NEW YORK -- Dario Saric has been on the of the most intriguing international players going on two years. At 6-foot-10, 223-pounds, Saric is a dynamic point-forward prospect. He excels in the open floor and is an excellent passer. Had Saric entered the draft last year, he likely would have been a lottery pick. After a stellar season in the Adriatic League, earning the league MVP, Saric was again projected in the lottery for this week’s draft.
The narrative abruptly shifted when Saric agreed to a multi-year deal with Turkish club Anadolu Efes. Saric will still be eligible to be drafted on Thursday, but the likelihood that he will spend at least two years playing abroad will cause his stock to tumble.
On Wednesday, Saric, 20, said his dream was to play in the NBA but that he needs more time to develop before he gets there.
“I still want to play in the NBA,” Saric said. “I’m choosing to do things a different way. I started in Croatia. Then I played in the Adriatic League. Now Turkey. I think that when I come to the NBA, I will have a stronger, better mind.”
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When asked why he kept his name in the draft knowing he was likely going to stay in Europe, Saric was vague.
“I do feel like I can play in the NBA right now,” Saric said. “Last year, I was not ready. Now, I am ready. But I wanted to tell the NBA [before the draft] about Turkey because I did not want to be a liar. I don’t want to lie to NBA teams. I want to play in Europe and get better.”
Saric’s status will almost certainly scare many teams in the first round. In 2005, Orlando selected Spanish center Fran Vazquez with the 11th overall pick. Vazquez elected to stay in Spain and has not played a minute for the Magic. Saric says he fully intends to play in the NBA in two years, and even opened the door to possibly coming over as early as next season.
“The longest I will stay in Europe is two years,” Saric said. “It will be better for me to be an All-Star [in Turkey] then go to the NBA.”
One of the most common criticisms of Jabari Parker lately has been his conditioning. Specifically, many executives who have witnessed him work out have suggested he may not have been in the best of shape. On Wednesday, Parker said he was puzzled by the criticism.
“I felt real good through the workout,” Parker said. “If you put a treadmill right here, we can have a contest. I feel confident right now. It surprises me. I’m in the gym 24/7. I don’t have to self promote myself. I don’t need to put anything on Instagram or on Twitter. It’s my job to practice every day and play. I’m no couch potato. I love to play basketball. You can find me doing that almost every day.”
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Parker said in interviews teams have told him they see him as an NBA small forward.
“But I don’t have a position,” Parker said. “At Duke, I was moved around. I think we will see that at whatever team that I play on.”
Payton on the rise
When Elfrid Payton was debating whether to leave Louisiana-Lafayette after his junior season to enter the draft, he knew one thing: Initially, he wouldn’t be projected as a high pick. But he believed something else: When people got a closer look at him, he soon would be.
“That was one of the biggest reasons I came out, because I believed I could be a fast riser,” Payton said. “It’s happened pretty fast. I’m a competitor. I felt like once I got into these workouts, people could see my talent. I feel like I have done well.”
Scouts that have seen Payton agree. Over the last few months, Payton has risen from a late first or early second round pick to a likely lottery selection on Thursday. Payton said some of his motivation to come out early came from the success of Portland’s Damian Lillard, another mid-major guard who has thrived in the NBA.
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“My coach used to give me a lot of articles on Lillard,” Payton said. “It wasn’t so much to push me to come out, but about small-school guards making it to the NBA.”
According to an NBA source, the Orlando Magic have a strong interest in drafting Payton at No. 12.
McDermott proving he can defend
Creighton forward Doug McDermott is looking more and more like a lottery lock. Boston, Charlotte, Orlando and the Lakers have brought McDermott in for individual workouts while Chicago, Golden State, Denver and Minnesota came to Chicago this month for a group workout.
As expected, teams have focused on McDermott’s ability to defend at the next level. McDermott says teams have projected him as a small forward, though he believes in some situations he can defend “small four’s.”
“Teams want to see me defend,” McDermott said. “I know that’s the biggest question about me. I think I went in there and proved I could hold my own against wing players.”
McDermott said teams put him through extensive one-on-one drills to see if he could stay in front of quicker players.
“If they are scoring, they are scoring,” McDermott said. “Guys are in this draft for a reason. But I think teams wanted to see if I was going to get blown by, and I think I did well.”
Randle says foot is fine
Several executives from NBA teams have told SI.com that they believe Julius Randle will need a minor foot surgery to remove a screw that was placed in his right foot in high school. Randle says he doesn’t, but will go along with the medical advice from the team that drafts him. Either way, Randle predicts the foot issues won’t alter the opinions of the teams looking at him.
“I don't think it's hurt my stock at all,” Randle said. “Every team I've talked to has said that as far as the foot thing, whether they want to do something or not, t's not affecting their decision if they want to take me or not.”
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Randle said he has a good idea who leaked the foot issue to the media, though he declined to elaborate. Regardless, he says he is over the brief firestorm the foot injury caused.
"It was frustrating when I first initially heard it," Randle said. "But I could care less. I don't put anything into it. I know what teams are saying and what's the deal. That's why I really didn't care.”
League sources say the Celtics and Lakers are giving Randle the strongest consideration with the No. 7 and No. 8 picks.
Tavares fails to impress
One of the more fascinating foreign prospects in the draft is Walter Tavares, the 7-foot-3 center from Cape Verde. SI.com has moved Tavares in and out of the first round in recent mock drafts and several scouts say he has soft hands for a big man.. However Tavares was unimpressive in a workout in New Jersey on Tuesday, according to multiple team officials who observed the workout. Tavares will likely still be drafted on Thursday but, said one exec, “probably somewhere between 40 and 60.”