76ers

Dario Saric 'absolutely' would be better NBA player if he didn't play for Croatia

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Dario Saric 'absolutely' would be better NBA player if he didn't play for Croatia

CAMDEN, N.J. — There’s no hiding the fact that Dario Saric is off to a rough start this season. 

In the first five games of the campaign, Saric is shooting 37 percent from the field. Last year, knocking down threes became the most notable improvement in his game, but he’s been ice cold from downtown (27 percent). The third-year forward’s struggles have only been magnified because of the Sixers’ 2-3 start.

Of course, this isn’t new for Saric. During the first eight games of the season last year, he shot just 32 percent from the field. The first 10 games of his rookie season saw him at just 39 percent.

Unfortunately, there is one tricky culprit that can be pointed to: Saric’s long summers playing with the Croatian national team. Whether it’s the FIBA World Cup, the Olympics or this summer’s Olympic qualifiers, Saric is playing basketball all year round.

The 24-year-old forward has always been fairly honest with the media. After practice Friday, he was pretty candid about how international play has affected his NBA career.

It means so much to me (to play for Croatia) but you know it’s going through your mind maybe if you skip some summer you will be a better player. Maybe you have more time to spend in the States to work on your game. Absolutely, I think I would be a better player if I didn’t play [the last] five, six years on the international team every night. I think I would be a better player but at the end of the day, everything is about winning and you want to win with your national team, too … 

It’s just so hard to talk about it. It really matters for me. This way I choose is maybe wrong, maybe right, but I really enjoy being there and playing with those guys and to represent my country. 

Saric’s poor shooting could certainly be chalked up to tired legs. His shot, which never really had much arc, to begin with, looks even flatter than usual. 

To his credit, Saric was the last player to leave the floor after practice. He was putting up shots from all over the court, trying to get his feel back and hoping to get his game on track.

“I hope I catch a rhythm,” Saric said. “It’s not something that’s going to last all season. Every game I think I’ve improved a step going forward. There shouldn’t be some big question about it. I don’t think I’m playing bad like you can’t recognize me or things like that. 

“How I finished last year I know everybody maybe kind of expected the same game at the beginning of the season but I think it’s hard. I need a little bit of time.”

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Sixers Talk podcast: Matisse Thybulle might already be the sixth man

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Sixers Talk podcast: Matisse Thybulle might already be the sixth man

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss the amount of games they expect Joel Embiid to play, Ben Simmons' self-awareness and Matisse Thybulle already surpassing expectations.

• Will Embiid set a career high in games played with his new load management plan? The guys make a friendly wager.

• Simmons gave arguably the most thoughtful quote he's ever given.

• Is Thybulle already the Sixers' sixth best player?

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Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Zhaire Smith's role with the Sixers isn't yet clear for this season, but the 20-year-old guard has a future with the team.

General manager Elton Brand confirmed that Wednesday. The team announced it has exercised Smith's third-year option for the 2020-21 season, worth $3.2 million

The Sixers acquired Smith and the Miami Heat's 2021 first-round pick last year in a draft-night trade with the Phoenix Suns, who received Mikal Bridges. Smith played in six regular-season games his rookie year, averaging 6.7 points and and 2.2 rebounds per game, but that's far from the whole story. Smith broke his foot in August, then suffered a severe allergic reaction and subsequent complications that led to him losing over 35 pounds. Over time, Smith regained his standout athleticism and rebuilt his jump shot after changing his form to compensate for his loss of strength (see story).

Head coach Brett Brown described Smith during training camp as a "pogo stick" and has praised his talent for on-ball defense, comparing him on multiple occasions to Avery Bradley. However, Smith has not been part of the Sixers' rotation during the preseason. Brown has acknowledged that development is a great priority for the Sixers with Smith than immediate contribution, especially after everything he went through as a rookie. The emergence of rookie Matisse Thybulle and solid play of Shake Milton during the preseason are further reasons why Smith hasn't been playing with the Sixers' regulars. Smith played the entire fourth quarter Tuesday night of the Sixers' 106-86 win over the Pistons and had seven points and three rebounds.

"It's just a process, so I'm not worried about it," he said. "As long as we get the win, it doesn't matter."

Given the potential the Sixers saw in Smith — and continue to see — it never seemed plausible that they would decline his third-year option.

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