Dario Saric continues to inch closer towards Rookie of the Year Award


Three summers ago, the Philadelphia 76ers began to solidify and build upon “The Process” in the 2014 NBA Draft. With their first selection, they drafted Joel Embiid out of Kansas with the third overall pick. However, in that same draft, the Sixers acquired Croatian forward Dario Saric in a trade with the Orlando Magic, swapping him for point guard Elfrid Payton.

When the Sixers acquired Saric on draft night, there were a lot of questions surrounding him. Was he going to be a starter or just another role player coming off the bench? Would his game and skills translate to the NBA? Ultimately, would he even come over to join the Sixers?

Fast forward to February 2017, and all those questions have been answered one way or another. Saric has been a pleasant surprise in his rookie season with the Sixers, and has shown everybody that he was well worth the wait.

Ever since he was drafted, Sixers fans and media alike have kept their eyes on Saric. They were monitoring his every move and game with his team, Anadolu Efes, and wondering when he was going to come over. Saric made the decision to come over this past summer after helping lead Croatia to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero.

With Saric making it clear that he would be finally arriving, it gave Sixers fans a sense of joy and hope, as they wondered how he would fit in with Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel.

However, things would not be picture perfect for the Sixers as both Simmons and Noel would be sidelined by early season injuries. Despite those injuries, it did not stop rookies Embiid and Saric as they began to take the NBA by storm. Embiid, more so than Saric, garnered the national headlines as for a player who had not played in two years, he was playing outstanding basketball.

Embiid started off the season by winning three straight Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month awards, and dominated NBA.com’s Rookie Ladder, which ranks the NBA’s best rookies. Saric, however, did not get that same national attention as he was ranked seventh in the preseason Rookie Ladder, but then dropped out in the Week 1 edition.

Fast forward 15 weeks later and Saric is sitting at No. 3 in the Rookie Ladder behind Embiid and Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon. In fact, there is no reason why Saric cannot move up a spot, especially with the tear he’s been on lately.

In January, Saric averaged 10.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 22.9 minutes per game. He also shot 38.1 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from three-point range. While those numbers show improvement from the three previous months, he has taken his game to another level in February.

This month, Saric has continued to show off all facets of his game, being a factor in the scoring, rebounding, and assists departments. He is averaging 16.6 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 29.7 minutes per game. He is also shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range.

The reason for the uptick in production is because of the trade of Ersan Ilyasova to the Atlanta Hawks before the NBA trade deadline. With the Sixers moving Ilyasova, it now frees up more minutes for Saric to start and furthers along his development.

In the last two games where he was the starter, Saric recorded a double-double. Friday night against the Washington Wizards, he scored 20 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field, and grabbed 11 rebounds. Then on Saturday night against the New York Knicks, Saric scored 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the field and grabbed 15 rebounds.

In the Sixers’ last four games, Saric has recorded a double-double in each of them. He will continue to be a key component to this team’s success until Embiid gets back on the court.

Now people begin to ask, what about the Rookie of the Year Award? Does he have a chance to win it? He certainly does with Embiid missing a lot of games due to injury. His only competition for the award would be Brogdon, Phoenix’s Marquese Chriss, and Sacramento’s Buddy Hield. Both Chriss and Hield are having a resurgence in their rookie seasons, and could give Saric a run for his money.

However, there is a good chance that Saric takes the award home, especially if he continues to play at the same level that he has this month. As a rookie power forward, he has shown that getting double-doubles on a consistent basis is not an easy task going up against veterans in the NBA.

It should be fun to see how the rest of Saric’s rookie season plays out as he has been worth the wait and one of the main cogs to “The Process.”

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