Nearly three months after being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Dario Saric is finally a starter. How has he played?
When the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Dario Saric in the Jimmy Butler trade back in November, we knew he would eventually shift into the starting lineup. With the always solid Taj Gibson in place, though, there was no guarantee Saric would become a starter this season.
Had the Timberwolves never fired Tom Thibodeau, it would be a smart bet to say that Gibson would definitely hold the starting power forward position for the rest of the season.
With Ryan Saunders now in place and the Wolves falling behind in the Western Conference playoffs race, the rookie coach made the toughest decision of his young career. Two games before the All-Star break, Saunders promoted Saric to the starting unit — sending Gibson, the 33-year-old veteran, to the bench.
According to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (subscription), Saunders was nervous of notifying Gibson that he would be replaced in the starting unit. Gibson, however, was willing to do anything to help the team win — and has understood this was a possibility ever since Saric was acquired three months ago.
Gibson has become a very important member of the Timberwolves on the court and in the locker room. A team-first veteran, the Timberwolves have grown incredibly fond of Gibson. Before the trade deadline, Minnesota knew they had to promote Saric to the starting lineup for future purposes.
They didn’t want to minimize Gibson’s role, though, and actually searched for trades that would give Gibson a chance to play for a playoff contender. They couldn’t find a deal that made sense, so they ended up here.
After a rough patch, losing six of seven games, Minnesota made the necessary decision and is benefitting already — winning their last two games by 10 points each with Saric starting and Gibson coming off the bench.
Saric has been good with Minnesota this season, posting career-high percentages from 2 and 3. Coming off the bench, however, he could never really get into a consistent groove.
To begin February, however, Saric came on strong — averaging 13.5 points (51.4 percent shooting) and 5.5 rebounds in the first three games.
Saric was then promoted to the starting lineup and is averaging 17 points and 8 rebounds through two games — with blistering 65.0/85.7/1.000 shooting splits.
Two games is obviously an incredibly small sample size, but his recent play shows that he has assimilated nicely into the Wolves starting unit and organization as a whole. He seems to be confident and comfortable in his role.
While Gibson is nothing but a rock on both ends, Saric gives the Wolves a much higher ceiling as a starter than he does a reserve — especially on offense. His floor spacing will open up driving lanes for Teague, Okogie, and Wiggins while Karl-Anthony Towns gets more room to operate down low.
On defense, Saric is a clear downgrade from Gibson, but he has looked fine thus far next to Towns and does a nice job rotating to challenge shots at the rim when necessary.
Switching out Gibson for Saric was clearly a tough decision for Saunders and the Wolves organization as a whole, but a necessary one for the sake of the future of the franchise. Minnesota is lucky that Gibson was so accepting of the role and understands how important Saric is to the team moving forward.
It seems unlikely at this point that Minnesota will make the playoffs, but they still have a lot to play for with Saric now in the starting unit. When Robert Covington returns from injury, the Wolves will have a good look at what their starting lineup might look like next season, as well as pinpoint their largest weaknesses on the bench.