Dario Saric Quietly Saving the Process Amidst Fultz Controversy

Google "Sixers" or even better yet search it on Twitter, and you're bound to be inundated with a flurry of headlines concerning the most recent developments regarding the Sixers latest top pick and the whirlwind of turmoil around him. Such is the current state of media coverage surrounding the franchise as the headlines are dominated by the Fultz saga, stopping only briefly to discuss Joel Embiid's crusade to stardom and Ben Simmons' steady march to the Rookie of the Year award. Between the Sixers' 3 magnetic stars there has been little room left for national media coverage of anyone or anything else related to the team, and it has kept perhaps the brightest development of the season in virtual darkness. That's probably no coincidence seeing as how the man behind the Sixers most positive storyline of the current campaign is doing so quietly, with little fanfare or drama just as he does seemingly everything. Dario Saric has emerged, and his play has been nothing short of spectacular.

Coming into the season Saric was expected to adjust and accustom to himself to a new role coming off the bench as the Sixers de-facto "6th man" anchoring the second unit. Coach Brett Brown stated publicly in the preseason that he intended to deploy a starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, JJ Reddick, Robert Covington and Joel Embiid. The subsequent vanishing act of the singular skill that made Fultz the top pick in last year's draft is a household tale at this point, and it left the Sixers in a precarious position. Fultz had been expected to shoulder an unusually large playmaking, and particularly scoring, role as a rookie and in his absence Brown initially looked to veteran guard Jerryd Bayless to fill in. With Bayless in the starting lineup the sixers started 1-4 with Saric struggling off the bench posting an average of 5.6 PPG/4.6 RPG/1.4 APG while shooting a brutal 33.3% from the field and 21.4% from beyond the arc. In September, Saric was asked what he thought about his new assignment coming off the bench telling reporters "Everybody wants to start, but I don't have a problem coming off the bench". Saric himself might not have had a *personal* problem coming off the bench, but the Sixers very much had a basketball problem with him doing so, and so on October 28th Brett Brown made the switch to insert Saric into the starting 5 alongside Simmons, Reddick, Covington and Embiid. The Homie hasn't looked back since.

Saric has started every game (except one, lakers game where Ingram hit the dagger) for the Sixers since returning to that role, and the team has posted a 29-19record over that span- good for the 4th best mark in the Eastern Conference in that time. Saric himself has posted a line of 15.6/7.2/2.8 per night on a 45.7/39.6/91 shooting slash- numbers that trend closer to All-Star level than they do bench piece. Not only has Saric improved as a starter, he's gotten better with each passing month just now hitting his peak stride in the 19 games since the New Year. Over those 19 contests, the Sixers have compiled a record of 13-6, and Saric has posted a negatative +/- just 4 times- 2 of which he was just a -1 and a 3rd where he was simply a -2. The most optimistic scenario for Saric coming into the season was that he could mold his game into that of a modern day "stretch-4", which was going to require a significant improvement in his shooting stroke. It's remarkable how well and how quickly Dario has been able to adjust his game to fit alongside Embiid and Simmons. Saric is shooting substantially better from behind the arc, but he's also doing it primarily off the catch shoot- allowing Simmons and Embiid plenty of space to operate. I tell you now with god as my witness, not only has Dario Saric become a stretch-4, over his last 22 games he's probably been the best stretch-4 in the entire association. For those 22 games Saric is averaging 17.6/6.9/2.9 on shooting marks of 48.9%/46.2%/94.9%. He's become the perfect complement to Emiid and Simmons right before our eyes and he's done so receiving an astonishing lack of national media attention or fanfare outside of the Philadelphia city limits. For christ's sake the teenage Ball Brothers in Lithuania are receiving more recognition on a weekly basis than Dario Saric playing like a prime Larry F'ing Bird (I exaggerate but only barely) for over a quarter of a season.

Then again, that seems to be the way Saric likes to do things. Since (not) coming over Saric has been overlooked time and again, most notably when he was passed over for last season's Rookie of the Year award in favor of Milwaukee Bucks point guard, Malcom Brogdon who had compiled an astounding 0 rookie of the month awards compared to Saric's 2 to close the season. His sturdy 6'10 frame takes a beating night in and night out, drawing nary a whistle from the officials, and yet he finds little time to vent his frustration publicly to the media. If it feels like you don't know very much about Dario or his opinion on his own game, well that's probably because he's given you very little insight. He typically defers to talking about his teammates in interviews, preferring to credit Simmons, Embiid and notably TJ McConnell, ahead of himself. His twitter account is essentially inactive (His last tweet came in April of last season, and was clearly a team produced PR announcement), and his Instagram account has a grand total of 0 posts. He's letting his play do the talking, same as he always has. That's not flashy, its not the stuff that sells shoes or grabs headlines, but it is the sort of attitude that lends itself to Saric being the perfect complement to two of the leagues brightest young superstars.

On Friday night, Saric will compete in the Rising Stars game at All-Star weekend for the second consecutive year. It's been announced that he will start for the World team alongside his fellow running mates Simmons and Embiid. If his recent play continues, its not inconceivable that a year or two from now Saric could find himself playing in Sunday's main event. Maybe then, the casual fan will take note of the Croatian Sensation.

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