• Dario Saric: Taking Over The City Of Brotherly Love

    “These Philadelphia fans… they are the worst in America!” These words came from New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie, who also referred to the Philadelphia fanbase as “angry, bitter people.” As you can imagine, the fans (many of whom live just across the Walt Whitman bridge in New Jersey) didn’t exactly take too kindly to these statements.

    Christie’s comments, in many ways, sum up the national media’s perception of the Philadelphia fanbase. We are constantly reminded about booing Donovan McNabb on draft night and throwing snowballs at Santa Claus (who, for the record, was heavily intoxicated). Philadelphia has become infamous for its disloyalty and the booing of its own players.

    Can the fans be a bit tough at times on the home team? Yes, without a doubt, but that is just the nature of living in a passionate sports town. In Philadelphia, sporting events are more than just a place to get together and socialize. Fans root for their teams to be competitive and to show hope that someday, maybe, just maybe, they will bring home a trophy to the championship-starved city.

    Philadelphia is a city filled with hard-working, “blue collar” employees, and the fans expect nothing less than that same passion from the players they pay to see. The one thing that is completely unacceptable to Philadelphia fans is paying for tickets with their hard-earned money only to see a lackluster effort from the players (i.e. Bobby Abreu, Danny Watkins, and Derrick Coleman).

    Something that never catches the mainstream media’s attention about Philadelphia is its overwhelming support for “blue collar” players that show relentless commitment to winning. Just ask Philadelphia athletes Aaron Rowand, Aaron McKie or Wayne Simmonds if they ever need to buy a meal in the city.

    While Joel Embiid has deservedly received most of the buzz surrounding the Sixers, he is not the only player that is gaining enormous popularity amongst the fans. At Wells Fargo, you will hear loud chants of “Dario!” echo throughout the arena. Dario “The Homie” Saric, a native of Croatia, who is also making his rookie debut, is quickly earning his stripes with the passionate fanbase.

    Saric was drafted 12th overall in 2014 by the Orlando Magic but was traded on draft day to Philadelphia for Elfrid Payton and a few draft picks. Saric chose to play professionally in Turkey for a few years to gain experience before making his NBA debut this season. That experience is now paying dividends for the young emerging star.

    The Philadelphia fanbase has embraced Saric’s “blue-collar” toughness and fearlessness as a competitor. What Saric lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in heart. Saric never shies away from contact, and if there is a 50/50 loose ball, you better believe he is coming away from the scrum with it. Boxing out Saric has become a nightmare for bigs around the league. He is a force when it comes to crashing the offensive glass, or as Philadelphia broadcaster, Marc Zumoff would say, “turning garbage into gold.”

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    Like many of the players on the Sixers, Saric comes from overseas. The twenty-two-year-old Croatian rookie is showing he has a bright future ahead. Saric doesn’t necessarily do one thing great, but does a wide variety of things well. Through hard work and competitiveness, Saric has developed a very solid all-around game. In addition to crashing the boards, he also has shown the ability to shoot from three and handle the ball during a fast break. These are rare attributes from a 6-10, 245 pound, power forward. At times, Saric has single-handedly carried the Sixers and energized the arena with his signature jumping fist-pump.

    To the delight of the Philadelphia fanbase, Dario Saric will be seeing a big spike in playing time now that fellow power forward Ersan Ilyasova has been traded to the Atlanta Hawks. Saric currently averages 24.4 minutes per game, but his recent play has earned him an uptick in that department. The organization’s decision to trade Ilyasova is a direct result of Saric’s unwavering progress.

    Over the last ten games (30.2 minutes per game), Saric is averaging 17.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, while giving the Sixers a +19 point differential when he steps onto the court. What makes these numbers so impressive is the fact that the Sixers don’t run any isolation plays for Saric. He gets the majority of his touches within the flow of Brett Brown’s offense.

    Typically, this is the time of the season when players start to hit the rookie wall, but Saric has exploded through that wall and the city of Philadelphia is taking notice. When asked about the changes he made to elevate his game, Saric told reporters that he simply stopped napping before games. While a majority of rookies are trying everything they can (breaking down film, getting extra practice repetitions, etc.) to get past the rookie wall, Saric has made the executive decision to eliminate his mid-day nap.

    Dario Saric is always guaranteed to give a highly entertaining interview. Does his English need a little bit of work? Sure, but that doesn’t stop the fans from hanging onto his every word. Whether his teammates are dumping water on his head after a big win or he is talking about the brotherly love he has for his teammates, it’s clear that Saric plays an integral role to the chemistry of the team — something that’s not talked about enough in professional sports.

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    Another reason why Philadelphia loves Saric is his decision to join the Sixers this year rather than spending his last contracted season in Europe. Had Saric stayed with his Turkish team for one more year, he would have been in a position to negotiate a new contract with the Sixers. Given the expansion of the salary cap under the new CBA rule changes, this could have resulted in a major payday for Saric. He likely cost himself millions of dollars by coming over a year early. Why did Saric make this decision? Here’s Saric’s take on the dilemma: “I promised them (the Sixers) that I would come over after two seasons. For me, what you promise is the most important. If you’re a man of your word, it doesn’t matter what is written on a piece of paper.” If there is ever a way to gain popularity with a fanbase (beyond just playing well), it’s taking a pay cut to be able to play for them.

    Overall, this has been a rollercoaster of a season for the Sixers. Ben Simmons’ Jones Fracture, suffered on September 31st was supposed to sideline him for approximately three months. However, General Manager Bryan Colangelo has just announced that his foot is not healing properly and he will no longer make his NBA debut this season. The first overall pick in the 2016 draft will have to wait one more year — something that Sixers fans are accustomed to seeing from their highly-touted rookies.

    Today, the SIxers just announced that Joel Embiid will be shut down indefinitely due to swelling in his knee after a partially torn meniscus. This is a tough pill to swallow, but unfortunately, the fans are now accustomed to hearing this kind of news. Embiid will likely miss the rest of the season. This begs the question, are the Sixers cursed for intentionally tanking?

    On the bright side, the Sixers are loaded with talent, and if (and it’s a big if) they can manage to get healthy, they have a great chance of soaring up the Eastern Conference standings in the next year or two.  We got a glimpse of that talent this year as the Sixers sold out the Wells Fargo Center for the first time in years.

    Given the fact that Embiid is a near certainty to miss the remainder of the season, and since he has only played in 31 games on a minutes restriction, this opens up the door for another player to win the Rookie of the Year award. There is a really great chance that player is Dario Saric. Saric already has some of the best statistics in this rookie class, with every indication his numbers will continue to skyrocket. On the season, Saric averages 11.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game.

    The player that poses the biggest threat to Saric winning the award is Malcolm Brogdon, who is averaging 9.7 points, 4.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 44.4% from the floor and 41.7% from threes. Saric and Brogdon have very comparable numbers, but it would be difficult to imagine Brogdon could keep up with Saric’s production down the home stretch.

    The plethora of talented rookies on the Sixers this year is quite spectacular. Ben Simmons was a heavy favorite to win the award after his dominant Summer League performance. After Simmons’ injury, Joel Embiid took center stage and was a virtual lock to win the award before also suffering an injury. Remarkably, a third Sixer, Dario Saric has emerged as the favorite to win the award.

    Let’s hope Saric can evade the Sixers curse by dodging a season-ending injury because Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot doesn’t have the numbers to be able to win the award (although he has shown some very impressive flashes as well). If you bet on Saric to win the Rookie of the Year award prior to the start of the season, you would find yourself in a position for a huge payday.

    Just one year ago, it was legitimately questioned whether Dario Saric would ever come overseas and join the team. Twelve months later, those questions have been put to rest, and Saric has developed into a promising, fan-favorite, who has now become the front-runner for Rookie of the Year.
    Expect to see many more sellout crowds and running fist-pumps from Saric. Saric and the young core for the Sixers have captivated the attention of Philadelphia. Sports talk radio has focused all of its attention on the Sixers and have almost completely forgotten about that other team in town that usually dominates the local media year round. Whether the national media or Chris Christie admit it or not, the Philadelphia fanbase has embraced these young Sixers and will continue to do so for years to come.

     

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