Dario Saric

Dario Šarić, Ron Adams and a Warriors reunion 13 years in the making

NBC Universal, Inc.

SAN FRANCISCO – Ron Adams didn’t know anything about Dario Šarić when he first saw him play basketball. The 75-year-old Warriors coach was a 62-year-old about to start his second stint as a Chicago Bulls assistant at the time. Šarić, he was a 6-foot-6, 16-year-old point guard about to show the world that he would one day be a first-round pick in the NBA draft. 

Šarić was the lone name atop the Warriors’ free-agency wish list over the summer to begin Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s reign as general manager. His signing also completed a reunion 13 years in the making. 

Throughout his coaching career, Adams has been involved with a number of Basketball Without Borders events. He credits Kim Bohuny, the NBA’s Senior Vice President of International Basketball Operations, for being a catalyst in growing the game globally and Basketball Without Borders being a shining example. In September of 2010, Adams was part of a Basketball Without Borders camp in Barcelona, putting the best European prospects in one gym.

Immediately, Šarić stood out to Adams. Not so much for his athleticism, physicality or ability to rack up points. It was the way Šarić saw the game that Adams could feel, drawing him towards the Croatian’s skills, even when Šarić still was a teenager. 

“Really a thoughtful player, as he is now, in terms of clearly seeing the game, knowing how to get the ball to people,” Adams said to NBC Sports Bay Area. “Not a major player offensively, not someone who was out there trying to create for himself -- although, he could do that at that point. 

“He just had an understanding of the game and a feel for incorporating his teammates."

There’s a consistent image at the end of Warriors practices inside Chase Center. Šarić is on a court to the right when you first walk in. And he’s always joined by two people. One is Adams, and the other is Dejan Milojević, the former Serbian star overseas who’s in his third season as a Warriors assistant coach. 

Milojević first was hired for the development of James Wiseman, and in turn helped make Kevon Looney into an irreplaceable center for the Warriors. Šarić has a different skill set than both of those big men as someone who stretches the floor with his shooting ability and can play-make putting the ball on the ground. 

The coaching duo differs by a foot in height, and each brings different experiences to get the best out of Šarić. 

"It's been great,” Šarić says. “Obviously Dekki coming from a similar culture, similar background from Europe, his advice every day is helping me a lot to be better, to try to improve my game step by step. Nothing is going to happen overnight.

“It's been pleasurable. They know a lot and working with them is an opportunity to improve my game."

Admittedly, the history Šarić and Adams share helped the 29-year-old feel more at home playing for his fifth franchise in his seventh NBA season. Adams’ long, respected history as a coach, along with his ability to communicate and understand European players because of his Basketball Without Borders background, is what Šarić always has been seeking.

“He knows what I was doing when I was a kid, how the mindset is of players coming from Europe and the mindset of people who grew up here,” Šarić said. “So it's different kinds of mindsets. He knows how to talk, he knows what I've been through. It makes it easier to understand the things we do on the court." 

Each complement each as player and coaches. Warriors practice from training camp to the preseason and into the regular season has stressed more correcting and understanding this season compared to last. Šarić, like fellow veteran newcomers Chris Paul and Cory Joseph, is, as Adams describes, a “serious practice player.” He even laughs at some of the back and forth banter Šarić and Milojević have with each other. 

When Adams evaluated Šarić at the end of Basketball Without Borders in 2010, he felt his shot was what could hold him back, more than any athletic concerns. Šarić’s shot was rudimentary, Adams remembers. Now it’s one of his strong suits. 

While Šarić enters Monday shooting just 41.1 percent from the field and 32.8 percent on 3-point attempts through his first 14 games as a Warrior, the 6-foot-10 forward/center shot 39.1 percent from 3-point range last season, the second-best of his career. He became the first Warrior not named Steph Curry to score 20 points in the sixth game of the season, shooting 6 of 9 overall and 4 of 7 from deep in a two-point win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Šarić already has scored in double figures six times this season, and has averaged 10.6 points in the Warriors’ last 10 games after averaging only 5.5 in his first four games.

His 9.1 points per game are his most since the 2019-20 season, his 6.4 rebounds per game are the second-best of his career and Šarić’s 2.0 assists per game are his most since the first two years of his NBA career. 

“He's completely unselfish,” Adams said. “He doesn't go out feeling he has to score a bunch of points, but he's capable. Now we have a four or five-man who is a point guard. That strength, which he had at an early age, has only gotten better. But his shooting the ball, I'd say his offense in general has really come along, but especially shooting 3-point shot."

The Warriors played Šarić three times last season, once when he was on the Phoenix Suns and twice when he was part of the Thunder. Šarić averaged 12.7 points against them, shooting 62.5 percent (5 of 8) behind the 3-point line and beat the Warriors in his first two matchups before falling in his third. The loss came on April 4 in Oklahoma City. 

The morning before, Šarić, Adams and Milojević shared a coffee in OKC. Adams remembered they had a nice talk and Šarić spoke highly of his Thunder experience. In the back of their minds, Adams and Milojević knew Šarić was set for free agency in the upcoming months. Both dreamed of the idea of coaching Saric one day, and he and Milojević shared conversations of his possible fit and why it would be a good decision once the free-agency period opened. 

Adams tried texting Šarić, but his attempt of communication wasn’t as effective because the Warriors coach was sending messages to a number Šarić doesn’t use in Europe. 

Once it became clear Šarić was set to be a Warrior, Adams was even more ready to begin his 10th season on Golden State’s coaching staff. Šarić on the court is the exact type of player the Warriors were missing last season. In ways he fills a major hole left by Otto Porter Jr. after the Warriors’ 2022 championship season. Steve Kerr sees a lot of Nemanja Bjelica in Šarić’s game, and Adams sees a combination of two former Warriors champions: Shaun Livingston for his intent on making everybody around him better, and David West for the ruggedness he brings to court. 

“His game really epitomizes what Steve likes in a player,” Adams said.

Bringing in Paul was the Warriors’ blockbuster move that earned all the headlines. Their interest in Šarić is what sealed the deal to Paul that him hopping aboard and putting an end to a rivalry could really work. Paul didn’t let a minute pass before he called Šarić once Dunleavy told him he had every intention of making Šarić a Warrior.

Paul ascribed the situation to when he was in Houston playing for the Rockets and then-GM Daryl Morey came to him looking for advice about adding a wing. Paul didn’t hesitate, picking up the phone and calling Luc Mbah a Moute, whom Paul was teammates with for two seasons on the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Playing together with Šarić on the Suns for parts of two seasons where the two formed an unspoken chemistry made Paul badly want to be teammates once more.

“Just guys who not only are really good players, but just great guys to have in the locker room,” Paul said of recruiting Šarić to the Warriors and comparing the situation to the Rockets signing Mbah a Moute. “I’m glad to be back with him because it’s just a comfort level. I know he plays the game the right way, no matter what. 

“And he’s just a great guy to be around.”

Philadelphia, Minnesota, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and now San Francisco all have been stops for Šarić in his NBA career thus far. He brings a sense of solace to Paul, nine years his elder, and even if his time here is short, perhaps being a Warrior is where Šarić is most at home, working alongside someone who first became enthralled by the way he plays basketball as a skinny teenager more than a decade ago.

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