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October 18, 2016

Sixers practice notes: Saric battling ups and downs with his jumper

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After getting off to a hot start this preseason, his first taste of NBA action (even if it is fake NBA action), Dario Saric has struggled to shoot the ball over the past week. On a couple of occasions during Saturday night’s game against Detroit, the 6’10” rookie passed up wide-open threes that the Sixers frankly need him taking.

So what gives? According to Saric, he was rushing his shots. As for exactly why he’s doing that, the Croatian import had a little more trouble offering an explanation.

“Maybe because I’m still young, you know?” Saric said. “Maybe I tried to show the people I can shoot, I can play. Maybe I’m a little bit excited. I think I need to slow down, step by step.”

Saric’s shooting has always been an interesting case. His form is fine, his release is good, he shoots a good ball (whatever that means)… but the results simply haven’t been there throughout his early professional career in Europe. If they had been, Saric wouldn’t have fallen to the 12th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Take a look at his yearly three-point percentages in all competitions via Real GM:

 Year 3P%

(Side note: Saric has been playing professional basketball for a minute.)

A-ha! “The Homie” finally broke through and became a three-point threat last year for Anadolu Efes, an improvement Bryan Colangelo was quick to point out when he and the organization were wooing Saric in the offseason. This development was kind of a big deal; in the NBA, Saric’s shooting will be his swing skill.

Finally consistently making shots and knowing that the NBA was in his near future, Saric felt comfortable enough stepping a foot and a half back, trying to extend his range to NBA distance at the end of his final season in Istanbul.

“The last couple months [of the season], I tried to shoot a little bit farther away,” Saric said.  “After the Olympic Games, I had 20 days off. At about 10 days, I tried to work a little bit on three-point range.”

Mechanically, Brett Brown wants to see Saric do a better job preparing for his shots. The coaching staff is monitoring mostly what Saric is doing before he catches the ball, not after.

“Mostly we want to encourage the freedom and encouragement to shoot,” Brown said. “He can shoot, I just think the fundamental areas, the technique parts of shooting are stuff that I pay attention to [with him].”

It bears repeating that, mostly due to Ben Simmons’ injury, Saric is being thrown into the fire right away while trying to make a huge adjustment on and off the floor. In Europe, he used to practice twice a day (10 AM and 6 PM) for a couple of hours. Here, he shows up around 9 AM for one longer session. There are also rule changes and a not so insignificant language barrier to grapple with.

Brown admitted that Saric is struggling with some of the NBA verbiage, which increases the already high difficulty level of starting at power forward in the NBA right out of the chute. The Sixers coach is willing to live with Saric’s ups and downs, wagering that there will be a payoff down the road.

“I bet at the end of the year, we all will look back and think that situation has helped him more than hurt him,” Brown said.

Okafor/injury update

If you checked in after yesterday’s practice, Jahlil Okafor said that the major test for his sore right knee would be how it felt when he woke up this morning. We weren’t able to ask him that question after the team officially said that the second-year center “went through an individualized training load.”

When the Sixers were scrimmaging at the end of practice on Tuesday, Okafor was already off the court.

“We held him out today,” Brown said. “We just didn’t feel like it was smart to push it today. He went through all of the stuff that wasn’t up-down physical stuff, but he felt OK. We just felt like it wasn’t smart to play him.”

Just because it’s sort of comical, here is the Sixers’ full injury report at the moment:

Ben Simmons: Fractured right foot
Jerryd Bayless
: Left wrist soreness
Cat Barber
: Gastroenteritis
Nerlens Noel
: Left groin strain

Modified training (which means you participated, just not in everything): Robert Covington (migraine), Hollis Thompson (upper respiratory infection), Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness), Nik Stauskas (left hamstring strain), Gerald Henderson (precautionary, hip), and Joel Embiid (precautionary, you know what)

Besides that, though, everyone is feeling good!

New analytics head

The Sixers made a couple of front office moves official today, including naming the head of a restructured analytics department. ESPN’s Zach Lowe first reported the news:

Rucker is prominently featured in a great article that Lowe wrote over three years ago on the Toronto Raptors — Colangelo’s Toronto Raptors, if you’re looking for the connection — and the SportVU camera-tracking system. If you’re looking for some background, I highly recommend reading that story.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann