After the bombshell dropped that both Ben Simmons and rookie sensation turned star player, Joel Embiid would miss the remainder of the season, any positive news would be appreciated by Philadelphia 76ers fans. Luckily enough for them, amidst the turmoil of injury news and struggling squad depth, one player is shining through. That player is Dario Saric.
Breaking: Joel Embiid is out for the season due to knee injury pic.twitter.com/ymrTtEaku2
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 1, 2017
Despite the barrage of injuries plagued upon his side, coach Brett Brown has done an admirable job transforming the 76ers fortunes from a basement franchise to one with a blindingly bright future. This has been partly aided by the brilliance of Saric in recent games with his emphatic emergence along with Embiid.
With Embiid now ruled out for the remainder of the season, the reigns will be handed over to Saric to spearhead the 76ers offense. Since this bold but unsurprising move, Philadelphia has been treated to some impressive results.
Over the last four games since the trade deadline on February 23rd, the Croatian forward has averaged 17.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per contest. During this stretch, Saric has been given an increased role and as a result, his playing time has risen considerably with the rookie now one of the leaders in minutes played on the team with 33.5 per game. All of this culminated in an Eastern Conference Rookie of The Month Award for the 22-year old, which in hindsight is thoroughly deserved.
— NBA (@NBA) March 2, 2017
On February 22nd (the day before the trade deadline), the 76ers moved their former starting power forward, Ersan Ilyasova to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Tiago Splitter and a protected 2017 second-round draft pick. This was a decision that only meant one thing; the 76ers were opting in with Saric for the long-run. This trade while making a statement, left them in the lurch in regard to depth at the power forward position. With only Richaun Holmes behind Saric in the rotation, the former EuroLeague star has room to shine and will receive the adequate playing time to do so. Prior to February, the most minutes Saric had received was 21 on just two occasions (against the Orlando Magic in game three as well as the Boston Celtics in a December matchup). Now that Ilyasova is long gone, Saric’s minutes are going up. He even hit the 40-minute mark on February 25th against the New York Knicks.
With an incredibly modern and unique skill set, Saric is a very desirable asset for Philadelphia. The 6’10” forward is the perfect ‘stretch four’ for the 76ers. He offers them a unique ability to pass when needed as emphasized partially by his 7 assists against the Golden State Warriors, the second best defensive team in the entire league, based on rating.
Dario Saric this year…
Game #: 1-48 | 49-58
PPG: 9.9 | 17.3
RPG: 5.8 | 8.1
APG: 1.7 | 2.5
TS%: 48.7 | 53.1
+/-: -192 | +19
MPG: 23.7 | 30.2
— max (@MaxRappaport) February 26, 2017
Despite a record of 1-3 record since February 23rd and an abundance of injuries marring their roster, the future looks bright for Philadelphia. Once they have all their young assets (Simmons, Saric, and Embiid) back playing together injury-free, they will definitely raise a few eyebrows. One thing’s certain through all of this; if Saric continues this fine run of play, he may even steal the Rookie of the Year Award from fellow 76er, Joel Embiid come the end of the season.