Zach Lowe: Ten things I like and don't like, including Harden's runway moves


It’s time for our weekly tour of the league — on the penultimate Friday of the regular season.

10 things I like and don’t like

1. Dario Saric, holding tea time

LaMarcus Aldridge once nicknamed Boris Diaw “tea time” to honor Diaw’s slow, casual approach to scoring down low. He’d get the ball at the top of the arc, take one dribble in, spin around to face the other side of the floor just to check out the view, ram his ass into his defender a few times, twirl back the other way, contemplate the works of Pablo Neruda, pump fake, dribble two more times, plan his next safari, and then remember to flick the ball in.

It can be hard explaining how Dario Saric gets work done around the basket. He’s not super-quick. He doesn’t jump high. He can’t overpower every opposing power forward, though he can abuse a few — plus most wings who switch onto him. And then it dawned on me: Saric holds his own version of tea time.

Since he’s Croatian, perhaps we should call it rakija time. (Note to potential tourists: Be wary imbibing rakija of unknown origin, especially if an elderly person is selling it in used Sprite bottles.)

Saric is quicker and more athletic than present-day Diaw, and more at ease facing up for a normal pick-and-roll. But the methodology is the same. Saric is crafty, patient, and kinda mean, with a deep bag of subtle tricks to bust out in tight spaces. He releases the ball early, from weird angles, on little over-the-shoulder shots that are airborne before defenders can jump. He has good touch with both hands. Like Diaw, he’s a canny passer.

Saric is shooting 60 percent in the restricted and 43 percent from the awkward floater range — solid numbers considering he’s a rookie carrying a huge burden on a bad team. I can’t wait to see how Saric looks when Philly gets healthy, and adds a couple veterans.

2. James Harden, with a runway

There is no good answer for Harden running a pick-and-roll with three shooters around him. Opponents pick the least bad answer and pray.

Trap Harden, and he’ll see it coming a mile away. He might split the trap, and bulldoze toward the rim. He could slip a pass to Clint Capela rolling into the paint, or swing one to an open shooter whose man creeps inside to bump Capela.

Switch, and Harden will back up, lick his chops, and roast the poor big man guarding him. If Harden thinks that big man might be able to hang, he could order a second pick-and-roll, generate another switch, and feast on an even worse mismatch. Lay back, and he’s drilling a triple in your grill.

Teams with plodding big men sometimes prefer to have them wait and corral Harden in the paint. It’s a way of defending the pick-and-roll 2-on-2, so that the other three defenders stick to Houston’s 3-point gunners: “If you’re going to beat us, you’re doing it on 2-point shots.”

And that sets up one of my favorite games-within-the-game: Harden with a long runway, and a backpedaling big man in his crosshairs.

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