Basketball fans in the Delaware Valley are almost certainly watching the Olympics for two reasons.
The obvious reason is to see the United States capture a gold medal again with the likes of Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and DeMarcus Cousins leading the way. But the passionate Sixers fan base must be watching Croatia just as closely.
That’s right, Croatia.
Two years ago, Sam Hinkie pulled off a draft night trade with the Orlando Magic which brought the rights to Croatian forward Dario Saric.
In these Rio Olympics, Saric has been quite impressive. That has to give the Sixers' fan base hope.
In the opener, Saric helped Croatia upset Spain by two points. It was Saric’s block against Pau Gasol which saved the game and preserved the huge win for Croatia. Saric finished with five points, seven rebounds and five assists along with the clutch block, but the overall talent was evident. Forget the fact that he shot 1-for-7 and 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. Saric impacted the game in so many ways.
Then in a loss to Argentina, Saric scored 19 points, swept 10 rebounds and handed out seven assists. He was arguably the best player on the floor for long stretches.
The No. 12 overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft recently signed with the Sixers so this is a nice preview of what lies ahead.
Saric’s presence in Philadelphia has been anxiously anticipated for the last two years while he was competing for Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Basketball League.
Now we can see why.
Saric is likely to become a quick fan favorite with his all-out hustle and grit. Teaming with Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Ben Simmons among others, the Sixers appear to be a team on the rise.
Sixers coach Brett Brown has been preparing for Saric’s official arrival for a long time. Over the past two years, Brown and Saric have exchanged many, many text messages. Brown also visited Saric in person three times.
By the time training camp comes around, Saric should feel comfortable in his new surroundings.
“I (talk) with Coach Brown all the time,” Saric said at his introductory news conference after signing with the Sixers. “Three or four times per week we stay in touch. We don’t talk just about Philadelphia, we talked about life, players, and I was in touch all the time with him. He’s a great person, and I think he’s a great coach, and I think he will improve my game.”
Saric’s game is quite impressive. There’s clearly room for improvement. But the skill-set is there. He will help the Sixers. That much is obvious from watching him play in Rio.