Group B play in the Olympics begins today, with the most anticipated match up featuring 76ers Dario Saric and Sergio Rodriguez as Croatia takes on Spain.
Among all players in the tournament, Saric maybe evokes the most curiosity from NBA fans even outside of Philadelphia. This will be the biggest stage we’ve seen him play on, and NBA fans biding their time for two years for the man who does not lie will see him play against very legitimate competition. This will not be the grainy internet streaming party of the summer of 2014 that Sixers fans tuned into on weekends at 6:00 AM - this is the world watching on international television in prime time.
Spain’s front line is among the best in this tournament - every team is second-fiddle to the U.S. in every metric but, like, swag - along with France, Australia, and Lithuania. He’ll likely be matched up with Chicago Bulls power forward Nikola Mirotic, while you wonder when exactly did Spain annex Montenegro.
Mirotic will be a telling test for Saric, as he’s a solid NBA player but one that offers a reasonable match up for Saric to take advantage of. Mirotic isn’t so athletic that Saric should not keep up, but Saric will have to chase him on the perimeter. On the other end, Saric is the hard-nosed worker that can take advantage of Mirotic who is decidedly not that, whether it be for loose balls, offensive rebounds, or anything else.
Saric is one of the three focal points of a young team by FIBA standards, along with noted Sixers destroyer Bojan Bogdanovic and Magic forward Mario Hezonja, and was named MVP of the Olympic qualifiers just last month. He will be fun to watch and will make the season want to start tomorrow.
For those tuning in for El Chacho, well, you probably should be watching for Dario instead. Spain is among the favorites for the silver medal in the tournament, with 10 of their 12 roster players being either current or former NBA players, a front line featuring Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, and former Sixers draft pick and new Knick Willy Hernangomez, and a trio of NBA point guards in Ricky Rubio, Jose Calderon, and of course Sergio Rodriguez. Rodriguez may not get a lot of run due to the depth at the position, though he could feasibly play alongside either point guard and probably will see some minutes.
The action from Rio starts at 6:00 PM Eastern on NBCSN.