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March 01, 2017

What they’re saying: Dario Saric is the reason to watch the Sixers down the stretch

With trade rumors (and the actual Nerlens Noel trade), the Jahlil Okafor saga as well as injuries to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, this month has been full of quite a bit of bad Sixers news.

But somewhat under the radar, out on the floor, Dario Saric is making headlines of his own. As the Sixers schedule is winding down, the 22-year-old forward is even getting Rookie of the Year buzz. And after Monday night’s loss to the Golden State Warriors, I asked Brett Brown about Saric’s performance against that elite level of talent. The Sixers head coach just started gushing:

“I love Dario Saric, just the whole thing,” Brown said. “I just like everything about him and I truly mean that.”

I was impressed by Saric hanging tough against Golden State despite his three-point shot not falling. And on The Ringer, Kevin O’Connor wrote that Saric is one of the most important players in the Eastern Conference for the rest of the season:

Saric competes hard on defense and has high potential as a shooter; there’s an argument to be made that he’s a better prospect than Ben Simmons, whose absence could be a blessing in disguise for Saric’s progression. If Saric continues to shine, the onus will be on Simmons to learn how to play with Saric, rather than the other way around.

The question should not be how Saric will fit with Simmons and Embiid, but rather how Simmons will fit with Saric and Embiid. The pairing of Saric with Embiid is not an issue; though Saric is shooting just 31.9 percent from 3 this season, he steadily improved each year playing in Europe as he adjusted to the line and revised his mechanics. That type of progression is projectable for Saric in the NBA, too.

I’m not sure if I agree with Saric taking precedence over a talent like Simmons (in fact, I don’t), but he has established himself as a potential building block in his first NBA season. That is great news for the Sixers.

And finally, here’s a good draft note from Calkins Media’s Tom Moore, who believes Saric should be NBA Rookie of the Year:

If he wins, Saric would be the second-lowest pick to be named the league's top rookie since 1958. Only the Knicks' Mark Jackson (No. 18 in 1987-88) was selected later in the draft.

In case you missed it at PhillyVoice

1. By reaching the salary floor at the NBA Trade Deadline, the Sixers saved a nice chunk of change. Again.

2. The Sixers pretty much offered consistently bad injury updates over the past week: First, Ben Simmons was lost for the season and then Joel Embiid is out indefinitely. Other than that, though. everything is great!

3. Matt Mullin wrote about Bryan Colangelo and trust.

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

Simmons, Ball or Fultz the favorite for 2018 NBA Rookie of the Year? Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton, ESPN Insider

While some of the speculation in Philadelphia is about whether Embiid or Saric should win the 2017 Rookie of the Year, Pelton and Ford are looking ahead to the 2018 season. The Sixers roster could potentially have two additional top-five draft picks, but Ford and Pelton are looking at Ben Simmons.

And Pelton likes Simmons’ chances for top rookie over Fultz and Ball. The Sixers surely hope one of those players is Simmons and Saric’s teammate:

I think I'm sticking Simmons, for now. As I've noted in the past, Rookie of the Year voting tends to be predicted well by the leaderboard in combined points, rebounds and assists per game. Back when we figured Simmons was going to play this season, I projected him to average 13.4 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per 36 minutes. (The last figure is awfully conservative.)

Early projections now, without accounting for team context, show Fultz at 12.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists per 36 minutes next season -- similar production to Brogdon this season -- and Ball at 9.9, 4.3 and 6.5. So unless Simmons' playing time is severely limited by injury, which is a possibility, either he'll have to underperform his projections or one of this year's rookies will have to outperform projections.

Sixers draw high Praise from Warriors after loss to NBA leader: Jessica Camerato, CSN Philly

After earning a hard-fought win, the Warriors stars (Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson) had some praise for the Sixers:

"You've got to give this team a lot of credit," Draymond Green said. "They're going to be really, really, really good. I mean, they're missing Embiid and Ben Simmons and they're really on their way."

"They play the right way," Klay Thompson said. "They made it tough on us tonight. I'm excited to see their team when Embiid and Simmons are healthy. It should be a scary frontcourt, and with Saric. They're heading in the right direction. They'll only get better this June because they have some high picks. It's a bright future in Philly."

Justin Anderson One-On-One: Michael Scotto, Basketball Insiders

Anderson talks about the recent trade, and one thing caught my attention: Bryan Colangelo told the second-year pro that he’s a better shooter than his career numbers would indicate. That type of bet has paid off before, and it does help you see the Sixers trade logic a bit.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann