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February 20, 2017

What they’re saying about the Sixers: Can Dario Saric win Rookie of the Year?

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For at least one Sixer, the nine-day layoff in between games might have come at the wrong time as right before the NBA All-Star break, Dario Saric was playing some very good basketball.

In the Sixers’ last five games, Saric scored 20, 26, 19, 18, and 20 points respectively. In particular, the 22-year-old Croatian rookie has been a blast to watch on the fast break:

As Derek Bodner wrote over the weekend, the Sixers’ ability to force turnovers at a league-high rate in the recent five-game sample has fueled both Saric’s transition and halfcourt offensive games. It’s ironic that Saric, who will never be an above-average NBA athlete, is thriving when the game is faster due to his creative passing (and the pace has been lightning quick for the Sixers recently). In this regard, sharing the court with Nerlens Noel and Robert Covington, two absolute ball hawks on the defensive end, is very advantageous.

Let’s not worry about why Saric’s play has improved; Bodner already did quite a good job of explaining that. Instead, let’s ask the $64,000 question: Can Saric potentially win NBA Rookie of the Year in a freshman class, which with the notable exception of his teammate, isn’t exactly setting the world on fire?

On a per-minute basis, there is no debate between Embiid and the rest of the rookies, including Saric. Embiid has been the best player by a mile, but in a similar situation to the All-Star Game, there is a matter of all the games that he has missed trusting the process. While Embiid has missed 25 Sixers games already this season, Saric has played in a team-high 56.

Embiid has made noise about returning right after the All-Star break, but if Saric continues his strong play and the current rookie of the year frontrunner misses more time, Bodner writes that it could be a close race:

Besides the sheer uniqueness of rookie Embiid’s season, which itself should be rewarded, I have no doubt that Embiid has had more impact in his 31 games played than Saric has in his 56. If Embiid finishes the season with just 31 appearances (which itself would be a far bigger story than who wins Rookie of the Year) and Saric finishes with 82, and continues his strong play and doesn’t revert back to his (still recent) struggles, then we might have a discussion. Right now? This isn’t a situation where there have been others playing at an All-Star level and availability has an impact. Embiid’s been the league’s best rookie, and it’s not particularly close.

(I agree. Even in almost half the games, Embiid has been much better than Saric, who struggled for a few periods already.)

ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who I believe has some family ties to Croatia, is also in on the Saric train in addition to Waiters Island. And he asked the same question, if Saric could win rookie of the year, in his weekly “10 things I like and don’t like” post:

The guy plays with such fire. He's feisty on the boards, and on defense. He gets more done in tight spaces than it looks like he should be able to. One reason: He has a nasty left hand. It gives Saric more options for finishing spinny flip shots around the basket from strange angles. He can get the ball up on the glass before defenders expect it there. His game has a purposeful arrhythmic quality.

Being almost ambidextrous unlocks more passing lanes when Saric drives into a crowd. He doesn't have to switch hands, so he can sneak the ball through a teensy crevice before it closes.

Saric was ranked third and is closing in on second in the latest rookie ladder (watch out, Malcolm Brogdon). Embiid likely won’t sweep the Eastern Conference rookie of the month awards due to his bone bruise (or meniscus, or whatever), but right when the injuries might disqualify him, Saric has stepped up and will likely take the award.

Regardless of where Saric ends up in the rookie of the year voting, the Sixers are definitely happy to see improvement from the No. 12 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

In case you missed it at PhillyVoice

1. Say what? As he has done in the past, Embiid brought up the time when he contemplated quitting basketball altogether.

2. Fake news: When a report came out that Ben Simmons' foot might not be healing as much as the Sixers had let on, it was Bryan Colangelo's third major PR problem in less than a week.

3. Rumors, rumors, rumors: Could Kentavious-Caldwell Pope be a fit in free agency?

4. Tough spot for Jah: Jahlil Okafor's on-court play has been less than stellar, but he dealt with all of the speculation, trade rumors, and personnel decisions by the Sixers very professionally.

Other Sixers news, notes and analysis from around the web:

Zaza Pachulia, Justin Bieber, Macedonian Twitter bots and the insanity of NBA All-Star voting: Baxter Holmes, ESPN

This is an interesting story about the madness of social media and NBA All-Star voting, and of course, Embiid is in there getting a lot of credit for his online presence:

Graphika found that Embiid's aggressive and colorful Twitter campaign to drum up support for his All-Star candidacy created a robust group of digital followers that is unlike other NBA stars. For instance, Kevin Durant's online votes came largely from Warriors fans, but Embiid received love from 76ers fans, Eagles fans and Jayhawks fans as well as social activists and many others. A full 84 percent of the accounts supporting Embiid were from communities outside of the local Philly sports scene, including national pro and college sports fans as well as music and entertainment fans.

"This is who you want to be," Kelly said after examining Embiid's results. "This is the picture of success."

Forbes Lists the Sixers as the 25th Most Valuable NBA Franchise: Shamus Clancy, Liberty Ballers

That valuation might not sound all that great, but Josh Harris and the ownership group has already made out like bandits:

With revenue at approximately $140 million and a current value of approximately $800 million, the Sixers lag behind the majority of their fellow teams. After league-wide revenues began booming following the NBA’s latest TV contracts, Sixers owner Joshua Harris and co. are looking at a fairly smart investment after buying the team for $280 million back in 2011.

This low ranking form Forbes has a lot to do with the fact that the Sixers don’t currently own their own arena. They’re tenants of Comcast Spectator at the Wells Fargo Center and will continue to be through 2029.

NBA Store pulls Raise the Cat t-shirt after Sixers slogan controversy: Dan Levy, Billy Penn

The NBA was trying to make a buck off #RaiseTheCat, which drew the ire of some Sixers fans. Seems like it worked:

As of Thursday afternoon, the NBA site has discontinued the shirt, no longer making it available for purchase. Dennis Grove, the Sixers fan who came up with the cat-raising phenomenon, told Billy Penn he was talking to a lawyer about potential trademark infringement. Grove wants any proceeds from the sale of Raise the Cat merchandise to go to charity.

Grove’s potential legal fight made national news, picked up by NBA Reddit, SB Nation and other NBA outlets, with the attention on the shirt — negative attention toward the NBA and positive support for Grove and the Sixers fans — likely having something to do with why the shirts were pulled.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann