Dario Saric’s solid sophomore season
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have been dominating the headlines this season – and rightfully so – but in the substantial shadow of those two future All-Stars, Dario Saric has been having a very solid sophomore season for the Sixers.
Saric’s early-season numbers paint a picture of a player that is a consistent contributor. Through 36 games of action this season – 31 starts - the second-year Croatian is averaging 13.7 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 30.6 minutes of action per game; all improvements upon his numbers from his rookie campaign.
Those numbers have jumped even higher over the past 10 games, as he has become increasingly comfortable playing alongside Embiid and Simmons and not necessarily being a primary go-to option, as he was for much of his rookie season. During that span, Saric has averaged 18.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per performance.
More impressive than his stats however has been Saric’s ability – and willingness – to do whatever the Sixers ask of him. A player that has played on the perimeter most of his career, Saric accepted a role as a part-time small ball five man when it was needed. Saric was a player that excelled with the ball in his hands, but he has learned to play off of the ball and become a reliable knock-down shooter (36.9% from distance this season, 42.9% over the last 10), as that’s what playing alongside Embiid and Simmons calls for.
When Embiid has been forced to sit and the Sixers have needed more rebounding – especially on the offensive end – Saric has hit the glass and grabbed 2.3 offensive rebounds per game. His work as an offensive window-washer has generated the Sixers numerous second opportunities this season.
Plus, Saric’s versatility allows the Sixers to maintain some fluidity when Embiid is out, as they are able to run some of the same sets that they do for Embiid, for Saric. His ability to operate as a post passer and out of the pick-and-roll mimic Embiid’s abilities in the same situations (albeit he is less dynamic) and the Sixers have benefitted from this on multiple occasions.
There is also the unquantifiable grit that the 2014 lottery pick brings to the floor. Though technically a second-year player in the NBA, Saric has played professionally for years, and it shows in his game. He is unfazed by physical paint play and has no issue banging on the blocks. This tenacity has [not surprisingly] endeared him to the Philadelphia faithful.
“I always say sometimes open, sometimes closed with things in your life,” Saric said recently. “I’ve been working hard in my first year, I’ve been working hard in my second year, and I need to stay focused and believing in myself, believing in what I am doing on the court.”
Saric believes in himself, and with his play in his second season, he’s giving everyone else a reason to believe too.
Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.