The Philadelphia 76ers are set to spend next season trying to balance having two players with a very similar skill set: power forwards with unique court vision and ball handling ability for their size. To me that, in the words of Marlo Stanfield from HBO’s “The Wire,” “sounds like one of them good problems.”
Dario Saric and Ben Simmons play the same position. They have the same fundamental strengths and weaknesses. They’re both going to demand minutes for a young Sixers team with too many big men already on the roster. And that’s fine. Having two outrageously talented and unique players of the same vein isn’t a problem, it’s a blessing.
Simmons is obviously a generational talent with the potential to turn the tide of the franchise for years to come, superior to Saric in almost every way. And while Simmons will obviously take precedent in terms of minutes and play style, Saric has earned respect throughout the Olympic basketball tournament for the Croatian national team.
Over four games, Saric has not only held his own but impressed against high caliber talent on the biggest stage of his young career. Most impressive so far has been his court vision and composure with the ball. While the numbers haven’t been outstanding (he has a 1.2:1 assist to turnover ratio), watching the games has inspired Sixers fans. Saric continually makes difficult passes look easy and consistently looks to make the right play in traffic or running the floor. He’s smart with the ball and his handle is tight enough at this point in his career to allow him to take most defenders off the dribble.
His rebounding has also been outstanding. He’s fierce contesting for the ball and almost always boxes out his man. He’s averaging 7.2 rebounds per game, leading Croatia as a power forward.
At times, his defense has left a lot to be desired, and much of that is due to his lacking athleticism and speed. He hustles hard nearly every play and always makes the right rotations, putting himself in good situations defensively even if he’s not developed enough to make the play. More than anything, Saric is a real “gamer,” always ready to face an important moment and step up. Against Spain, with less than 5 seconds remaining, Pau Gasol attempted a turn-around jump hook to tie the game but Saric rotated from the weak side and swatted the shot to seal an upset victory for his team.
Unfortunately, the jump shot that was such a major part of his improvement playing for Anadolu Efes in Turkey has yet to show itself fully. He’s shooting a respectable percentage from 2-point range, but he has struggled to find his stroke from deep, shooting 5/19 so far in the tournament. He’s created some good looks and been close to finding the range, but has fallen short of expectations in terms of shooting.
Of course, in a four game sample Steph Curry could shoot poorly from deep, so it’s important to take his play for Croatia with a grain of salt. It’s important with young players like Saric to look for indicators of success rather than pure statistical success, and he’s shown flashes of brilliance against high caliber talent, which should ease Sixers fans’ fears about his fit with Simmons and on the team as a whole.