GALLOWAY, N.J. — Philadelphia 76ers training camp has a completely different feel this season.
You see playmakers, point guards and size. Lots and lots of size.
It’s safe to say this is by far the best collection of talent the Sixers have had in the last three years.
With so much attention on No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons and 2014 No. 3 overall pick Joel Embiid, it almost seems that Dario Saric, the 12th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, is a forgotten man around camp.
After starring in this summer’s Olympics in Rio, averaging 11.8 points, 6.7 boards and 3.2 assists, Saric and the Sixers are trying to find where his unique skill set fits in to the NBA game, which he describes as “so much faster” than the Euro-style of basketball.
Many see him as a tough guy who fights for rebounds and every loose ball. Others look at his ball handling, court vision and passing ability, as well as the grace in his game.
His self-described best attribute is his passing.
“I always like how Magic Johnson played,” said Saric when asked who his favorite point guard was growing up. “He’s my favorite player.”
“I like to make others better,” he continued.
What Saric described is the modern-day NBA forward. One who can grab a rebound, start the break and make a perfectly placed pass like he’s a guard, or even finish the break himself. He can make post-entry passes and space the defense with his three-point shot, but he still has a toughness about him.
My guess is that we will see Saric in a variety of roles, shooting three-pointers and using the dribble-drive-kick-out as well as the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop game. You could also see him showcasing his passing ability in the half court, or playing off the ball and making things easier on Sixers head coach Brett Brown, who confirmed that he intends to play both Saric and Simmons together.
“I think we can find a way to play together,” Saric explained. “He’s an unbelievable passer and with my size, I can push the ball.”
Saric has said he can envision playing together with Simmons in a variety of different combinations, including alternating forward spots, having Simmons run the point and even playing some center when the Sixers play small ball. One thing is for certain, Saric has never played with someone who has the abilities that Simmons brings to the court, and he wondered how a guy that big and fast can have that much passing ability.
At first glance it doesn’t seem to be a good pairing, and maybe it’s a pipe dream for Brown, who has a hodgepodge of talent that he’s trying to mix and match to see who fits. Like a mad scientist, he’s looking at different lineups to see what he can sprinkle in offensively and defensively.
Brown, entering his fourth year, is too good of a coach not to utilize Saric in ways that take advantage of his diverse skill set and all-around game. He’ll have the opportunity to shine with the Sixers, but Brown’s biggest challenge will probably be how and when to use him.
While the Sixers are by no means a finished product, there’s definitely some serious NBA talent on that floor right now, including Saric.