Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we pose a question to a rotating panel of ESPN fantasy basketball experts to gauge their thoughts on a hot topic. Today's contributors are ESPN Fantasy's Jim McCormick, Joe Kaiser and Kyle Soppe.
Dario Saric has been on a roll this month, averaging 15.5 points, 1.8 3-pointers, 2.3 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals over eight games. What sort of production do you expect from Saric, who is available in nearly 70 percent of ESPN leagues, for the remainder of the season?
Jim McCormick: If minutes are the coin of the realm in fantasy hoops, it helps to first acknowledge Saric is averaging 27.5 over his past nine games, compared to 23.8 MPG leading up to this recent surge in exposure. The 76ers' roster and, specifically, frontcourt, is amid an entirely unique phase at the moment; without emergent star Joel Embiid due to a meniscus injury and bone bruise to the same knee. The rotation is further influenced by the trade drama surrounding Jahlil Okafor, who is sidelined in limbo as fans continue to refresh Twitter for some semblance of clarity or conclusion. We are also now learning it's possible Ben Simmons' debut this season is in peril.
Add this all up, and the key on-court result is more minutes and opportunity for Saric, as he makes his own surprising bid for Rookie of the Year honors. Without Embiid and Okafor in the lineup this season, Saric's usage rate jumps to 24.1 percent, up from just 17.4 percent with Embiid on the floor and 18.3 with Okafor on the court. Both Embiid and Okafor are ball-dominant, high-usage assets for the team's half-court offense, so it makes sense to see Saric's involvement increase sans their presence.
There is also the notion of learning curve to consider, as Saric simply looks much more comfortable and confident at the NBA level over the past three weeks. Savvy passing, improved perimeter touch, rewarding hustle work on the glass and defense add up to a worthy fantasy product for the young import.
With Okafor likely jettisoned to a new team and the uncertainty surrounding the availability of Embiid and Simmons, Saric could feast on minutes and continue to play a pivotal role on a scrappy 76ers team. Which is to say, I think he's under-appreciated on the fantasy market and could continue to produce a slash of say 13 points/6 rebounds/2.5 assists with helpful 3-point and steal peripherals. The 76ers aren't in a position to rush their injured building blocks to the floor, which should result in strong usage for Saric.
Joe Kaiser: I think consistency could still be an issue, and it worries me that we're hitting the All-Star break right at a time when Saric seems to be kicking it up a notch, but this is definitely an impressive streak he's on of late. On top of that, his experience overseas makes him a less-typical rookie, which perhaps lowers the chances of him hitting the "rookie wall" and wearing out down the stretch. Remember, Saric turns 23 in April.
Things change fast in Philadelphia's rotation, and the eventual return of Embiid and Simmons could change Saric's productivity, so there is certainly some risk with holding onto Saric. The problem is Saric doesn't have a big enough name to fetch a significant return in a trade -- at least in most leagues. At this point, I think you're best off riding the hot hand as long as it lasts and hoping it can continue throughout the rest of the regular season.
Kyle Soppe: Saric's numbers this month are a bit misleading (a few nice games in a row make you forget that he averaged 9.3 points on 25.7 percent shooting in his first three games this month), but I do think he should be owned in a much higher percentage of leagues.
Excluding October (just two games played), Saric's field goal attempts, steals and points per 48 minutes have increased with each month this season, and that's not a mistake for a 22-year-old kid who was the 12th overall pick in 2014. He's good at basketball and is getting the chance to show it. That said, I believe his value is at its peak right now. Why? It's simple: Things are going to get more difficult. Not only do opponents now have 55 games of film on him, but I worry about the upcoming quality of opponents.
Saric is averaging 25.8 percent more points, 26.4 percent more rebounds and 31.3 percent more assists in victories this season, and given the youth of this team and the fact that 55.6 percent of their remaining games come against teams currently in the playoffs, I worry that wins are going to be difficult to come by. You, of course, also have to factor in that Saric's increased usage of late stands a serious risk of regressing if/when Embiid and/or Simmons suit up. Saric will continue to make 3-pointers and rebound at a reasonable rate, so he is a fantasy asset, but I would caution against counting on consistent scoring the rest of the way (he's shooting just 32.4 percent from eight or more feet away from the bucket).