Entering NBA free agency, almost everyone on the Warriors believed their primary need was an established frontcourt veteran who could stretch the floor and improve their interior while fitting into Steve Kerr’s system of motion. The challenge: They only have a minimum contract to offer.
Dario Šarić fits the profile better than anyone else on the market. They put an official offer in front of him during the opening minutes of free agency. They think the wait will come. Šarić is still looking for a more lucrative deal.
The wait lasted more than eight days. Brook Lopez dominated the big man market on the first day of free agency, then Damian Lillard’s trade request brought the entire league to a standstill. There were many phone calls that put Šarić in the partnership, from the front office to Kerr to their established veterans to assistant coach Dejan Milojević, who knows Šarić and will definitely work with him.
Word finally started trickling through the organization Friday night during their summer league game in Las Vegas. They got a commitment from Šarić. Coaches can finally begin to strategize a rotation that includes the exact size big they are looking for. The options left beyond Šarić are not good. This is a big catch. The official word came on Saturday morning. It’s a one-year veteran minimum for Šarić, team sources confirmed. ESPN was the first to report the deal.
Šarić essentially filled the role played by Otto Porter Jr. He’s a frontcourt shooter they can put next to Draymond Green or Kevon Looney or Jonathan Kuminga and spread the floor better in tight lineups.
But Šarić – unlike JaMychal Green – can break through a closeout, put it on the floor and keep the chain moving with quick decision play in motion. He averaged two assists per game in his career as a role player. That’s an element that Porter and Nemanja Bjelica provided on the bench two seasons ago but the second unit was always lacking last season (and why Kerr often went to Anthony Lamb in some line combinations) .
There is another compelling element to the addition of Šarić for the Warriors. He spent a season and a half in Phoenix playing next to Chris Paul, the Warriors’ other high-profile offseason addition. He’s comfortable with Paul and should be the backbone of the Warriors’ new older and more systematic second unit.
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Šarić scored 41 Paul assists in the season as the Suns won the West. When Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton left the floor, it was always Šarić running a two-man game with Paul up top. He’s not the explosive threat to lob to center like DeAndre Jordan or Tyson Chandler once were for Paul, but he works well with all kinds of pick-and-roll partners. Šarić is a skilled big who can pick-and-pop and get through a crack for layups.
Here’s the pick-and-pop element. Šarić has made 39 percent of his 3s over the past two seasons. His range extends to the top of the break.
Here’s the pick-and-dive element. Šarić can find the right window in space, and Paul always pinpoints the right time and angle to throw a pass.
How about a return of the favor example? There are a couple of notables about the next clip. The first is line combination. This is not Šarić in the second unit. He was out with the beginners. It’s a Paul/Booker/Mikal Bridges/Šarić/Ayton team. Šarić will not start for the Warriors. But on certain nights and in certain matchups, you can pretty much guarantee they’ll have him up there with the main group. Just think of all the times Kerr injected Porter next to Draymond Green. He actually started Porter in the final three games of the 2022 NBA Finals for spacing purposes.
In the following clip, it’s also about the extra dash of secondary playmaking. Paul started possession, as he always does, but Šarić’s swing led to a straight-line drive and a creative curling pass from Šarić to Ayton. Ayton missed it. It’s back to Šarić. Late on the clock, he drilled a lefty pass cross-court to Paul’s right for an open 3.
Here is another element of his game that will work well next to Paul and within the Warriors. Šarić is an intelligent cutter who reads the game well. In this clip, he takes a steal, kicks it to Paul and then fills the left lane to get himself an open dunk.
The Suns ran some creative pick-and-roll action during Paul’s time there. As Kerr’s coaching staff retreats into the offseason in the coming weeks, they will certainly explore different ways to change their scheme, especially when Paul is on the floor.
That will hopefully include a heavier dose of pick-and-roll, but it can also be done in different ways. That could be some Spain pick-and-roll action, which Phoenix likes to run, or a similar set to the one below. It was Booker who set the initial screen and Šarić behind setting the second screen.
All movement puts the defense in a bind. Patty Mills, who was guarding Booker on the backside, couldn’t help the diving Šarić after the second screen. You can definitely see Kerr drawing something like this with Paul as the ballhandler and either Steph Curry or Klay Thompson as the first pick-and-pop screener.
There are flaws in Šarić’s game, although it’s a surprise he fell to the market minimum. His rebounding numbers have dropped off a bit over the past few years. He’s not a traditional big and shouldn’t be relied upon to defend the best scoring centers in the post and isn’t quick enough later to move on the easier wings and perimeter guards. But Porter and Bjelica have similar limitations and still work well within the team’s scheme because of their intelligence and effort. Šarić has and provides both.
He tore his ACL in the 2021 finals and continues to work his way back to full form. But he looked strong after being traded to Oklahoma City at the deadline and won’t turn 30 until April. There is more upside. The Warriors were interested in acquiring Šarić in February after he landed in Oklahoma City, but the Thunder chose not to sign him, and he became a key component of the second unit of one of the league’s surprise teams.
Šarić can fit into any lineup combination, but his second unit pairing with Kuminga is one that should intrigue. The numbers often suggest that Kuminga worked well next to Lamb a season ago because of Lamb’s ability to spread the floor and pass. That is the supposed role of Šarić. You can imagine the Warriors opening the second and fourth quarters with a lineup of Paul/Thompson/Moses Moody/Kuminga/Šarić and maybe even running some Kuminga-Paul pick-and-rolls with spacing- on Thompson, Moody and Šarić.
But those are the conversations for the line. The Warriors are still in the process of completing their roster. Šarić was the 13th place finisher. They remain unlikely to use a 15th, so there is a real vacancy left. They are still a small team. It can be a traditional big. This will be an additional wing. Nothing happens.
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(Top photo: Chris Coduto/Getty Images)