7 for 6: Dario Saric Gives Us Reasons to Live

| The Sixers’ season is all but over, but Dario Saric didn’t get the memo. This week on 7 for 6: your annual draft lottery odds, a tank-off versus the Lakers, and assessing the team’s play on their West Coast road trip. |

When Tanks Collide

The Sixers met the Lakers on Sunday night in a game that had significant draft lottery implications for both teams. The Lakers, firmly in place in the Top 3 of the Draft Lottery, prefer to lose as many games down the stretch as they can. The Sixers, meanwhile, wouldn’t mind a loss in Los Angeles because it would move them up in the lottery, possibly bouncing the Lakers out of the top three and acquiring their first round draft pick.

In a game where both teams would benefit from a loss, it ended up as a terrific game with the Sixers prevailing 118-116.

These two teams are historically great NBA franchises (the Lakers more-so) but find themselves at similar places. Although the Sixers have been more transparent about their tanking for longer, Lakers coach Luke Walton doesn’t seem to embrace the tank like other teams (despite the team shutting down two healthy veterans before the season ends). While that does seem hypocritical, the Lakers admittedly do have a lot of incentive to keep their pick this season.

The obvious reason is that if the Lakers fall out of the top 3 in the Lottery, their pick this year goes to Philadelphia. That’s bad enough in a draft that’s considered to be very good. But there is another wrinkle to the trade.

Info via RealGM

Info via RealGM

That’s right. If the Lakers lose their pick this year, they lose it again in 2019. It’s one of the lasting ripples from their trade for Dwight Howard in 2012. So not only are the Lakers trying to keep their pick this year, they’re trying to keep it for two of the next three years. It’s hard to blame them for tanking.

The result on Sunday was ultimately conflicting for Sixers’ fans. In all likelihood the Lakers will keep their pick and the Sixers will have to hope for some lottery magic. For two years the team has waited for this pick to convey, but next year it finally becomes unprotected. It has yet to become that valuable piece that fans dream of. That could still happen, either through the draft or a possible trade this summer. The Process, once again, insists that we be patient.

And yet, the win in Los Angeles was satisfying. These teams, should their rebuilds succeed, could find themselves at the top of the league’s hierarchy in a few years. And after Walton’s comments, it’s validating to succeed over a team in a similar position, especially with the currently depleted Sixers’ roster.

Draft Lottery Update

The Sixers, despite two wins last week, have closed the gap compared to the start of the year, but the top three is pretty well defined at this point. Brooklyn is ahead of the pack, although they won’t even keep their pick. The Lakers (1-9 in their past 10 games) are creating space between the teams hoping to leapfrog into the top three.

One silver lining is that the Sacramento Kings are struggling. They won two in a row this week, but lost eight straight before that. Right now they’re only four games behind Orlando for the fourth best lottery odds. Losing DeMarcus Cousins clearly hasn’t made the Kings any better. There’s an outside chance that they could win the lottery, only to have to swap picks with Philadelphia. At this point Sixers’ fans may want to focus on the situations in Los Angeles and Sacramento equally.

The West Coast Trip

The Sixers had a four game swing along the west coast, starting with last Thursday’s game against Portland. It would be easy for the Sixers to pack in their season, especially at this point when the playoffs are a virtual impossibility and their best players are sidelined.

But the team has gladly taken on the role on Spoiler. Each game was competitive and although they only won a single game, it’s hard not to be proud of the team.

  • Mar. 9th @ Portland: L 114-104 (OT)
  • Mar. 11th @ LAC: L 112-100
  • Mar. 12th @ LAL: W 118-116
  • Mar. 14th @ GSW: L 106-104

The loss to Portland was hard to swallow, but it did provide some learning experience. With the game tied late, Robert Covington, the team’s best defender curiously fouled CJ McCollum, who drained free throws for the lead. But Covington managed to redeem himself (a familiar theme for him this season). He tied the game at the buzzer with a put back layup.

Although they lost in overtime, this game was a good example of how much better the team has become in late game situations. The Golden State loss, however, stings the most. Not only did the Sixers hold a double digit lead against one of the best teams in the league, but they had a chance to tie the game late with free throws.

Obviously, the loss stings, but Brett Brown made sure that the team learned from this experience too.

“[I want the players] to be hard on themselves after a loss,”Brown told reporters. “That’s a good thing. It hurts. It should hurt. We put in the time. We were in a position on the road to try to get a win. I think that Timmy (Luwawu-Cabarrot) and Dario and our young guys will learn from this, but it stings and it should sting.”

The Homie (or is it ‘The Alpha?’)

Dario Saric is the brightest spot left in a season that frustrated many. The 23 year old rookie is in the best stretch of his first NBA campaign.

“I do know that Saric is a hell of a player,” Warrior’s Coach Steve Kerr said of the Sixers’ forward on Tuesday night. “He’s fun to watch. He fits the modern NBA game. He can step out and make threes. He can pass and can put it on the floor. He’s a good-looking young player.”

What’s behind Saric’s success? The Croatian has credited a couple things, like eliminating his mid-day nap before games, but namely his mother finally arriving in America to watch her son on Feb. 15th.

“I want to say my mom helped me to be better,” Saric said to Philly.com. “She makes me be full, like 100 percent in my body and my soul, to feel like I’m at home.”

There’s definitely some proof behind Saric’s words. Since Feb. 15th, he’s averaging 19.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and .9 steals on 46% shooting. He’s cracked the starting lineup and started carrying himself with more confidence and swagger. The closest we’ve seen to a rookie putting up those numbers this year was Saric’s teammate; Joel Embiid. This is a logical end-point for Saric’s rookie year. He’s a high IQ player who fits in the modern NBA, given a chance to shine because of injuries to his teammates.

Shaping Simmons’ Shot

Although he hasn’t stepped on the court, Ben Simmons manages to grab the spot light from time to time. For all of the hype that surrounds him, Simmons does have a glaring weakness coming out of college; his jump shot. He was reluctant to shoot it during Summer League and wasn’t efficient with it in college. But he is learning from a coach who is familiar with fixing a jump shot. This week Brett Brown spoke about improving Simmons’ shooting motion.

“I see improvement with his form,” Brown said. “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to get his elbow under the ball and have it be more arm than wrist. … But even that is a challenge when it’s not sort of against some bodies.”

Brown went through this process with Nerlens Noel, who wasn’t a good free thrown shooter coming out of college. During Noel’s red-shirt rookie season (similar to that of Simmons) Brown worked on fixing Noel’s form. And four years later, it seems to have worked. Noel has worked his way up from a 46% FT shooter as a rookie to as high as 61% when he left Philadelphia. Brown, commenting on Feb. 25th after the trade with Dallas, said that he believes Noel will be a 70+% shooter by his career’s end. He’s even added a mid range jump shot. All in all, it’s safe to say that Noel improved his jump shot under the tutelage of Brown and the Sixers.

For Simmons, already a supremely talented offensive player, this means that he is working with a staff that has done this before. An effective jump shot would expand his already deep arsenal and make him that much deadlier. Let’s just hope we see the fruits of his labor ripen here, and not somewhere else.

Noel’s Return

Speaking of Noel, he returned to Philadelphia to play his first game as a member of the Dallas Mavericks on Friday. He made his presence known to Sixers fans on two days prior.

The Sixers won the game 116-74. Noel has 9 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block in 18 minutes against his former team. Justin Anderson, one of the pieces that came to Philadelphia in the trade, lead the Sixers with a game high 19 points (7/11 FG), 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. During the contest, the team had a quick tribute to their former player.

It’s good to see the team acknowledge Noel, and to see Noel be appreciative of his time here. While it didn’t end well, his relationship with the city was positive and in many ways embodied The Process that has defined the Sixers since 2013. He was Sam Hinkie’s first major acquisition, and the contract that he is sure to receive in some ways validates the way the Sixers have handled injuries. Noel missed his entire first season after being drafted, but that hasn’t stopped him from becoming a premier defensive player. As hard as it will be for Philadelphia fans to root for a Dallas team, many wish Noel the best of luck.

Luwawu as a starter

Late in the season, it’s not uncommon for teams outside of the playoff picture to give their younger players more minutes. It’s a valuable time to give them experience and assess them more closely. For the Sixers, Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot is the one receiving minutes. He’s started the past four games and show some flashes of an effective 3-and-d wing. Let’s break down his stats as a starter and reserve

  • Starter (5 games) 11.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2 assists, on 54/43/87 shooting splits
  • Reserve (50 games) 4.1 points, 1.5 rebounds, .7 assists on 37/28/81 splits.

Obviously this is a small sample size, but Luwawu has been demonstrably better as a starter. Of course, four of these five starts have come at the tail end of his rookie season, so general improvement makes sense. Perhaps he’s just more confident. Regardless of why it’s happening now, Luwawu’s play is a bright sign at the end of a troubling year for the Sixers.

He is just 21 years old and already has a valuable basis of skills for the modern NBA. He’s long, athletic, and can space the floor. He’ll be a valuable piece moving forward, even if the Sixers land a prospect like Josh Jackson or Malik Monk.

Statistics are up to date as of Mar. 18th

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