This season’s NBA Rookie of the Year race is something that we have not experienced in quite a while. We saw a franchise-changing talent in Joel Embiid steal the hearts of the Philadelphia fan base over a 31-game span that brought back the energy and buzz around the Sixers.
Frankly, it was the type of basketball that Philadelphia had not seen since the prime of Allen Iverson.
But it was short-lived, as Embiid was battling a meniscus injury that eventually forced him to be sidelined for the rest of the season.
As bad as Embiid’s injury is for the Philadelphia fan base, the injury was the best thing that could have happened to Dario Saric. In Dario’s last 24 games, 17.6 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, .9 steals, and .4 blocks, on 46.2% from the floor. Before those 24 games, Saric had a pretty savvy veteran in Ersan Ilyasova starting in front of him for the first part of the season.
Trading Eran seemed confusing one at first, but in the end it was a smart move by the Sixers organization to let a young player grow by getting more minutes. It also showed the fanbase that they have a young player who can be a special NBA player, right on the Sixers bench. The move to start him provided more truth to the stories that were told about the Croatian talent.
Dario is averaging 12.5 points on the season, and will most likely get that to over 13 points if he continues his stellar play for the rest of the season. The thing that makes this decision a little bit easier for the voters is that he has been able to keep this team competitive and still have a fire lit under them, even after the devastating loss of Embiid.
When Embiid was playing, the Sixers had a sense of competitiveness again once they started winning multiple games in a row and carried the winning atmosphere deep into January. In the last six games, Saric has scored 20+ points in four of them, while the Sixers have carried a 3-3 record during that span. In the month of March, Saric is averaging 19.1 points on 46.4% shooting, 7.4 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. With 19 straight games of Saric scoring in double figures, it seems that his play is trending in the right direction.
Let’s compare Saric to some of the other rookies in the league.
Taking Joel Embiid out of the discussion, Dario is leading all rookies by 2.5 points per game. The popular argument against Saric is that he is still on a pretty poor team so “someone has to score”. Well, if you take a look at the other rookies, most of them are on pretty poor teams as well and are getting almost the same amount of time as Saric on the floor.
Maybe the Sixers run their offense through Saric more, but it makes him even more credible for Rookie of the Year because he is showing us that he can rise to the occasion.
Here is a video of his career-high 29-point performance.