The Ben Simmons injury is heart-breaking for all of Philadelphia, as there was plenty of optimism and hope for not just the future, but this upcoming season with all of the incoming talent. That talent was obviously headlined by Simmons, the #1 overall pick in the past June’s draft, so the injury seems to have delayed “the process” yet again.
However, the Sixers also have another tall, “pass first” forward making his Sixers debut this season. Dario Saric, whom the Sixers drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft, had been playing overseas in Turkey for the past two seasons, but he kept his word from draft night that he would come to play for the Sixers for this season.
Sixers fans, including myself, got to see Saric play live on television for the first time this summer when he represented his home country of Croatia at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Saric was the main reason his team made it to the Olympic games, as he led his team to victory in the Olympic Qualifying tournament in Italy, earning tournament MVP honors in the process.
Once he and his team arrived in Brazil, they weren’t expected to advance past the group stage, but after a stunning upset over Spain in their first game, Croatia managed to win their group. Saric came up clutch in the upset victory over Spain, conserving the win with a game-saving block on future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol at the buzzer.
Saric finished the tournament in Brazil averaging 11.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game while leading Croatia to a modest fifth place finish at the games.
This was the first time many got to see Saric play live, and he was very impressive. Saric’s play-making ability, his ability to stretch the floor, and his ability to run the floor on fast breaks all stood out.
Saric has shown that he is a very similar to player to that of Simmons. Before the Simmons injury, it looked like it was going to be a challenge trying to find different ways to get Saric in the game. After the injury, however, Saric will likely be the Sixers starting power forward night in and night out.
Many people may be concerned with the workload that Saric has received over the past calendar year, playing with his Turkish club, going right to the Olympics with Croatia, and now beginning his NBA career with the Sixers with little break in between. There are questions whether or not his body will be able to withstand the grueling NBA schedule after playing basketball virtually non-stop for a year.
What there are not questions about, however, are his natural basketball talents. Saric is very similar to Simmons in that he is a playmaking big man that is comfortable with the ball in his hands. He also has the ability to stretch the floor and knock down open threes as well.
Saric made his NBA preseason debut on Tuesday night against the Celtics at the University of Massachusetts, and he was very impressive.
“I thought Dario was excellent,” head coach Brett Brown told CSNPhilly.com’s Jessica Camerato. “Just solid, old-school solid.”
Saric made his home debut in front of the Philly faithful tonight at the Wells Fargo Center, and the 22 year-old rookie continued to impress.
Saric has played 18 minutes in each of his first two preseason games, and has averaged 10 points, six rebounds, and two assists per game through those first two contests. He has shown his ability to shoot from downtown as well, converting four of six three point shots in his first two games.
Saric has also shown off his abilities on the defensive end. He forced a turnover early in the first quarter of tonight’s double-overtime loss to the Wizards, and then finished it off at the other end with a reverse layup.
There will definitely be some growing pains for Saric in his first NBA season, but he is still the best playmaker and arguably the most talented player on the roster, now that Simmons will be sidelined at least three months. However successful Saric is this season shouldn’t and won’t downplay the type of player Simmons is, but Saric may prove that he may deserve to be a starter for this team even when Simmons does return.
Although the Simmons injury is still an extremely disappointing start to the Sixers season, fans will be pleasantly surprised at how advanced Saric’s game is and how successful he will be in his first NBA season. Many people might not know what to expect from an overseas player like Saric, but you should expect to see a lot of the same things you hoped to see from Simmons.
Photo: Marco Margosso (Flickr.com)
Tyler King covers the Phillies and Sixers for PHLSportsNation.com. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter (@t_king26).