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Dario Saric a key piece to the Sixers' future

Dario Saric is a darkhorse candidate to win NBA Rookie of the Year.

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Rewind back to the 2014 NBA Draft.

When the No. 12 pick came along, the Orlando Magic selected a relatively unknown forward named Dario Saric. On that same night, former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie traded for Saric in a deal which sent draft pick Elfrid Payton to Orlando.

It was a bit of a risky move because of Saric’s international commitment to his Turkish team Anadolu Efes.

Hinkie was not averse to risk and the move has paid off in a huge way.

After playing two seasons overseas, Saric was eventually named the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament for his native Croatia. Saric signed with the Sixers in July and through this bizarre season, he’s on his way to a potential Rookie of the Year award.

Joel Embiid played 31 dazzling games for the Sixers, but another injury setback has the big man out for the season. With other players like Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova shipped off before the trade deadline, Saric is getting plenty of playing time.

And he’s thriving.

Saric has scored 20 or more points eight times this season along with five double-doubles in his last 11 games.

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The Sixers are careening to another spot in the draft lottery, but Saric is clearly a huge bright spot.

“I think the confidence and the poise is emerging game by game,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said of Saric. “We all should feel very proud that how can it not be the Rookie of the Year goes through Philadelphia? Say it any way you want, I am proud of what he has been doing. I think tonight it validates some of the layers to making that comment even more true.”

It will be difficult for a player who has competed in 31 of 82 games to win a major award such as Rookie of the Year. Saric has been on the court consistently all season and he continues to produce in every way. He’s definitely deserving.

“I know everybody talks about it,” Saric said. “Joel deserves to be Rookie of the Year, but I don’t know if he has had enough games. I just try to push myself every game, try to win every game, try to push my teammates and get them to believe. The games without Gerald (Henderson), Joel, and Ben (Simmons), sometimes we need to be ready for every moment. I don’t like when somebody says ‘you’re trash without these guys,’ I don’t like when somebody says that. I try to push my teammates, and we have to be ready to win tomorrow, I believe in them, and I lead them in that way.”

Saric’s passing skills have noticeably improved since day one. It’s a credit to the coaching staff.

“Sometimes what I say is about confidence, when you play good, Coach believes in you, and it’s your opportunity to make hard passes,” Saric said. “To make it fun, to put our teammates in good position, and to do something nobody expects is just fun.”

Saric is a fan favorite at the Wells Fargo Center with his hustle, determination and all-out effort. More than that, his skill set is becoming more complete every day. If he finishes the season strong, how can he be denied Rookie of the Year?

“I would be very happy, but I play for my teammates, my coaches and my city,” Saric said. “I give everything I have. I always do that. That’s what I know. Whatever happens, will happen. I want to keep playing hard and I’m excited about the future here.”

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