As basketball fans, we are right in the thick of the madness they call March. College basketball fans are in the opening week of their month-long nirvana, and many NBA folks are excitingly cheering on their teams as they make a push for a playoff berth or jockey for home-court advantage. Meanwhile, Philadelphia 76ers fans are in a different, albeit familiar, place, where waking up and visiting Tankathon is as much a part of their daily ritual as a morning cup of coffee.
I love tracking lottery ball combinations as much as the next loyal Process truster, but a man needs something a little more concrete to garner his attention while counting down these final weeks of the season.
Joel Embiid is getting medical opinions on his torn meniscus. Ben Simmons has more cats raised than minutes played this year. Thankfully then, Sixers fans have yet another rookie big man in whom to entrust their hearts: Dario Saric.
Last month, I wrote about Saric emerging as a possible Rookie of the Year candidate, an idea that has grown exponentially with Embiid being officially ruled out for the season and Saric clearly taking over the reins as the focal point of Philadelphia’s offense. In his 8 games post-All Star Break, Dario has averaged 19.0 points on 46.3 percent shooting, 9.0 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. Not only is he collecting eye-popping counting stats, but Saric is doing it in style. Every game, he has a handful of highlight reel-worthy passes.
Here is a nice pass by Dario. pic.twitter.com/mAFDscSp9o
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 2, 2017
How you do dat, Dario? pic.twitter.com/ytfyxwuNBL
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 4, 2017
Saric has basically assumed the point forward role many had earmarked for Ben Simmons at the beginning of the season. He’s also logging minutes at center, because a Sixers team that once had too many of them is now down to Richaun Holmes and a gimpy Jahlil Okafor (who wants you to know the “persona of me not caring defensively is false.” I know we’re at a place as a society where we just ignore facts and science, but come on).
The cherry on top of the Dario Saric experience has been that he’s as delightful for fans off the court as on it. He and point guard TJ McConnell have become such a buddy comedy that they have their own #TrustTheFriendship hashtag. Whether he’s singing AC/DC’s Highway to Hell or up on stage alongside McConnell, singing and dancing to Bruno Mars, Dario is never afraid to have some fun at the expense of looking a little silly. You have to love a guy who’s such a killer on the hardwood, but a goofball off it.
The Homie Dario is the guy opposing teams are putting at the top of the scouting report when Philadelphia comes to town right now and he’s the clear emotional leader of the team. I love Malcolm Brogdon’s game and I’m all for looking at advanced statistics when it comes to player evaluation; I argued for Nerlens Noel over Andrew Wiggins for Rookie of the Year based on even more nebulous defensive metrics. But it’s a heck of a lot easier to be efficient when you’re coming in off the bench and only need to blend into the framework as the team’s 3rd, 4th, or even 5th option, versus having all eyes trained on you as the team’s primary playmaker.
As an award, you should be able to look back at Rookie of the Year and say, “Oh yeah, that was [insert player name]’s year”. That’s why I would still make the argument that Joel Embiid should win the award, 31 games or not. But if that’s a bridge too far for voters, do we really want to look back and say the award went to a bench guy who averaged 10 ppg? Or would we rather it go to the player flinging passes from every angle, shooting finger guns after key three-pointers, and being the biggest reason his team’s fanbase can even stomach tuning into games over the final two months of the season?
So I’d say it’s right and just that Vegas oddsmakers now have Saric as the prohibitive favorite for the Rookie of the Year award. You can debate where this year’s NBA rookie class would be without Dario around, but there’s no denying where this Sixers team would be without him. It would be a little further down in the standings, and a lot further down in our hearts.