NEW YORK -- To the Philadelphia 76ers, Dario Saric was a success story. He was a hero of The Process, well worth the two-year wait after the 2014 draft and an important part of their best season since Allen Iverson stepped over Tyronn Lue. He was also, in the cold reality of the NBA, expendable. As beloved as he was, as hard as he worked, as much as he sacrificed to be a glue guy, the front office sent Saric to the Minnesota Timberwolves when it had a chance to acquire superstar Jimmy Butler.
From a team-building perspective, trading Saric was understandable: he had defensive limitations, he could never be his best self next to the Sixers' stars and he was due a hefty raise in the summer of 2020. From Saric's personal perspective, it was pretty weird.
"It's just different," Saric told CBS Sports. "You don't have time to prepare, or somebody asks you, like, 'What do you think?' Normal people, somebody calls them and says, 'Do you want to accept the job, yes or no?' You have maybe two days or one day to decide. But here, they just trade you. You are like a bag, you know? Like some bucket, you know? And they just move you around. But that's life. What can you do?"
Saric said this after the Timberwolves' 112-102 win against the Brooklyn Nets last Friday, 13 days after the deal went down. It helped that forward Robert Covington -- "just such a great person," Saric said -- made the transition with him. It also helped that Minnesota happened to be starting a five-game homestand, giving him time on off-days to get acclimated and sort out the logistics of moving his life to Minneapolis. When he made his debut against the New Orleans Pelicans, though, he didn't always know where on the court he was supposed to be. Teammates had to point him to the right spots.
"Obviously, in my case, I didn't have time to prepare for something," Saric said. "If it happened like at the end of the season or during the summer or something, it's easier: you've got the time to set up everything, to meet the people, to see how it's going in a new team. But in this situation, it was hard. You know, it was middle of the season, everything was hard. It's still hard."
He knows the plays now, and his 19-point, 14-rebound performance off the bench against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday is evidence that he is getting more comfortable with the Wolves. That does not, however, mean that breaking up with the Sixers was simple. Saric spent the first two seasons of his NBA career in Philadelphia and grew close to the staff and the players. "They've been watching for me," he said -- he has been in touch with former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie, who took a chance on him and an injured Joel Embiid on a franchise-changing night four-and-a-half years ago, as well as former GM Bryan Colangelo.
Obviously, he said, he talked to coach Brett Brown before he left Philly, too. According to Saric's father, Predrag, Brown cried when they said goodbye.
"Of course you build some relation, and of course it's hard to leave, but, like, what do I say, you don't have time to think," Saric said. "Games are coming. Trips are coming. You need to just try to move on. It's not some great experience, but, for the future, I don't know in which position I will be and I hope to handle it. But right now, it's a little bit tough, but I like it. I like it here. I like the people. I like the staff, organization. It's nice."
Saric spent about a week living in a hotel and said he still had a few bags there. All the important stuff, though, was already in his new apartment -- he called it "amazing" to have taken care of that business before his first road trip as a Timberwolf.
"I wanted really fast to find my place, to just feel like this is my home, you know?" Saric said. "I didn't want to be in a hotel for a long time because I hate them. Most of the time, we are sleeping in hotels all the time. Imagine you are at home and you're sleeping at hotels -- it's weird. And because of that, I found some good spot. I'm happy."
To Saric, it was important to get settled as soon as he possibly could. "At the end of the day, you need to be clear in your mind and ready to adjust to your new position," he said. That meant quickly getting to know a whole group of new people, from the medical staff to the coaches and players who are suddenly such a big part of his existence.
Ideally, Minnesota will fall in love with Saric's hustle and skill set the same way Philadelphia did, and he will eventually be empowered to play with the creativity and verve he had as a rookie. As of now, though, Saric is trying to be effective and enjoy his reserve role in coach Tom Thibodeau's system. He cannot definitively say whether or not he will be able to showcase his playmaking and passing anytime soon.
"I don't know," Saric said. "It's a great question. I don't know. I hope. At the end of the day, you need to follow what the coach asks you to do, what the play is. I wish I could play how I play overseas, but I never really get the chance to play like this in my couple years here. I had some good games -- end of my first year, you know, I got the minutes, I got the ball and I really played."
To be clear, Saric did not complain. He believes that good players have to be adaptable, listen to their coaches and accept their roles. In this respect, he has proven himself. If he had his druthers, sure, he would love to have the chance to play like he used to, but he knows his teammates have their own strengths and the coaching staff can't just them all do whatever they want. if the trade illustrates anything, it is that there is only so much that he can control.
"That's another part of life in the NBA," Saric said. "What you can do?"
The floater king
E'Twaun Moore is having himself a breakout season, averaging a career-high 15.8 points with an unsustainably awesome 62.1 percent true shooting percentage. Some of his offensive improvement has come from hot 3-point shooting -- he has made 46.1 percent of his 3s -- but a lot of it is because he is asserting himself more inside the line, hunting his signature shot. Moore has one of the best floaters in basketball, so I made a mixtape for it:
For most NBA players, the floater is not a high-value proposition. Moore, however, has made 56 percent of his short midrange shots, which puts him in the 93rd percentile of all wings, per Cleaning The Glass. Float on, man.
Dinwiddie's big finishes
Spencer Dinwiddie was the runner-up for Most Improved Player last season, but he wasn't too impressed with himself. At a preseason practice, he said 2017-18 "felt more like a half-step than a whole step." He wanted the Brooklyn Nets to make the playoffs, and he wanted to be more efficient offensively.
After six weeks, the Nets aren't playing playoff-caliber defense, but Dinwiddie has made good on his individual goal: He is averaging 15.9 points (in 27.9 minutes) on a 60.4 (!) true shooting percentage. He is overqualified for his sixth-man role, and, now that Caris LeVert is out of the lineup, the Nets' entire attack is predicated on him and D'Angelo Russell making plays. Even though opponents know he is looking to go downhill and get to his right hand, they have not had much luck stopping him.
According to Cleaning The Glass, Dinwiddie has shot 47-for-69 (68.1 percent) at the rim through 21 games, a truly exceptional figure for a guard. Stephen Curry's career high in this category is 67 percent, James Harden's is 65 percent and Kyrie Irving's is 62 percent.
This is particularly impressive because of how Dinwiddie gets those looks. Nets big men Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis are both shooting 67 percent at the rim, but these are much easier shots, usually assisted or after offensive rebounds. Occasionally, Dinwiddie might get an easy layup off a cut; much more often, he is creating something out of nothing:
Whenever you hear Dinwiddie talk about expecting to hit game-winners or believing that nobody can stop him, you should think about these plays. These are not backup-point-guard plays. These are not game-manager plays. Brooklyn doesn't need him to be deferential; it needs him to attack the basket with confidence that he can figure out how to get his shot off once he gets there. If that means lofting an underhanded scoop shot over a 7-footer's outstretched arms, so be it. Few finishers are craftier.
Granting OKC's wish
A quarter of the way through the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the league's best defense and rank fifth in net rating, which is kind of astounding given that they started 0-4, Russell Westbrook missed eight games and Andre Roberson still isn't ready to take contact. One reason they have been able to do this: Jerami Grant has played the best basketball of his life.
Compared to re-signing Paul George and trading Carmelo Anthony for Dennis Schroder, Grant's three-year, $27 million deal last summer barely registered. Now, it looks critical to the Thunder's success. Grant took the starting power forward spot from Patrick Patterson four games into the season and it is difficult to imagine him giving it up. Oklahoma City has been 13.5 points better per 100 possessions with Grant on the court than on the bench, per Cleaning The Glass, which means he is doing more than just dunking on people. (But he is still dunking on people.)
Still just 24, Grant's game has steadily evolved since the 76ers selected him in the second round in 2014 and sent him to OKC in 2016. No longer relying on his raw athleticism, Grant's block rate has declined this season, but so has his foul rate. He is averaging a career-high 30.4 minutes, exclusively at power forward, and he has never looked more comfortable as a floor spacer: He has made 37 percent of his 3-pointers, including 41 percent from the corners, and he has attempted them with much more frequency. Last season, Grant went 32-for-110 from deep; through 19 games, he has shot 21-for-57.
Grant has even shown flashes as a passer, like this nifty behind-the-back dish to Steven Adams:
And this assist to George in the corner:
Grant was seen as a project for some time, but he wasn't immature as a person. His potential was obvious, and, to those around him, so was his work ethic. Last year, when his 3s weren't falling, watch on fuboTV with the NBA League Pass extension).he wasn't worried about the misses and would continue to focus on doing whatever the coaching staff wanted from him, whether that meant protecting the rim or defending on the perimeter. Most of his value still comes from his defensive versatility, but he has been putting in after-hours work for years because he wants to do more. Don't be surprised if he keeps getting better. Grant and Co. are back in action on Friday when they take on the Atlanta Hawks (8 p.m. ET --
Loping toward the hoop
Here's my favorite play of the last week, starring Brook Lopez:
Lopez is not quick, but he is nimble. That ridiculous reverse layup was not the only time he put the ball on the floor on the perimeter and worked his way to the basket in that game, let alone on the season. In a way, he is this year's Luc Mbah a Moute, taking advantage of his team's pristine spacing and the fact that no one expects him to drive:
Everybody knows by now that "Splash Mountain" is firing away from 3-point range. These forays to the hoop represent a smaller, but more amusing part of his game.
10 other stray thoughts: Jusuf Nurkic has been postively Kanterian on the offensive glass … A sign Kyrie's effort has been there on defense: he's eighth on NBA.com's deflections leaderboard … Are we not talking about Bojan Bogdanovic because he'll stop making seemingly every shot he takes if we do? … Never forget that Covington and Andrew Wiggins combined to shoot 1-for-30 and the Wolves still beat the Bulls by 15 … I'm into the Bryn Forbes experience, but I can't tell how much of it is just because he's a Spur who actually wants to shoot 3s … Austin Rivers is an analytics hero … Hoping that Charlotte's win against the Bucks lifted its crunch-time curse … I'm still not sure if this sequence was a dream or not … Joel Embiid's off-the-glass alley-oop to himself should have been a bigger deal ... Some exclusive reporting: Jarrett Allen's go-to Mario Kart character is Shy Guy.
All statistics accurate as of games played on Nov. 27.