelming playing against inferior talent.
In the Turkish Basketball League (TBL) Dario’s Anadolu Efes club went 28 – 13 losing to Pinar Karsiyaka in the TBL Finals 4 games to 1. The forward posted 10.9 ppg on 47 percent shooting with 6.7 rpg, 2.6 apg to go with 2.0 tpg for the season.
The Croatian’s numbers were similar in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, 9.9 ppg on 43 percent shooting with 6.4 rpg, 2.3 apg to go with 1.9 tpg. However, the team finished 13 – 15.
Again, it is virtually impossible to assess what type of impact the 12th overall selection will have in the NBA solely based on statistics. The European game is drastically different from the NBA game. So the lack of eye popping statistics should not be discouraging.
What should be taken into significant consideration is how the forward performed when facing NBA level talent (no matter how fringe the talent). More importantly if Dario’s skill set will be one of consequence in the league.
The EuroLeague appears to have the tougher of competition and also is where Saric’s squad seemed to struggle going 13 – 15. NBA veterans like MarShon Brooks and Andrew Goudelock were stars in that league. Yet, Rudy Fernandez and Andres Nocioni were able to stifle Saric in the playoffs and secure the championship for Real Madrid.
This was far from the talent level Saric would see in the NBA on a nightly basis, and the results vary depending on where you sit on the Hinkie train.
Some will flip the numbers to portray the forward in a good light while others can use them to justify the disdain for the selection. Regardless, there is not one thing that suggests the Croatian forward will have an impact of any consequence in the league.
A hope that Dario will be different than most of his predecessors.
A hope that the forward will buck the norm and bask in the exception.
There are times in life where hope is abruptly interrupted by reality, and at this moment 76ers’ fans need not pardon this interruption.
The hope was Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric would be the nucleus that could return the Sixers to their days of prominence.
That hope has been dashed by an MCW trade, Nerlens’ “delicate” offensive game, and the news of Embiid’s incessant foot issues.
All that is left from four picks in two years, none lower than 12th is Dario Saric.
Yes, the most recent selection of former Duke forward/center Jahlil Okafor seems set to pay off immediately. In the form of on the floor production. It is the fourth and final first round selection from year two of the process that may be too much to overlook.
One of those four picks should have yielded at least one perennial all-star.
Four picks in the top 12 should have given the Philly faithful at least one player that flashes dominance and energizes a fan base.
Identifying assets and value is pure analytics and can be taught to anyone who loves basketball.
Identifying talent is a blessing and can never be taught.
Championship basketball has never been rooted numbers, but rather invested in talent. What does it matter if a team has seven first round picks if those picks do not translate to on the court production?
NBA drafts have a way of exposing General Managers, and while circumstances can drastically effect the career of a selection. It seems RC Buford, Sam Presti, Ernie Grunfeld, Jerry West and to a lesser extent Larry Bird and Jerry Krause rarely get exposed.
Conversely, other G.Ms seem to always find themselves talking numbers and not production. This routinely puts their franchises in the position of having to overcome those self-inflicted circumstances.