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Sixers' Dario Saric would be NBA Rookie of the Year — if not for Joel Embiid

The Croatian star has hustle and grit, and is a perfect fit for Philadelphia.
Dario Saric has not disappointed during his rookie NBA season.Getty Images

This isn't what Dario Saric is used to.

The proud Croatian was drafted by the Sixers in 2014 but played in Europe for two seasons before coming to Philadelphia.

And after the Sixers'captivating 94-89 win against the Raptors in a packed and wild Wells Fargo Center, the rookie couldn't help but compare American crowds to those from Europe.

"Crowds there are different," Saric said."They stand the whole time and will be singing during the entire game... Here they are great, but it's more about entertainment. In Europe they wouldn't be drinking beers or eating buffalo wings."

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Saricdid his fair share of entertaining in Wednesday's win, making back-to-back blocks with his hands outstretched toward the rim to fire upthe fans and in the fourth quarter, pretty much single-handedly keeping the team in the game with Joel Embiid sitting on the sidelines (Philly was plus-20 with Embiid on the floor and minus-15 without him).

"That is the second best offensive team in the NBA, theyaverage I think 114 points and we held them to 89," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said."It started, to me, with Dario having that fantastic run with multiple blocks.There were other strong contributors but he stood out... he was a real instigator getting us going."

"Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row," Embiid said, explaining to reporters his wild and encouraging reaction to the play on the sideline."He was at the rim like that blocking Sullinger. That's the play we need and the crowd was getting into it. I am just glad he's here with us like he promisedhe was going to be."

Trolling reporters after his interview concluded in the 76ers locker room, Embiid shouted "he wasn't going to come, he wasn't going to come, trust the process," playfully poking at the doubters of Sam Hinkie'snow infamous process — the one that gave Embiid his beloved nickname.

Saric is second among all NBA rookie scorers and rebounders, trailing only teammate Embiid in that category. The numbers suggest that perhaps he is being overshadowed by his 7-foot-2 phenom of a teammate — a sentiment his head coach shares.

"If Joel Embiid weren't in the league you'd have to talk about [Saric] in consideration for rookie of the year," Brown said. "We should really look at what hes doing as a rookie. There'san appeal he has developed from our fans, They respect him how can you not? He is so blue collar. The plays that he makes, the effort-based plays, the physical plays, they count for everything.

"I hope he realizes we appreciate his passion and we appreciate the way he plays."

If nothing else, Philadelphia fans love hustle. And it's an attribute Saric has in spades. Whether or not he ever garners the attention or fame Embiid inevitably will, he could be a key piece for a competitive Sixers team in the not so distant future.

"Sometimes you have a game where you are doing badly, but other times you can give the team its energy and I tried to give the team energy and I did it well," the 6-foot-10 Saric said."I want to win the game. It's an easy answer."

 
 
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