Fantasy Basketball: Is Dario Saric's Breakout the Real Deal?

The Croatian stretch forward is in the middle of the most productive stretch of his young NBA career. Is he here to stay as a fantasy force?

It has been a month to forget for the Philadelphia 76ers, with one head-scratching trade and one dispiriting injury putting a dent in the upstart team’s feel-good season.

But the void created by the Nerlens Noel deal and Joel Embiid injury shutdown has left room for one bright spot in an otherwise dismal late winter: the emergence of Croatian stretch forward Dario Saric.

Saric has answered the bell for the shorthanded Sixers, in particular over the past 10 games, wherein the rookie forward has averaged almost 18 points and more than 8 boards per game, enough to earn him Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honors for February.

Fantasy owners who drafted Saric for his stretch-four versatility and stuck with him during his up-and-down start must be feeling vindicated. But what do the numbers say about Saric’s outlook going forward? Are we in the midst of a true fantasy breakout for the rookie forward?

Production and Efficiency

Saric has only seen a marginal increase in minutes played over his last 10 games, with his per-game average up to just over 30 from the 24 he averaged over the first three months of the season.

Even so, the production boost has been dramatic, with his fantasy-relevant output going from passable to quite excellent.

Sample FG% FT% PTS TRB 3P + STL + BLK
First Three Months .375 .767 9.8 5.8 2.1
Last 10 Games .477 .862 18.6 8.2 2.6

It’s worth noting that Saric has achieved a near-doubling of his per-game points output on just under six extra field goal attempts per game. Indeed, the newfound efficiency is impressive -- for a player who now attempts upwards of five three-pointers a game, a field goal percentage approaching .480 is no small feat.

In fact, Saric has been marginally less efficient from long range during his recent stretch of play than he was during his fairly anonymous first three months.

Check out his three-point-attempt shares (%3PA), his per-game attempts (3PA), and three-point-success rate (3P%) over the past 10 games as they compare to his performance in December and January.

Sample %3PA 3PA 3P%
December 28.0 4.0 32.1%
January 27.1 3.8 29.8%
Last 10 Games 27.3 5.3 28.3%

So his overall field goal percentage has notably improved even as his three-point efficiency has cratered slightly on more attempts. Seems odd, doesn't it?

Down Low Dario

Saric’s status as a Euro-style stretch big (one who attempts his fair share of three-pointers) might cause us to forget that he is still very much a power forward who can, if given the occasion, go to work down low.

And indeed, Saric’s recent surge in production seems to find its crux not in his performance from the beyond the arc but instead from his performance in the paint.

Look at how his recent volume and success rate from within eight feet shape up compared to his performance during the December and January sample.

Sample FGA Within 8 Ft. FG% Within 8 Ft.
December 41 58.5%
January 62 51.6%
Last 10 Games 80 62.5%

The spike in attempts volume seems quite obviously the result of down-low touches being funneled to Saric in the absence of Noel, Embiid, and Ersan Ilyasova.

As for the sustainability of the success rate, we probably don’t have enough of a sample to decide whether the 60-plus percent clip is fact or fiction.

But let’s assume for a second that Saric can continue converting at a near-60 percent rate down low, while also maturing as a long-range shooter to the point where he converts even 35 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.

If these rates were to stabilize, couldn’t we see Saric approach the sort of tantalizing fantasy value that we see from, say, Kristaps Porzingis, or even the limited work we’ve had from Saric’s teammate, Embiid?

Value Going Forward

This type of sudden, meteoric rise in fantasy value seems unlikely from Saric, though. After all, Saric’s improved scoring and efficiency over the past two weeks has only vaulted him just inside the top 120 of fantasy producers per Yahoo! 9-category scoring.

The thing that limits Saric as compared to the supernova stretch fours mentioned above is that Saric simply doesn’t contribute much in the steal and block categories -- he’s averaged half a steal and under half a block over the past two weeks, in fact.

The blocks deficiency in particular is no fluke. It’s not that Saric hasn’t had the opportunities -- his block attempts share has ballooned from just over 21 percent in January to 45 percent over the last 10 games.

Granted, part of this spike likely has to do with the decreased number of attempts created by the absence of Embiid, Noel, and Ilyasova. Even so, the fact that Saric has totaled only 0.3 blocks per game over the past 10 contests while accounting for almost half of his team’s block attempts over that span seems to suggest that Saric is downright bad at blocking shots.

The defensive shortcomings put an unfortunate pallor on Saric’s fantasy prospects moving forward. To emerge truly as a must-start fantasy player, Saric will need to shoot better from three while maintaining his hot stretch from down low. Even if that’s the case, we’re probably looking at a ceiling akin to peak Wilson Chandler, a solid top-80 fantasy asset, rather than the unicorn-grade, upper-echelon output of Porzingis or Embiid.

So it’s probably best for us to hold our collective horses with respect to anointing Saric as a true breakout star. He's an interesting player with an appealing skill set, but without growth in the defensive stats, his upside is decidedly limited.