March 16, 2017
Although the Sixers went 1-3 on their recent West Coast swing, they were competitive in all four games (two of which came against tough teams in the Clippers and Golden State) despite being severely shorthanded. It’s nothing to throw a parade over, but they fared better than most reasonably thought they could. That includes myself.
Specifically, rookie forward Dario Saric continued get better on the trip, averaging 24.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on good efficiency (most notably, 44 percent three-point shooting). A silver lining for the Sixers is that the likes Saric, Robert Covington, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot *could* have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and one or maybe two lottery picks with them next year. There are no guarantees in that group, but the potential is exciting.
After Thursday’s Sixers practice, I asked Brett Brown if it was encouraging to see the likes of Saric and Luwawu-Cabarrot step up in roles that are likely bigger than the one they will have next season. Both players are very much part of the Sixers’ future, but my guess is that they’ll be counted on less than, say, taking 20 shots at Staples Center and Oracle Arena.
Brown pushed back a bit on the question.
“I’m not sure about that, the ‘counted on’ bit,” he said. “Don’t tell them that.”
Fair enough, and after all, it is his team. Brown then gave an explanation of why he believes Saric and Luwawu-Cabarrot clearly aren’t intimidated by elite NBA talent: They prepared for the NBA by playing against grown men in Europe.
“For me what it does, it reconfirms that some of the European players that come over so young, the fact that they have been playing against adults matters,” Brown said. “It matters. Years ago, you saw it with Tony Parker’s early, early days. It’s different than playing college basketball.
“You start playing in different professional leagues, and it doesn’t always have to be the ACB or Euroleague, they’re men. And these guys, I think they’re able to have more of a chance physically to make a difference and not be completely shoved around on an NBA court because of foreign basketball and the age stuff. Their ability to produce now, I think some of it is reflective of that.”
For his part, Saric agreed that his time in the Euroleague helped prepare him for the NBA.
“Of course it helped me,” Saric said. “When you have an opportunity to play against grown-up men, against people who got some NBA experience, who got some Euroleague experience. Because in Europe, sometimes it’s hard to play because the court is more tight and the paint is always full.”
Saric has talked about the difference in spacing between the European and NBA game before, and I think that also certainly is a factor. But as Brown said, playing against men as opposed to 19 and 20-year-olds definitely helps too.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann