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Dario Šarić, who plays defense out of position, has proven an ideal offensive fit.

Due to his defensive inadequacies, Dario Šarić’s ability to play as the Golden State Warriors’ backup center is relatively limited.

Defense-related tasks at centers are broad. They must continually know which coverages are being played in order to defend pick-and-roll activity. In order to wall it off, they must remain near the paint; if someone were to slip through the cracks, he must be in a position to challenge it legally.

Since Šarić hasn’t been utilized in that way for the most of his career, he doesn’t fit the description that was previously defined, especially considering the type of player he has been throughout his career.

Šarić is a power forward who prefers to spread the floor, and his offensive variety is a great advantage. As a passer at the top of the key in 5-out situations, at the elbows with screening action occurring on both sides of the floor, or as a pick-and-roll partner who can roll to the rim or drift beyond the arc because of his ability to shoot the three-ball, he can serve as a hub around which others revolve.

Throughout the season, Steve Kerr has chosen to play Šarić more often as a five (465 possessions) than as a four (231 possessions). He’s the only big guy on the court, and the stats haven’t been great:

  • Opponents have outscored the Warriors by 2.8 points per 100 possessions while Šarić is in the lineup, and their defensive rating is 116.8, which is good for 21st place in the NBA.

  • The Warriors have outscored opponents by 7.4 points per 100 possessions when Šarić plays at the four, along with one of Kevon Looney, Draymond Green, or Trayce Jackson-Davis. Their defensive rating is 101.7, which is good for the top defense in the NBA.

Šarić appears to struggle particularly when playing as a five against teams who prioritize attacking bigs in space, an area where his subpar footspeed severely limits him.

He doesn’t have to defend in space as often as a four because teammates who are more adept at it are taking those reps.

For Šarić, the San Antonio Spurs offered a rare chance to succeed as the five. The Spurs, who rank 17th in the league in pick-and-roll frequency and 30th in isolation frequency, are among the few teams in the league whose systems choose not to look for mismatches to attack in space.

Šarić was able to focus more on his performance on the attacking end of the court since he was relieved of his defensive responsibilities in space. Upon completing 7 of 11 shots (4 of 7 on threes), he finished with 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists. In his 26 minutes, the Warriors outscored the Spurs by 13 points.

To be sure, a good portion of his scores were the result of the Spurs’ less-than-ideal coverage calls when it came to stopping pick-and-pop opportunities. However, Šarić was added in part because of his ability to take advantage of opponents’ coverage flaws.

With Steph Curry being the NBA’s best two-on-one ball magnet and Chris Paul being the pick-and-roll ballhandler, the Warriors are able to create space for him on the perimeter thanks to his ability to shoot the ball. Šarić was able to take advantage of open looks because the Spurs did not use “veer-back” switching, which involves the ballhandler’s defender rotating toward the pop-man to take away space:

Even while the Warriors often favor Šarić popping out after putting up a ballscreen rather than rolling to the basket, he occasionally uses the roll-man curveball as a means of breaking up the action, particularly when Klay Thompson is the primary focal point:

There are further advantages to using Šarić as the screener in “stack” action, sometimes referred to as “Spain” pick-and-roll. He’s ran it with Paul a lot when they were in Phoenix together, so he understands how to go after the defense’s coverage choices.

Šarić seals his guy down low when the Spurs decide to move the backscreener’s (Brandin Podziemski) defender onto him. Paul recognizes the matchup and feeds his big man for the easy bucket:

Playing big man Šarić also gives him a bird’s-eye perspective while setting up offensively in half-court inversions. He is able to detect cutters and thread passes to him with accuracy since he is the big-man decision maker in 5-out “Delay” action, something that is uncommon among big men in the league:

Under Kerr, “connectors” have likely been the primary tool used by the Warriors in their offensive scheme. The ability of players to close the gap between the start of a play and its completion keeps the engine turning and ensures that the major gears operate smoothly and effectively.

Šarić fits the description of the newest big-man connector, following in the footsteps of players like Andrew Bogut, David West, and Nemanja Bjelica. However, he may be a more dynamic offensive element than his forebears.

 

In addition to contributing to the upholding of the 0.5-principle during half-court possessions:

Kerr has every right to utilize Šarić’s offensive skills as a passer, shooter, and connector. But whether he can be placed in better situations to survive on defense is still to be seen. The easiest way to solve that problem, according to the research, is to slot him at the four and match him with a legitimate five.

There have been hints that Kerr may match him with actors like Jackson-Davis and Looney. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see if they are prepared to investigate that tendency further.

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