Dario Saric: Philadelphia 76ers ‘Other’ Rookie

Feb 9, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric (9) reacts after he made a shot in the fourth quarter against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Orlando Magic 112-111. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Lost amid the hype of Joel Embiid’s fantastic rookie campaign has been the play of forward Dario Saric. With Embiid on the sidelines, the Philadelphia 76ers’ rookie has been making his own noise.

It may have taken a few months, but Dario Saric appears to be finding his feet in the NBA. The Philadelphia 76ers‘ rookie has gone largely unnoticed throughout the season, primarily due to a couple of reasons.

First of all, the overwhelming presence of fellow Joel Embiid has been hard to escape.

Secondly, the transition from European basketball to the NBA game has naturally brought with it an adjustment period.

Saric was thrown in the deep end to commence his career with the Sixers, starting the first 10 games of his career. This was a struggle for both the team and Saric, with the Sixers returning a 1-9 record. Saric posted 9.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

He shot just 38.8 percent from the field in 26.8 minutes per contest.

Saric himself recently noted that the transition is certainly not straight forward:

“Of course, it’s easier now after two, three months. You can find the holes in their defense, you learn how to play defense, you learn some plays, you learn how to position yourself in defense and offense, and you learn that it’s easier to play and to find the open look.”

With that in mind, things have certainly picked up. With Embiid playing in just one of the past 13 games, Saric has risen to the occasion. Over his last 14 games, Saric has averaged 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds in 26.1 minutes per game.

He has excelled even further over his five most recent games.

During the past five games, Saric has averaged 20.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 27.8 minutes per game. Notably, Saric has shot 52.6 percent and has been a plus-37 when on the floor during this stretch. Sixers’ head coach Brett Brown has certainly noticed Saric’s improvement:

“I think he’s growing into himself and playing with a great confidence. I feel like that last few weeks we’ve really seen him blossom.”

One noticeable difference and improvement from Saric recently has been the areas of the court from which he has been scoring. Consider the following contrast from Saric’s first 10 games of the season, and his last five games.

Shot attempts less than 5 feet from rim

Field goal percentage
First 10 games: 33.3
Last 5 games: 66.7

Percentage of total shot attempts
First 10 games: 33.7
Last 5 games: 43.4

The difference illustrated here in both volume and efficiency is impressive. Not only is Saric attacking the basket more often, his ability to finish close to the rim has improved dramatically. Another notable change in Saric’s game is the following:

Percentage of shot attempts taken
with 3-6 dribbles

First 10 games: 12.1
Last 5 games: 21.1

This certainly ties in with the increased volume of attempts taken close to the rim. Saric’s confidence has clearly increased as the season has progressed. These numbers demonstrate that the rookie is increasing his propensity to put the ball on the floor and drive through the defence.

Here are highlights of Saric’s career-high 26 points during a Feb. 11 victory over the Orlando Magic.

For the time being, Embiid’s timetable remains uncertain. Further, there is still no definitive timeline for the debut of last year’s No.1 overall pick, Ben Simmons.

In the meantime, Saric can look forward to utilizing his increased confidence and translating this into more wins for the Sixers.

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