Does Ersan Ilyasova Arrival Push Dario Saric Back To Bench?

Dario Saric hoped to solidify his role with the Philadelphia 76ers following an injury to Ben Simmons.   But after dealing for power forward Ersan Ilyasova, have the Philadelphia 76ers relegated Saric to the bench?

Throughout the past two years, Dario Saric was easily one of the more coveted players to arrive to the Philadelphia 76ers, particularly in light of the 730 plus day wait imposed on the fans.  Even his progress was followed religiously by fans.  Ultimately, he was the hero of the Olympics for the Serbian national team, and fans hoped he might bring that work ethic and heroics to the NBA.

In his preseason outing, he did.

But then wheels began to fall off the wagon. Or rather, the shots stopped falling for Dario Saric. After a pair of impressive preseason games, Saric’s offensive production fell sharply for the next three games. But it was his final preseason game against the Miami Heat, where he scored 21 points, that seemed to mark his NBA-readiness.

Unfortunately, it did not translate into the regular season. For the first two games, he averaged 5.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and a 19 percent shooting accuracy from the floor. The debut was disappointing enough to coax the team into surrender promising young Jerami Grant to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Ersan Ilyasova and a 2020 protected first round pick.

Oct 13, 2016; Tulsa, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) shoots the ball in front of Memphis Grizzlies forward Vince Hunter (32) during the third quarter at BOK Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Building Better Roster

While the move was professed to be a move to fit skillsets around a Joel Embiid focused team, the undercurrent was clearly a wake-up call by the 76ers to their rookie power forward. In fact, normally reserved head coach Brett Brown made it clear that even without eyes on Ilyasova, he considers the new power forward as the starter over Saric.

Thrown indeed. Rookie Dario Saric arrived to the NBA after a grueling campaign for his native Serbian National team in the 2016 Olympics. Following that, he immediately packed his belongings and arrived to the NBA, where he would begin to train for the NBA. New life. He faced a new language. New country.

Despite the steep climb of acclimating to the new role in a new basketball league, Saric remained focused, humble, and dedicated.  Perhaps it was the elation of his initial preseason games which cause his focus to blink, even for a moment.

Perhaps it was simply the aggregate effect of so much changing so rapidly.

Whatever the cause, Saric came out of the gates rusty and struggling.    Ersan Ilyasova’s would afford the team a veteran presence at the power forward position while Saric worked through his early season jitters.  Or so was the plan…

Nov 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric (9) and guard Sergio Rodriguez (14) react to a score against the Orlando Magic during the first quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Up Call

But the alarm sounded in Saric’s ears. Again, it was a long and loud cry to wake him up. As a matter of fact, it led to was a smashing 21 point 3 rebounds 1 assist on 60 percent shooting from the floor kind of evening from Dario Saric.  For all the struggles of the past, it was a huge performance by a rookie, let alone one who was playing on an NBA court for just the third time this season.

It could very well be that the team sought to help out their rookie power forward by bringing in a veteran player. Nevertheless, the performance displayed the offensive savvy which this team is in dire need of.

The plan may be to give options to the power forward role for the Philadelphia 76ers, and not rely exclusively on the rookie from Croatia to carry the team’s entire season on his shoulders.  But developing Saric means playing Saric.  He won’t improve or grow by watching from the bench.

Nov 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric (L) talks with fellow Croatian and Orlando Magic forward Damjan Rudez (R) prior to action at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Incubate, Don’t Berate

Thankfully, we covered Saric’s struggles in the past.  But it’s that same struggling Dario Saric who is ultimately the guy you keep in a close game.

He is a rock, and when moments loom large, he looms ever larger.   Logically, the team benefits when it has several options at the position. Still, it’s even better when the alternative is a player who can fit the bill as the stretch-four. Developing that role on the roster is critical to both Joel Embiid and soon-to-be-healthy rookie Ben Simmons.

Finally, the Philadelphia 76ers have begun to shape the team now. Right now, the Trimming players whose role does not seem a “good fit” for the future, and grafting players onto the roster to shore up vulnerabilities. That is a logical next step for the overall development of the team.

But the team must stop coddling the players on this roster.  While the hope is to allow players time to develop naturally, there is benefit to the trial-by-fire experience of the team to this point. In the end, the product on the basketball court reflects the experiences of the player who got there.  It’s been three games so far.  Meanwhile, the team is struggling at several key positions.

Nov 1, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Dario Saric (R) talks with fellow Croatian and Orlando Magic forward Damjan Rudez (L) prior to action at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Build Team, Not Group Of Players

While Joel Embiid continues to soar, and Ben Simmons is expected to do the same, the team must break the panic of an off-night and allow good players time to play through.  Dario Saric is just one of several high upside players experiencing the Philadelphia 76ers for the first time.  Each game adds experience which adds to development which adds to production.

According to a wise saying, a watched pot doesn’t boil.  Give Saric time to develop. Keep Ilyassova on standby to give him some rest as the season plays on.  Dario Saric showed that he is a man of his word when he left lots of money on the table to join our team.

Should the team allow him time to build chemistry with point guard Sergio Rodriguez and center Joel Embiid, the results will be profound.  It is that lack of familiarity which has stunted the improvement of the Philadelphia 76ers until now.

As of today, the team can correct past mistakes. In whatever way the line-ups eventually shake out, the team should not be in a rush to bench a player of Saric’s potential.

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