A magical month in January was followed by one of the toughest months in recent memory for the 76ers and fans, but if there is a silver lining in all of this, it's Dario Saric.
Rather than talking at length about how disastrous and crappy the month of February was for the Sixers and fans — including Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid being shut down for the season, misleading information from Bryan Colangelo and not only trading the wrong center (Nerlens Noel) but trading him for 5 cents on the dollar — I'd rather talk about how this year the Rookie of The Year award will most likely go through Philadelphia with the recent play of Dario Saric.
Former president Sam Hinkie drafted Saric, an international prospect, in 2014, and most predicted he wouldn't come over from Europe, despite repeated promises that he would come for over two years. He started the year up and down, which was expected for an overseas player trying to adjust to the pace of the NBA game. Saric would have 2-3 game stretches of brilliance, followed by multiple clunkers, and even in his best games, his skill set wasn't fully realized. The last month or so, however, has been nothing but brilliance for the Croatian, and he has finally put his unique abilities, which earned him high praise overseas, on full display.
Earlier in the season, Saric didn't push the ball in transition after grabbing a defensive rebound, a trademark he had established overseas, and the offense didn't go through him — partially because Embiid was playing — which you can say also contributed to Saric's up and down play. Still, regardless of how he played, Saric would always bring effort, toughness and a competitive spirit that recently made head coach Brett Brown gush about his beloved rookie.
Things changed this season around late January for Saric, as he started to make a name for himself and began to win the hearts of Sixer fans everywhere with game-changing plays like the sequence against the Toronto Raptors below.
Saric's first all-around game came against the Sacramento Kings on January 30; it was the first time the Croatian version of Saric started translating to the NBA game. Since the Kings game, Saric has averaged 16.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. He has been pushing the ball as a 6-foot-10-inch point forward and making crisp passes from the post, in transition or from the top of the key. Not only is his passing ability finally being utilized, he has added the flare that we saw in those YouTube highlights overseas. The pass below, while not an assist, was a clear indicator that Saric has the makings of a special passer.
As mentioned above, Saric has shown an incredible knack for finding cutters whenever he has the ball.
Saric can make every pass in the book. In the clip below, the team runs a variation of the Horns set, and Saric delivers a nice pocket bounce pass to Noel. (It's seriously great seeing Noel play well in Dallas despite the trade still being terrible.)
Saric's 6-foot-10 height allows him to see the entire floor and enables Super Dario to make cross-court passes as well.
When the 76ers traded Ersan Ilyasova over the All-Star break, it was clear the team wanted to give Saric full reins of the starting four spot to develop his game as they finish out the remainder of the season. While Saric was playing well way before the trade, it's great to see what the coaching staff and organization has. What makes this recent productive stretch more impressive is that Dario's 3-point shot has completely abandoned him. He's shooting 26.5 percent since January 30 — and he is still playing so well. Once he is finally able to take some time off from basketball to adjust to the 3-point line, it will only open up his game even more to compensate for his lack of athleticism and explosive first step.
Despite the month of bad news, Sixer fans can take solace in the fact that Saric has now established himself as a part of the young core to go along with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and the incoming 2017 lottery pick.