Philadelphia 76ers: The Emergence Of Dario Saric

Mar 29, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric (9) stands for the national anthem prior to action against the Atlanta Hawks at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Dario Saric is up for the Rookie of the Year award and with good reason. His surprising play has given the Philadelphia 76ers something to look forward to.

Rookie power forward Dario Saric had a strong 2016-17 season for the Philadelphia 76ers. Saric made the jump this past offseason to the NBA after developing his game in Europe professionally from 2011-16. While he did sign quietly with the 76ers this past offseason, he made a lot of noise on the court.

Saric ranked second in scoring among rookies this past season (12.8 points per game), third in rebounds (6.3 per game) and appeared in 81 of 82 games for the 76ers. While point-forward Ben Simmons works his way back into full-court action, Saric has big summer plans on the Eurobasket circuit with the Croatian National team.

Saric brings a nice stretch-4 game to a team still in search of its identity. He possesses a smooth game with play-making, ball-handling and shot-making ability.

Although the 76ers finished the season 28-54, the 23-year-old rookie’s performance offset injuries to center Joel Embiid and forward Ben Simmons. It remains to be seen if either will return healthy, but with Saric on the floor, they won’t have as much to worry about.

From Europe to NBA Rookie of the Year Candidate

Dario Saric was originally drafted by the Orlando Magic in the 2014 NBA Draft. However, the Magic traded Saric to the Philadelphia 76ers along with a 2017 first round pick for Elfrid Payton.

The 6-foot-10 Croatian native made a name for himself on the FIBA circuit with the Croatian National team. He earned MVP honors on the U16 and U18 national teams, leading both teams to gold medals in the FIBA Europe Championships.

Saric was under contract with Anadolu Efes, a team in Turkey, for the past two seasons. He worked on his game there before the Sixers bought out his contract on July 15, 2016.

In his final season in Turkey, Saric averaged 11.5 points, 5.6 rebounds while shooting 48.8 percent from the floor and 40.7 percent from three. Saric’s vastly developed game saved the Philadelphia 76ers at the right time.

The 23-year-old rookie won the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Award in February and March. Teammate Joel Embiid won three Rookie of the Month awards as well. Saric averaged 17.0 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game in the month of February. He averaged 18.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists in the month of March. He started in 26 of the final 27 games of the regular season for the 76ers. Overall, he made 36 starts in 81 games.

What’s Next for Saric and the 76ers?

After Simmons broke his foot in training camp back in October, Saric slowly emerged as a player with a bright future in Philadelphia. He didn’t get off to the hottest start to the season, but now, he’s a top pick for this season’s Rookie of the Year award.

While adjusting to the speed of the NBA, he shot just 39.7 percent from the floor prior to the All-Star Break. As the season progressed, things improved for Saric. He shot 43.2 percent from the field, averaging 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists through the final 25 games.

Saric scored a career-high 32 points on 12-of-19 shooting in a 117-107 win over the Chicago Bulls on Mar. 24. He also grabbed 10 rebounds and made two threes. Saric had 20 points or more in 14 games for the Philadelphia 76ers, 13 of them coming after the All-Star Break.

The Philadelphia 76ers have some valuable pieces in Saric, Simmons and Embiid. Simmons has the ability to play guard or forward. Saric has the ability to play either forward position or center, depending on matchups. Embiid has the ability to play the power forward or center position.

With so much versatility, it will be interesting to see what moves the 76ers make in this year’s NBA Draft. In a draft class full of versatile guards, they have the potential of landing two picks in the top 10. As they’re stacked with frontcourt help already, the next step is adding backcourt help, which starts in this year’s draft.

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