Starting his career in professional basketball at just 15 years old, Dario Saric was one of those “hidden gems” in Europe that everyone loves to talk about. Despite being a teenager in a league full of grown men, Saric quite rapidly began establishing himself as one of the best Croatian basketball players in the world.
Across eight years, Saric won a plethora of awards in both the Adriatic and Croatian League, while also being recognized by FIBA on multiple occasions. He won the FIBA European Young Player of the Year Award twice (2013, 2014), and won two FIBA World Championship MVPs (u-16, u-18).
Saric was actually drafted by the Orlando Magic with the 12th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, before instantly having his rights traded to the Philadelphia 76ers (in exchange for Elfrid Payton). Despite the high selection, Saric told the Sixers he planned on playing in Croatia for at least another year.
Well, 2015 had come and gone and Dario was nowhere to be seen. Sixers fan’s frustrations grew pretty quickly with the situation. Jokes were commonly thrown around about how the Sixers wasted a first round pick on “some guy over in Europe”. Considering the team was in full on tank mode at the moment, the complaints were understandable.
Alas, two full years after he was drafted, Saric finally made his NBA debut. At 22 years of age, the Croatian power forward began his rookie season in 2016. In just the third game of his career, he put up 21 points on the Boston Celtics. He was nominated to participate in the Skills Challenge during that year’s All-Star Weekend, won Rookie of the Month in February, made the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team, and placed second in the Rookie of the Year voting.
After two long years of waiting, it was clear the Sixers had something seriously special in Saric.
Saric would average just over 13 points per game in his first two seasons with the Sixers, shooting a clean 35.5% from three. Saric’s above average ball-handling and ability to operate as a stretch four fit perfectly next to Joel Embiid.
At just 23 years old, Saric would start ten consecutive playoff games for the Sixers in 2018. He averaged 17.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while seeing his 3P% elevate to 38.5%. Despite getting waxed by the Celtics in the second round, Saric was definitely a bright spot to the young team’s success.
At this point in time, the Philly faithful had fallen in love with Dario. He was productive, energetic, and uber likeable. Nicknamed “The Homie”, Saric jerseys were commonplace at the Wells Fargo Center.
Just 13 games into his third season with the Sixers, Saric was traded. Included with Robert Covington in a package for multi-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, it was clear the status quo in Philly had changed. Gone were the days of the Process darlings, the Sixers were going all-in on a championship.
Things never really were the same for Saric after the trade. He averaged 10.5 points per game with the Timberwolves that season before being traded yet again, this time to the Phoenix Suns. Currently still with the Suns, Saric is averaging a career low 10.1 points per game.
The trade for Jimmy Butler in 2019 will always make sense in my mind. The Sixers acquired a proven All-Star while giving up zero first round picks. With that said, the 76ers clearly lost a guy who gelled next to Ben Simmons and Embiid. A natural shooter at the power forward position, Saric opened up tons of space for the duo down low.
Despite struggling the last two seasons, Saric is still just 25 years old. Considering how promising he looked on the Sixers just a few years back, there’s zero reason to give up on him just yet.
In fact, with Saric due to hit the open market as a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason, there’s always a chance the Sixers could look at a potential reunion. However, that sounds like a topic for another day.
Check out some of the other entries in our “Rewinding the Process” series:
Nerlens Noel: https://phillysportsnetwork.com/2020/03/21/noel-2/
Hollis Thompson: https://phillysportsnetwork.com/2020/03/23/hollis/
Jahlil Okafor: https://phillysportsnetwork.com/2020/03/28/okafor-2/
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