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The Dario Diaries Vol. 4: The Ebbs and Flows of an NBA Rookie

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Saric is not immune to the Sixers’ frontcourt logjam.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

About every week-and-a-half or two weeks, our fearless leader, Jake Pavorsky, will shoot me a text saying, “Hey, do you want to write one of those Dario articles about how he's been struggling lately?” I’ll reply, “Sure!” like the good solider I am, but will then forget about it because I’m bad and lazy. A few days later, Dario Saric will put up double-digit points off the bench and I’ll think, “Hey, I should go do one of those Dario Diaries since he’s doing well and frame it like he’s the best player of all time,” which I’m now doing since Saric scored 12 consecutive second-half points for the 76ers on Monday night against the Kings.

Despite my heart’s desires, I just don’t see this cycle breaking anytime soon. Since my last Dario Diary entry on December 6, Saric has been shooting a putrid 36.2 percent from the floor and just 31.4 percent from three (though 91.4 percent from the line!). His early November shooting success can only carry his overall shooting splits so far as he’s now at 38.1/36.4/77.8 for the season. Sad!

Basketball-Reference has him pegged as playing 14 percent of his minutes at the small forward position this year, which seems low compared to what I would’ve imagined, but that could just be recency bias working against me. The current glut of big men has been working to Saric’s detriment in terms of gaining consistent playing time, especially at the power forward position. Here’s what I wrote regarding Saric’s place in the team’s frontcourt quandary in my recap of last week’s game against the Pelicans:

Take this with whatever biases you’d like considering my intentionally over the top reporting of Saric, but the man needs more consistent playing time. Has he been great this year? Certainly not, but has had multi-game stretches where’s shot well from deep, rebounded exceptionally and lit a fire under the squad in the fourth quarter. As much as the logjam at center is discussed, the way that situation augments problems at the power forward position is overlooked. Jahlil Okafor slides to power forward, moving Ersan Ilyasova to the bench and putting Saric further into Brett Brown’s dog house, used sparingly and sometimes, foolishly, at the three rather than the four. There have been bright spots in his rookie campaign. Give him time to shine, Coach [Brett] Brown.

Saric is ultimately just a rookie. Despite whatever advantages playing professionally overseas for several years before this may have given him, nothing can truly prepare a player for the rigors of the NBA besides jumping headfirst into the fire that is this league. He’s played well at times, but within the unfriendly confines of the Sixers’ current logjam, as well as the impending return of Ben Simmons, who replicates most of Saric’s skills at a much higher level, it remains a mystery as to when he’ll see a more consistent spot in the rotation.

The simple answer would be, “Um, if he was playing better, he’d get more playing time,” and there’s certainly a degree of merit to that thinking, but he’s partially still stuck at the whims of what Brown, or possibly even Bryan Colangelo, wants to see with lineup experimentation.

So what’s next for Saric?

I’d like to see him push the ball more in transition. He’s the team’s second-best defensive rebounder with a defensive-rebounding rate of 21.4 percent. Saric displayed that a bit more than he had previously in his 12-point, nine-rebound effort against Sacramento this week, where five of his 12 points came in up-tempo, transition situations:

After his final make, a three-pointer, in that video montage above, Saric does a quick little fist pump on his way past the Sixers’ bench. I want to see more of that. I want to see more of the mohawk-wearing, scream-singing, no-look-pass-throwing antics that were touchstones of his play overseas. I want the “Is it lit?” meter to snap in fucking half. I want Saric to walk back to Brett Brown’s huddle after a back-breaking three and say, “The fire rises.” I want this spark off the bench in a moment the Sixers truly needed it to ignite the rest of Saric’s season. Maybe he even thinks it will be:

As Marc Zumoff might one day say, “Alaa, do you smell smoke? Because Dario SHHH-ARRICHH is lit right now!”