Though it ended on a relative high note — a 3-2 road trip, capped with a well-earned 123-110 win last night vs. the Suns — December was not an overly kind month for the Sixers.
The team went 5-10 for the month, without winning consecutive games until these last two Ws at month's end, sinking them out of the playoff picture in the standings and raising a number of serious questions about the team's current trajectory. Ben Simmons has struggled, Robert Covington has gone cold, and Joel Embiid, while brilliant (26-10-4 for the month), only played in 10 of the 15 games and may end up missing more time with a sprained hand suffered in the fourth quarter in Phoenix.
However, one unqualified positive did come from the Sixers' cruelest month of the season: the breakout of Dario Saric. It's easy to forget now, but Dario was colder than Times Square at the ball drop to start the season, not even scoring in double figures until his sixth game. Part of that was because Brett Brown had him coming off the bench to start the season, but it was also because his shot looked flat, his chemistry with his new teammates seemed lacking and he just generally felt disconnected from the rest of the team.
Ancient history now, because The Homie has been scorching of late. In the 12 contests since he missed the Lakers game early in the month with an eye laceration, Dario's averaged an 18-8-4 on 48 percent shooting and 40 percent from three-point land. Those are awesome numbers from a guy who isn't even supposed to be one of the main cogs, and the last one is probably the most important — the shooting and spacing he's provided as a stretch four is truly invaluable to a team like the Sixers, especially in lineups with both Embiid and Simmons. You saw his value in the Lakers game he missed (and the Sixers lost) — without him, there's no forward to play alongside Embiid that doesn't make JoJo's life more difficult.
And his best numbers have come at month's end. He largely no-showed the Christmas game against New York — just 4 of 15 from the field, and a nearly back-breaking 0-6 from three — but has gone an absurd 12-18 from deep in the three games since, scoring over 20 in each, the longest such streak of his career. He's shooting better from everywhere on the floor than last year (including the free-throw line, where he hasn't missed in five games), he's turning the ball over less frequently, and as Derek Bodner points out, he's especially excelling alongside Joel, after struggling on court with him at season's start.
You hope he keeps up this efficiency as the Sixers (hopefully) hit more of a stride in the new year, even once Markelle Fultz (hopefully) slots back into the rotation at some point. The Sixers don't need Dario to be a Big Three-type guy, but if he can keep doing what he does and provide wins around the margins of games, that's a huge asset for when the Sixers (HOPEFULLY) are ready to emerge as true contenders.