Standing 6-10, Saric is arguably the most versatile offensive player in this draft class, showing the ability to handle the ball in transition, score on the block, operate in isolation situations in the half-court, play off the ball, and rebound the ball at a very high rate. He's probably also the most experienced player in this draft class, despite only turning 20 last month, playing solid minutes at the European Championships last summer, and helping Croatia qualify for the World Cup this summer by making the semifinals.
Despite showing excellent fluidity and coordination for a player his size, its Saric's skill-level, creativity and feel that makes him unique, and not amazing athleticism. His basketball IQ is simply off the charts, as his knowledge and understanding of the game is extraordinary relative to his age. The place where that's most visible is in his passing ability, as he does a great job of seeing the floor and making teammates better, aided greatly by the outstanding vantage point he enjoys at his size.
Saric improved noticeably defensively as the season moved on, more-so due to his effort level and anticipation skills than anything. He's an extremely competitive player, running the floor hard, boxing out and doing his best to make-up for his physical shortcomings with aggressiveness and terrific timing. These traits help explain why he was such a prolific rebounder (11.7 per-40 this season), particularly on the defensive end, where he ranked second best in the Adriatic league per-40. He also gets quite a few blocks (1.1 per-40) and steals (1.4) for someone that doesn't have an incredibly long wingspan (measured 6-10 at the Nike Hoop Summit in 2012).
With that said, there are some concerns about how that might translate to the NBA level. He played almost exclusively at power forward the past two seasons, and even if he's gotten stronger, it will be difficult for him to match up inside the paint with some of the stronger players he'll encounter at that position in the NBA. Opposing players shot 49% from the field against Saric in post-up situations this season according to Synergy Sports Technology.
Saric will likely see more time at the small forward position against higher level competition, but there are some question marks here as well. His lateral quickness is average, and he often looks either hunched over in his stance or completely on his heels, getting frequently burned by smaller players on the perimeter.
While Saric improved as a perimeter shooter this season, and really caught fire on a few occasions (making 8/16 3-pointers in two games at the Adriatic League Final Four [see video breakdown for example), he is still fairly inconsistent overall in this area, knocking down just 34% (44-131) of his attempts in 48 games this season in all the competitions he's played in thus far.
Saric is capable of knocking down open looks, but his release is somewhat slow and he has a slight hitch in his jumper that becomes more noticeable when he's being closely contested. He's far better with his feet set (36%) than he is off the dribble (31%), where his shot can get very flat. He's also still not the most consistent free throw shooter you'll find at just 71%, although that is an improvement over last season (66%). Saric reportedly has a very strong work ethic, though, which leaves room for optimism regarding him improving his shooting as his career moves on.
Getting stronger will help Saric not only defensively, but also in terms of his ability to absorb contact and finish plays around the basket. Not being a high flyer, he's unlikely to ever be an outstanding finisher inside the paint at the NBA level, but the added strength should help him do a better job of drawing fouls and also cutting down on his turnovers. Saric coughed the ball up on 20% of his possessions this season, a very high rate.
Role and fit are arguably as important for Saric as any player in this draft. Having a coach that is willing to put the ball in his hands and utilize his many strengths will be a huge key, as its unlikely that he'll be happy playing exclusively off the ball, where his shortcomings as a perimeter defender and shooter will become even more glaring. A fiery competitor, Saric's body language already leaves something to be desired at times (he's quick to point fingers at teammates or complain), so there's always the risk that he could simply get up and go back to Europe if he isn't happy with his situation.
The biggest question about Saric at the moment revolves around when he'll actually come to the NBA. He has been quoted on the record multiple times saying its his dream to play in the NBA, but the actual timing of his arrival is still up in the air. Saric's agent told us that “at this moment he believes that is better to stay in Europe for a season or two, to get a taste of the Euroleague, and then to enter the NBA when he has more experience.” (click here to see all the comments made about his decision to enter the draft and when he might come over).
Will a NBA team drafting in the lottery accept that? It's somewhat unusual (although not unprecedented) for a team to use such a high draft pick on someone they know is not going to come over right away, but two teams (Philadelphia and Orlando) in the top-12 having multiple picks helps his cause.
We've taken a more visual look at Saric's strengths and weaknesses thanks to game film from the Adriatic League in the following video scouting report, courtesy of Mike Schmitz.
All of our video scouting reports this season can be found here.