After coming stateside with tons of fanfare and hype (from mostly me), Dario Saric’s NBA career got off to a unspectacular start. He shot just 2-12 from the field on opening night, while missing all four of his three pointers. Things didn’t get much better Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, as he shot 1-3 from beyond the arc and just 2-8 overall. Another performance where Saric shot under 23 percent and I might have had to delete my Twitter account and move into the guest bedroom in Sam Hinkie’s Palo Alto home.
Luckily, both for my standing in the basketball community and the Sixers, Saric proved all the haters and losers, of which, sadly, there are many, wrong with a great shooting effort against the Orlando Magic. Saric nailed three of his four three-points attempts, as seen below:
Add to that a 9-15 shooting performance total and Saric is left with the best game of his young NBA career with 21 points to go along with three boards, two assists and a steal. There looked to be a little bit more arc on his shot, which can be seen more so on his second and third makes above. When Saric has struggled with his shot, it’s been due in part to having a flat release that leaves his attempts clanking off the back of the rim. More arc equals more makes in Saric’s case.
Saric’s fellow Croatian Mario Hezonja, teammates for years between youth and international play, only registered 12 minutes and made just one of his four shots. The Magic’s crowded frontcourt seems to be even more of an absurd logjam than that of the Sixers in that they signed one center (Bismack Biyombo) and one power forward (Jeff Green), while trading for another (Serge Ibaka) after already having a plodding center (Nikola Vucevic) on their roster this offseason. This forces Orlando to play their best prospect in Aaron Gordon out of the position at the three and to give Jeff Green minutes there as well, which he’s ill-equipped to do.
This, in turn, leaves less minutes for the franchise’s second-best prospect, Hezonja, on the wing. The Magic could easily be running a fun, up-tempo offensive attack featuring Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Hezonja, Gordon and Biyombo that combines upside with excellent defense currently. Instead, they’re gluing Hezonja to the bench and leaving Gordon in to miss corner threes rather than dunking on fools near the rim. Look at this from Tuesday:
This guy was born to be a playmaking and otherworldly athletic power forward in the modern NBA! I’m not surprised that a veteran-leaning coach like Scott Skiles buried Hezonja on the bench last year. I am surprised though that a smart coach like Frank Vogel isn’t letting his team’s true potential to come forward.
If the Magic didn’t already have 67 big men on their roster, I’d suggest some sort of trade between them and the Sixers that reunites Hezonja and Saric. I’m starting the #FreeHezonja movement. Basketball Twitter would lose its mind with a new iteration of the Croatian Smash Bros.:
How about this? Orlando gets Boston’s own 2018 first-rounder and the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 second-rounder that the Sixers own. The Celtics swap stretch European stretch fours on expiring deals while getting the rim protector they desperately need in Nerlens Noel. The Sixers get the first true perimeter player of their core in Hezonja while also taking a flyer on whatever Young and Mickey are (needed them in here to make salaries match). Orlando unclogs their convoluted roster a bit, while adding future flexibility in terms of draft capital and what should be a high second rounder from Brooklyn.
In just a year, the Sixers could then be looking at a starting lineup of Markelle Fultz, Mario Hezonja, Josh Jackson, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with Saric as the perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate! Process! Croatia!
As Saric’s play continues to improve, Sixers fans are left wondering what sort of Backyard Baseball-esque power ups would come with playing Saric and Hezonja together: