The pink Barbie backpack Dario Saric wears indicates he’s a rookie, but the 22-year-old has plenty of experience, and it shows.
Saric stood out again in the Philadelphia 76ers’ second preseason game, shooting 5-of-7 from the field and 2-for-3 from three-point range for 14 points in the Sixers’ 125-119 double-overtime loss on Thursday night. He also grabbed four rebounds in 18 minutes of play.
“The game is still a little bit faster than what I play in Europe,” Saric said to reporters after the game. “But the first two games, I think I did well, but it doesn’t mean that now I am 100 percent ready for this, just one step forward.”
The 6-foot-10 forward from Croatia showed a little bit of everything.
Case in point, he got a steal, ran the floor and ended the break with a reverse layup. Later, he caught the ball on the left wing and hit a jumper, and then showed some range by hitting a pair of threes.
“Dario’s versatility and toughness and how he can make plays continues to impress,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “I thought he played very well tonight.”
Through two games, Saric is showing a high basketball IQ and that he knows how to play both with and without the ball. He sets screens, spreads the floor, can pass and defend, and so far he has been the Sixers’ most versatile player.
One area the Sixers’ coaching staff wanted to see Saric improve was his three-point shooting, and so far he has responded. He is 4-of-6 from beyond the arc in preseason.
Coupled with Joel Embiid’s (very) early returns, it has been a breath of fresh air to a fan base who for two years thought of the 2014 draft class as if it was a mythical figure.
“I think it’s very important,” Brown said when asked about Embiid and Saric playing in front of the Philadelphia fans for the first time.
“These two players (Embiid and Saric) we’re talking about had mystery redshirt years. We drafted them and nobody sees them, we’ve talked a lot about them and now here they are. Both come on the court and we all can see they are for real, those are real players — they are young and I expect are going to be around a long time in this league.”
When Ben Simmons went down with a foot injury that will keep him out at least three months, Brown indicated that Saric would benefit the most from his absence, and through two games it’s apparent he deserves those minutes. The more he plays, the more he proves he deserves a larger role and the chance to further develop his skills.
While Saric is answering questions with each minute he plays, a couple of questions have emerged from these two games.
One involves Jahlil Okafor, who didn’t play for the second straight game while he recovers from knee surgery. While Okafor claims he is ready to play, the Sixers are playing it safe with the 2015 No. 3 overall pick, but what will his role be when he is ready?
It is hard to envision him playing alongside Embiid, and he had issues playing with Nerlens Noel last season. He is not a very good defender, but can score with anyone in the low post.
So where exactly does he fit in? Time will tell.
Another question is do the Sixers have room for second-year man Richaun Holmes?
The second-round pick from Bowling Green had a great Summer League and has been just as good playing against NBA players. Thursday, he posted a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds to go along with two blocks, two steals and two assists.
Holmes is showing he is more than just an energy guy, as he has good hands, can make shots and has tremendous athleticism — it will be interesting to see how Brown finds minutes for him with so much talent in the frontcourt.
“He always plays hard, even in practice, he always does his job,” Embiid said about Holmes. “I’m glad he is doing what he is doing right now, he deserves it.”
Sixers fans deserve it after three miserable years, and while there are still plenty of questions, at least there is some legit NBA talent on the floor.