Dario Saric

Sixers' week ahead: A possible playoff preview, Tobias Harris' slump, Jimmy Butler's return to Minnesota

Sixers' week ahead: A possible playoff preview, Tobias Harris' slump, Jimmy Butler's return to Minnesota

While the sting of a disappointing loss in Atlanta is still fresh, the Sixers have a chance to redeem themselves Monday night in Orlando.

They’ll also host Brooklyn in a possible playoff preview and catch up with an old friend in Minnesota Saturday.

Here’s a look at the Sixers’ week ahead.

Hoping to find the Magic

Whether it was a letdown coming off a couple big wins or them taking a hungry young Hawks team too lightly, the Sixers simply didn’t show up Saturday night.

Their defense in the first half was horrendous as they allowed 74 points, the most they’ve surrendered to an opponent in a half this season. They struggled with a familiar issue, failing to stifle rookie Trae Young in the pick-and-roll.

But as Brett Brown alluded to postgame, it wasn’t strategy. It was execution.

“We had probably three or four different [adjustments] from blitzing to switching to hedging to dropping,” Brown said. “If you really dug in and looked at that, you would have seen that. I can’t say that any of them were incredibly effective, but they did force us to try and make different adjustments in the pick-and-roll.”

Expect a better effort Monday against a Magic team that’s fighting for its playoff life.

Tobi will come around

Tobias Harris was a monster in his first eight games as a Sixer, averaging 21.9 points while shooting 55 percent from the field and 42 percent from three. In his last 11, he’s down to 17.3 points on 45 percent from the field and 31 percent from three.

Harris is having an All-Star-caliber season, but every player — especially shooters — has their ups and downs. JJ Redick is a perfect example. He wasn’t hitting anything after the All-Star break and then followed it up with a torrid five-game stretch in which he shot 55 percent from three.

Whether it’s fatigue — he’s played in all 74 games for his teams this season — or just a rough patch, Harris deserves the benefit of the doubt given his recent track record. Also, it’s better that he gets this kind of slump out of the way now instead of mid-April. 

Playoff preview?

The Nets have given the Sixers fits this season. Guards D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie have scorched them, averaging a combined 51 points while both shooting over 55 percent in three matchups this season.

The only Sixers’ win was because of a furious comeback capped off by a ridiculous Jimmy Butler game-winner. In fairness, the teams haven’t squared off since Dec. 12 and Butler was out of the lineup — Furkan Korkmaz started in his place — in a three-point Sixers’ loss. This isn't even the same Sixers team.

If the playoffs started today, this would be the first-round matchup. It would behoove the Sixers to show up Thursday in front of their home crowd.

The return of Jimmy

Butler will return to Minnesota for the first time since the drama of his trade request ultimately landed him on the Sixers. 

While Butler was relatively quiet in the Sixers’ blowout win back on Jan. 15, he’s been a force recently. Over his last five games, Butler is averaging 23.8 points a game. 

The two most encouraging signs are his free throws and threes in that span. Butler has been aggressive getting to the rim, averaging 8.8 free throw attempts a game. Him attempting 3.2 threes and hitting 38 percent from there is a huge boon for his fit alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

The Sixers will also see Dario Saric for the second time as an opponent. Saric was such a key part of the Sixers’ playoff run last season, but has struggled to carve out a consistent role with the Timberwolves. Robert Covington, the key asset in that deal, is sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Covington hasn’t played in 2019.

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Boban Marjanovic destined to be Sixers fans' next cult hero

Boban Marjanovic destined to be Sixers fans' next cult hero

Once upon a time, before Chukwudi Okafor wanted to slap the you-know-what out of me and before I met my girlfriend at the Eagles’ Super Bowl parade, I was known as the Dario Saric Guy. I woke in the wee hours of the morning to watch him play overseas for two years. I sung his praises and foretold his future playoff heroics. Once those moments came last spring, I was elated, but he became a necessary casualty in the franchise-altering Jimmy Butler trade this past fall.

Rookie Landry Shamet appeared to be the newest fan favorite in Philadelphia after Saric’s departure. Spearheaded by the @CookieHoops Twitter account and podcast, a truly bizarre, yet absolutely hilarious, meme began that compared Shamet to Waluigi, the arch-nemesis of Luigi in the Super Mario universe. Did it make any sense? Well, maybe their moustaches looked a little alike, but it’s only something that could’ve existed in a post-ironic community deep down in Sixers Twitter. It didn’t matter if it made sense, though, when Shamet proved himself to be a sweet-shooting deep threat who was fearless enough to pull up from anywhere on the court against any opponent.

Shamet is now gone, a key piece in the Sixers’ massive trade with the Clippers that brought Tobias Harris to Philly. Who will take up the mantle now as Sixers fans’ cult hero?

Boban.

Boban Marjanovic, tied for the tallest player in the NBA at 7-foot-3 and the league’s heaviest man at 290 pounds, is thicc in every sense of the word. He doesn’t fit the Sixers’ immediate needs of a backup center in the form of stretching the floor or the ability to defend in space, but he’s an elite backup offensive big man who averages 12 free throws per 100 possessions this year (Joel Embiid averages 14.2, just for reference). He’s also a competent enough rim protector based on his sheer height and girth alone. I’m in awe at the size of this lad. Absolute unit.

If you like playing with meaningless stats in small sample sizes, here’s a wild one:

Marjanovic’s career Win Shares per 48 minutes number is .267 in 1514 career minutes. That’s not a lot of time on the court given that he’s a career backup who has averaged 9.3 minutes per game in four seasons. Nevertheless, that mark of .267 is the highest by any player ever in NBA history who’s played at least 1500 minutes, per Basketball-Reference. It’s a career rate higher than that of Michael Jordan, David Robinson, George Mikan and Wilt Chamberlain, who all round out the top 5.

So, yes, the Sixers essentially acquired the greatest player to ever pick up a basketball (the worst player to ever do so? Anzejs Pasecniks, who the Sixers also hold the rights to).

Marjanovic’s basically as good offensively as your one uncle thinks Jahlil Okafor is while also being a guy who is going to get slaughtered in pick-and-roll situations defensively by the likes of Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry and D’Angelo Russell in the playoffs. I’m not even sure to what degree he’ll crack Brett Brown’s rotation. It’s a wash!

The most important part of Marjanovic being a Sixer, however, has nothing to do with what he provides on the court and everything he does off it.

He’s a villain taken straight out of a John Wick movie. No, not in the way lanky, goofy Eastern European players are said to look like villains from high-octane action movies. He’s quite literally a villain in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum, which comes out in May:


Just think: You might be able to watch the Sixers win an Eastern Conference Finals game and the very next day go see one of the team’s players kick Keanu Reeves in the sternum on the big screen.

Look at this man:


Imagine him chanting, “STOP, DROP, SHUT ‘EM DOWN, OPEN UP SHOP” in a Serbian accent while circling the Wells Fargo Center concourse. He needs to link up with the Phillie Phanatic and Meek Mill to do an ATV race around the warning track of Citizens Bank Park on Opening Day. He needs to lead the championship parade down Broad Street in that four wheeler while holding a can of Miller Lite that looks comically small in his hand as if he’s Andre the Giant. He needs to do everything.

Boban isn’t the cult hero Sixers fans always imagined they were getting, but he’s the one they need right now and certainly the one they deserve.

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Robert Covington, Dario Saric show what Sixers lost off the court

Robert Covington, Dario Saric show what Sixers lost off the court

You have to give something to get something.

In the Sixers’ case, they had to part with two players that made up two-fifths of the best starting lineup in the NBA last season. Two players that helped them win 52 games and a playoff series. Two human beings that were adored and respected by their teammates.

Robert Covington and Dario Saric returned to Philadelphia Tuesday night as members of the Minnesota Timberwolves after being part of a package to acquire four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler.

Though it wasn’t on full display with Covington out of the lineup and the Sixers crushing the Timberwolves, you could see what the Sixers are missing without the pair. Both players forged a relationship with the city and left an indelible mark on the organization.

“It’s more for me a respect thing, a friendship thing, an appreciation thing that they truly had a significant thumbprint on helping us grow this,” Brett Brown said. “Both of those two guys I’m very fond of. I’m grateful for their efforts here in helping us build our new program.”

Brown reminisced about taking the trip to Spain with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams to see Saric play with Croatia. He also took pride in seeing Covington in the D-League — now G-League — playing like a “street baller jacking up threes,” but becoming a true two-way wing.

Saric was beloved by the fans, but Covington’s relationship was a little more complicated. What’s not in question was the impact RoCo made on everyone in the building. He hugged former teammates, coaches, Wells Fargo Center staff and even media members.

Though he was ultimately traded, there’s nothing the player that went from undrafted to NBA player to NBA starter to an All-Defensive team pick would change.

“Everyone knows it’s been up and down,” Covington said of his relationship with Sixers fans. “They’re one of the craziest fan bases here, but die-hard fans. They love their sports teams. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I’ve enjoyed the fans, good and bad. Embrace it all. But overall, this is my true first home. I always love here. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Covington and Saric represented two large pieces of “The Process.” They were two of the biggest fruits of former GM Sam Hinkie’s labor. Covington was able to develop into a legitimate player while playing for a tanking team. Saric was acquired by a result of shrewd dealings by Hinkie.

One player still on the Sixers’ roster that also best represents “The Process” era is T.J. McConnell. Like Covington, McConnell was undrafted and has just continued to capitalize on every opportunity. It’s a group of players that’s truly bonded over the experience.

There was a fun on-court exchange between Saric and McConnell. Saric was guarding his good friend McConnell on a switch. McConnell proceeded to cross up Saric and hit a mid-range jumper. After the shot went down, McConnell gave Saric a pat on the behind.

#TrustTheFriendship

“I think that's a friend-to-friend [thing],” Saric said. “He didn’t want to disrespect me or something like that. We’re two good friends and we try to respect each other and that’s it.”

Butler is a phenomenal player, but it was a bold move by current GM Elton Brand to make the trade for the star wing.

Tuesday night was a reminder of the price the team paid off the court, not on it.

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