Phoenix Suns: Dario Saric ranks as a top asset

Phoenix Suns, Dario Saric (Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Dario Saric (Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Phoenix Suns probably didn’t want a full seven-day break from the NBA schedule, given their 16 wins in the past 19 games, but they can’t complain about their position as the No. 2 team in the Western Conference.

As the Suns begin their post-All-Star-break schedule, the immediate focus in on Devin Booker’s health — a knee issue kept him from competing in the 3-point contest and the All-Star Game — but the bigger picture is crowded with positives.

Among the most impactful, and perhaps surprising, story lines for the Phoenix Suns has been the performance of Dario Saric.

Acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves at the 2019 draft, Dario Saric continues to reward general manager James Jones.

Suns fans remember the deal: Phoenix’s first-rounder, No. 6 overall, for Saric and the No. 11 overall pick. Filling in the blanks: The T-Wolves selected Jarrett Culver, now 82 games into his career with career averages of 8.7 points, 3.7 rebounds in 23 minutes per game. And the Suns took Cam Johnson with that No. 11 pick.

Good deal.

The Phoenix Suns, already among the elite in national NBA power rankings, are receiving Sixth Man of the Year-quality play from Dario Saric.

(The actual chances of winning that award appear out of reach because of Utah Jazz standout Jordan Clarkson.)

Saric just knows how to play the game; instincts and a European (passing and cutting) foundation underscore a high hoops IQ.

He is not a transcendent defensive threat, by any means, but he has a versatility that allows him to succeed in Monty Williams’ switching schemes.

On offense, he’s a terrific passer who can exploit mismatches when he’s playing the 5, can operate comfortably in the low block and, perhaps most important — and surprising — is more than competent this season on 3-point attempts.

In fact, his near 38% accuracy from long range paints a broader picture of his shooting talent: Saric is almost a 50-40-90 guy. He’s already at 92% from the free-throw line and is hitting 48% of his field-goal tries.

In only 18 minutes per game, Saric is producing 11.5 points with four rebounds and 1.3 assists — numbers that don’t inspire awe — but the Suns are outscoring opponents by an 23.5 points per 100 possessions when Saric is on the court.

The Phoenix Suns have Dario Saric on an affordable contract.

Saric, 26, will make roughly $9.2 million this year and in each of the next two seasons, and that ranks high among the Phoenix Suns for return on investment.

During the Suns’ past five games, Saric has averaged 13.4 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 51 percent on field goals including 44.4 percent from beyond the arc.

With Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton and Booker, the Suns have the pieces to compete at a high level, night after night. In Saric, the Suns may have the prototype “glue guy” for a playoff run.

A final pair of Saric stats:

The Suns have outscored their opponents by 23.5 points per 100 possessions with Dario Saric on the floor. That’s the highest on-court Net Rating mark among players averaging at least 15 minutes per game. And there is no fall-off at the other end; the 96.8 points per 100 possessions the Suns have allowed with Saric on the floor is the lowest on-court Defensive Rating mark among that same group.

Next. Ranking Phoenix Suns' possible targets. dark