It’s Dario Saric Time.
Colangelo Trusting the Process
Trusting the Process is not easy.
“The Process” for the Philadelphia 76ers appeared to be turning the corner from a complete tank job toward a playoff contender. Then, less than a week after the Sixers announced that Ben Simmons would not be able to suit up for his first year in the league, they also announced on Wednesday that Joel Embiid’s knee injury will keep him out for the rest of the season.
Philadelphia’s setbacks were evident in the team’s lackluster display against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, as the team seems to be back in rebuilding (and tanking) mode.
President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo seems to be making the same kind of decisions that former General Manager and tanking master Sam Hinkie was making.
“Our primary objective and focus remains to protect [Embiid’s] long-term health and ability to perform on the basketball court,” Colangelo said.
Being conservative when bringing players back from injury was a staple of Hinkie’s decisions when he was at the helm. Prime examples like Jahlil Okafor, Noel, and Embiid in his first two seasons come to mind.
The trades Colangelo made have certainly taken the team’s long-term future into account. Flipping the expiring contracts of Ilyasova and Noel for a conditional first-round draft pick, a second-rounder, Justin Anderson, and Tiago Splitter puts an emphasis on younger prospects.
“Remember one thing that I’ve said often: we’re going to do this with measured steps. We don’t want to race out and do something to put ourselves in a position to lose the opportunity we have right in front of us,” Colangelo said. “I think the opportunity is enormous, and I think that if we handle this the right way, we’re going to be very happy, and I think the fans will be very happy.”
Not only is he keeping in mind the long-term future of the team, but is also putting a lot of weight on the shoulders of one Dario Saric.
The End of Embiid’s Season
Embiid last played with a knee brace on Jan. 27 in his nationally televised duel with James Harden’s Houston Rockets. This came a week after injuring his knee against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Team doctors first diagnosed Embiid with a minor meniscus tear, but it appears that the meniscus tear is more serious than originally thought. However, the bone bruising in the knee has improved, according to Embiid’s MRI.
After only appearing in 31 games, it is unlikely that Embiid will win the Rookie of the Year award. His averages of 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in just 25 minutes per game had put him head and shoulders above other rookies.
Fortunately, Philadelphia also has the second-best rookie.
Dario’s Time to Shine
Trade deadline moves and this conservative medical update show just how much faith the Sixers have in Dario Saric. Without Ilyasova in the lineup, Saric’s floor spacing has pushed him into the starting five. Meanwhile, without the offense running through Embiid, Saric provides a shooting touch and toughness.
Saric has been second among rookies with averages of 11.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. Since Feb. 2, Saric has averaged about 18 points and 8 rebounds per game. He’s the only 76er to play all 59 games this season, showing his toughness and durability. He is now surely the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year with Embiid out of the mix.
However, the Sixers offense will not have to rely on Saric, just like it has not relied on Embiid for the last month and a half.
Brett Brown’s Offense
Head Coach Brett Brown has implemented a San Antonio Spurs-like offense that has earned Philadelphia more wins than its roster would seem to merit. Working with Gregg Popovich from 2002 through 2013 on the Spurs’ bench, Brown’s coaching is influenced by one of the greats.
“It’s one of the joys in my life to watch them win games,” Popovich said about the 76ers to ESPN. “If anyone deserves it, it’s them.”
In multiple post-game press conferences, Brown has articulated his desire for constant ball movement. His “three seconds” rule gives players three seconds to either shoot, drive, or pass.
This kind of ball movement has propelled Philadelphia to ninth in the league in assists per game. Whether it’s a T.J. McConnell pick-and-roll or a fastbreak after a defensive stop, the Sixers’ offense has done much more recently due to Brown’s coaching, despite having much less than it had at the start of the season.
With the offense clicking on all cylinders, more draft picks acquired from trades (including multiple potential high picks), and Dario Saric poised to win ROY, it’s a good time for Sixers fans to trust the Process.