Cooney: Early reviews of Saric are mixed

LAS VEGAS - The hype surrounding the coming of Dario Saric is almost like that which accompanied Eric Lindros back in the day. Rarely has hype been so attached to a player who is virtually unknown.

Acquired on draft night in 2014 when the Sixers selected Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick, then traded him for Saric, who was selected by Orlando at No. 12, Saric played two seasons for Anadolu Efes in Turkey, as anticipation of his arrival to Philadelphia rose with each passing season. It really didn't seem to matter what type of player he was or whether his game could translate to the NBA. He was someone former general manager Sam Hinkie had acquired - along with a first-round pick from Orlando - and the faithful couldn't wait for his arrival.

The wait is over: It appears his signing is imminent, as he arrived Thursday afternoon to meet with president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo.

Sometimes, the anticipation is better than the event. Could that be the case with Saric, or might he turn out to be a big piece of this process moving forward? Fans who haven't seen Saric will get to during the Olympics. He led Croatia to a win over Italy in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament last weekend by posting 18 points and 13 rebounds, garnering him MVP honors. He is a Philly player through and through, with plenty of toughness in his game that undoubtedly will make him a fan favorite.

But to look deeper into how he might fit into the NBA, I talked to numerous people who have seen him play since he became property of the Sixers. There are mixed reviews on just how good he will be in the league and how he might fit with the Sixers' roster.

"I don't see it," said one executive. "To me, he's a below-the-rim player who is going to be way behind, as far as speed and quickness. His shot isn't horrible, but it isn't good enough for defenses to really respect it yet. So to begin with, they'll be playing him to get to the basket. Once he does that, he's looking to draw contact more than anything else.

"He does have good passing skills. He's a capable ballhandler where he was, but I'm not sure that he'll be quick enough in the NBA to do what he wants when he gets the ball in his hands."

Another executive saw it much differently: "He has great handle for his size, is a solid to good rebounder, is a special passer, is tough and is a winner."

When broken down from the handful of people who have watched Saric in person, here is the kind of player the Sixers appear to be getting:


There is little doubt Saric's best offensive ability is passing the basketball. Like Ben Simmons, he can grab a rebound, start a break and hit long outlet passes, throwing bounce passes when necessary and hard chest passes at other times. He has a flare to his passing game, also; the no-look, over-the-shoulder pass seems to be a favorite. Oftentimes, his good ballhandling skills will get him to where he needs to be to make the pass. When standing on a wing, he often will send a soft, quick touch pass into the post when the ball comes his way.

One characteristic Philly fans will love about Saric is the physicality he brings at both ends of the floor. In that previous game against Italy, his team basically gave him the ball, put four guys down on the baseline and let him go to work. He got to the lane and, more times than not, was able to draw contact.

What could hinder his passing and ballhanding ability in the NBA some lack of quickness. If Saric is a step or two behind where he is used to being, passes don't get where they are intended to go and openings for shots close a lot more quickly. While I'm told his shot has improved over the past couple of years, it is still suspect. For him to create space against defenders, he'll have to get a more consistent shot, because he won't beat people off the dribble.


This is where Saric's struggles will begin right away. As one scout said, "He'll be way better at the offensive end than he will be at the defensive end, where he could be a liability."

The reasoning is twofold. One is his lack of speed and quickness. The other is that he's not very long. He'll have to play power forwards on defense because he simply doesn't have the speed to chase small forwards. He is a very physical player, and the thought is that when he is getting beaten by speed, he will look to slow down opponents with contact, which could lead to a lot of fouls - especially as a rookie.

The plus side is that Saric possesses a strong basketball IQ, which leads many to think he will be able to overcome deficiencies with his mind and translate it to his style of play.

His best asset at the defensive end could wind up being rebounding. If he can rebound on the move defensively and start a break, whether himself or by getting the ball out to the likes of Simmons, that is where Saric could be at his finest.


The fact Saric wanted to be in the NBA and in Philadelphia means a lot and can't be understated. He stood to make a lot more money staying in Turkey for another season, but is eager to test his talents against the best in the world. That confidence is a good thing. I'm told he believes he can be a star in the NBA. The test will be whether he can handle it if he is more of a role player.

Is he waiting-at-the-airport-to-watch-him-land good? It doesn't appear so, but who knows? If all the pieces accumulated - with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid leading them - somehow fit together, maybe Saric becomes a key cog in all of it.