Life for the Sixers couldn’t have been going any better. The team was riding an eight game winning streak, which they’ve since doubled to 16- setting a new franchise record for most consecutive wins. Former #1 overall pick Markelle Fultz was finally able to suit up again, after being sidelined for months with an undefined shoulder injury. To top it all off, the Sixers also possessed one of the most intimidating duos in the entire NBA in ROY candidate Ben Simmons and DPOY candidate Joel Embiid. The team was cruising to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, and many were wondering if yet another Philadelphia-based team was on their way to a championship game. That was until March 28th- the day the injury bug decided to take out a Philly superstar in one of the cruelest ways imaginable.
This would be the day Embiid was knocked out of the game against the Knicks after colliding with his own teammate Markelle Fultz going for a loose ball. The play initially seemed harmless enough, but it was later revealed that Embiid suffered an orbital fracture and concussion that could sideline him for the entirety of the first round of the playoffs. And with that, the media and non-Philly basketball fans began turning their backs on the Sixers and refocusing their title hopes on the Cavs and Raptors. Philadelphia was once again down a star player with the playoffs fast approaching. Hello darkness, my old friend.
Fortunately for the Sixer faithfuls of the world, the team wasn’t willing to let the media or NBA fans set the bar for what they can achieve. The young team rallied together and closed the regular season on a 16-game winning streak, surpassing the 50-win mark for the first time since 2001.
The primary catalyst for their continued success was none other than rookie sensation Ben Simmons. The former LSU Tiger kept the team afloat with his stellar play, as he nearly averaged a triple-double in Embiid’s absence:
Simmons production increased across the board as he lead his team to close the regular season, and he is expected to lead the Sixers’ playoff charge until Embiid returns, but he’ll need a beta dog to step up if they plan on lasting long enough for their Cameroonian center to return. Enter Dario Saric.
A few years ago, nobody could have guessed the Sixers would be enjoying the success they are now, and even less could have guessed Saric would be such an instrumental piece of the puzzle. After being drafted 12th overall in the 2014 draft, many pondered if Saric would ever make the trip overseas and join the Philly-based organization. The Sixers were a complete disaster and Saric was intent on finishing out his contract with the Turkish team Anadolu Efes. As the years passed, less and less people expected the talented forward to join the Sixers, but that seems like a lifetime ago, as he has blossomed into a great player in Philly.
Saric enjoyed an impressive regular season in his sophomore campaign, averaging 14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and a few assists per game. What is most impressive was his efficiency when shooting the ball. The 6’10 forward used his length to shoot over the top of defenders en route to a 45% FG and 39% FG%. He was an incredibly reliable scoring threat for Philly, and I think he’ll be the player they lean on the most aside from Simmons in Embiid’s absence.
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The Heat don’t have many, if any, wing players that can guard the size-skill combo of Saric, as they’ll surely task their best wing defender on rookie stud Ben Simmons. This leaves Saric guarded by subpar, smaller defenders, such as Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington, and that’s a matchup I’m willing to bet on Saric everyday of the week- twice on Sundays.
As evidenced in January (17 PPG, 47% FG) and March (17 PPG, 46% FG), Saric is more than capable of taking on the secondary scoring role. His advanced, multi-faceted offensive attack paired with his size makes him an absolute nightmare to guard, and I expect HC Brett Brown to exploit that. Saric has been severely underrated all season, but now has the chance to make his mark in the playoffs. Philly may have temporarily lost their captain in Embiid to a freak accident, but out of the rubble grew something sneakily powerful. Ready or not, ladies and gentlemen, Super Dario is coming to a playoff arena near you.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports