Maybe you saw it. Maybe you didn’t.
Hey, you could have been one of the millions whose TV and attention was trained on the Olympic Air Rifle Finals. This was just a preliminary round basketball game between a Croatian team not targeted for Gold and a Spanish five we all know very well. But here in Philadelphia every eye was trained on Dario Saric, and to a lesser extent, new Sixers’ point guard Sergio Rodriguez.
It’s been two years since the 76ers’ trade on draft day of Elfrid Peyton to Orlando for the rights to Croatian forward Dario Saric as part of Sam Hinkie’s build for the future plan. He was described to Philadelphia basketball fans as one part Larry Bird, one part Dirk Nowitzki, and a little bit of Sixers all-timer Bobby Jones. Then the seemingly interminable wait began. Was he coming at all? Would he buy out that multi million dollar contract in Turkey to come in to the NBA and play for the slotted 1.3 million that comes with being the 12 pick in the draft, leaving millions on the table behind.
For two dreadful seasons, the 76ers faithful were teased as the team bottomed out, finishing the 2016 season with an abominable 10-72 record. The now rebellious 76ers’ fans began to see Saric as part and parcel of the problem, and just as much to blame for that disaster as those on the active roster, and an extension of the failure and embarrassment of the designed losing which grated horribly upon the psyche of a proud fan base as they endured record breaking losing including 27 consecutive losses that seemed to erase the memory of the franchise that was once so laden with Hall of Fame talent such as Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks and the legendary Doctor, Julius Winfield Erving.
The final 14 seconds versus Spain changed everything. Croatia led by a point after Saric made one of two free throws to give his side the lead. Spain sets up the final shot and it wasn’t a surprise to see them get the ball to 6-time NBA ALL STAR and 2-time NBA CHAMPION Pau Gasol. What was surprising was the anticipation, footwork and quickness of Dario Saric as he glided across the lane to reject Gasol and his jump hook at the buzzer preserving the win. Does that mean he’s NBA ready defensively or prepared to be a year one stopper? No. But it shows the intellect, instinct and desire that is coachable to the extent that you can expect Saric to be an immediately contributing rotation player. Combine that with the wealth of bigs and seeming scoring options that are currently on the young 76ers’ roster and you see the opportunities presented to Dario Saric as he embarks on his rookie season this fall. You could see it as he added 7 rebounds and 6 assists to the stat line versus Spain on an afternoon when his shot wasn’t falling (1-7 FG) for him, including a luscious no-look behind-the-back dish for a basket.
What the Doctor ordered on the last 76ers championship team was Bobby Jones. Long, lean sixth man, who left skin on every NBA hardwood and was able to run the floor, add a near double-double nightly, yet whose biggest contribution was always defensive energy and a dash of instincts and smarts that more than compensated for a big shot or flashy offense. Can Dario Saric be that player? I truly believe he can. Doc had Andrew, Moses, Mo and Bobby. Ben Simmons now has Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, Sergio Rodriguez, Nerlens Noel, and now Dario Saric. Young and talented, with great expectations but all similarly unproven. But for one moment in Rio, Dario Saric was JUST what the Doctor ordered.
With the plethora of talent assembled in Philadelphia now, and the 76ers in possession of both the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers first round picks in the 2017 NBA draft (both lottery bound and unprotected), Dario Saric just has to be coachable, competitive, and learn the NBA game as a cog in the future of the franchise. Being Bobby Jones would be more than enough.
That’s the View from high atop Mt. Airy…….