76ers

It's official: Sixers sign Dario Saric

It's official: Sixers sign Dario Saric

It's official: The Sixers on Friday signed forward Dario Saric.

“I feel so excited and so happy because I have a chance to show my game here in Philly,” Saric said to Comcast SportsNet’s Amy Fadool in an exclusive interview Friday before being introduced to the media.

Saric's contract falls under the 2016 rookie wage scale even though he was drafted two years ago. His salary will be the same as this year's 12th overall pick's, Atlanta's Taurean Prince, according to Bobby Marks of The Vertical. According to international basketball reporter David Pick, the buyout for Saric's overseas contract — which had one year remaining — was $1.1 million. Per the CBA, the Sixers can pay up to $650,000 of it while Saric must pay the rest.

The arrival of Saric, 22, had been anticipated since the Sixers traded for him on draft night in 2014. He spent the last two seasons with Anadolu Efes of the Turkish Basketball Super League, averaging 11.0 points and 6.0 rebounds this past season. 

“We are thrilled to finally announce the highly anticipated signing of Dario Saric to an NBA player contract with the Philadelphia 76ers,” Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said in a statement. “Our basketball team stands to benefit from both the on-court development and physical maturation of Dario as a professional player in Croatia and Turkey over the last few years.”

Saric had plenty of reasons for joining the Sixers now, not after the 2016-17 season.

"One of the biggest reasons because I promised when we had a meeting after a draft that I'd come after two years," Saric said. "Another reason, I wanted to play against the best players in the best league in the world to show what I can do.

"And the third because I think I'm mentally ready, I think I've improved my game enough to come here and play the best players in the world."

Saric was modest when asked to describe his game.

"I hate to talk about myself, it's always weird, things like that, but I think I can do lot of things good," the 6-foot-10 forward said. "I think I can shoot pretty good, I think I can dribble the ball for my size very good, I think some players bigger than me and slower than me, I think I can attack [them]. But for somebody smaller than me, I think I can post him up. Like some kind of all-around player."

Saric was the MVP of the 2016 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which ended last week. He had 18 points, 13 rebounds, two assists in two steals in Croatia's six-point, overtime win over Italy.

"I first saw Dario when he was probably 17 or 18 years old and I can't tell you how far he's come as a player," Colangelo said. "Physically, he's also come a long way — but his game has just really advanced to a level that we're all excited to see how it's going to fit and translate at this level.

"But also, just as a young man, you're talking about a mature young man at 22, who has been through a lot, who's played years of professional basketball — that's going to bode well for him in terms of his transition.”

Sixers 128, Cavs 105: Jimmy Butler returns, Ben Simmons posts triple-double

Sixers 128, Cavs 105: Jimmy Butler returns, Ben Simmons posts triple-double

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers’ home loss to the Cavaliers on Nov. 23 was, at the time, likely their worst of the season. For a while Sunday, it appeared they might have a new, strong contender, as Cleveland took a 44-34 second-quarter lead.

But the Sixers avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season, pulling away in the fourth quarter to beat the Cavs, 128-105, behind Ben Simmons’ third triple-double of the season (22 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds). Joel Embiid had 24 points and nine rebounds, while Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup after missing the past two games with a strained groin and had 19 points. 

The Sixers are now 20-11 on the season, 6-8 on the road.

• Simmons had another sharp, attacking start, scoring nine of the Sixers’ first 14 points.

In several other games this season, Simmons hasn’t sustained his early aggression. Against Cleveland, his drive never diminished.

When Embiid and Butler sat early in the second quarter, Simmons’ ability to establish deep post position, score and distribute effectively in a point forward role was crucial in Cleveland not running away with the game.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Simmons’ performance? He didn’t turn the ball over. 

• In a familiar, unsurprising turn of events, the Sixers’ first-quarter lead disappeared soon after the second unit entered. As we’ve noted before, the Sixers’ bench is thin, and their perimeter defense is subpar. The Cavs have a few players who can create shots off the dribble, but they’re not the type of opponent that should pose serious problems to a team with NBA Finals aspirations. 

• Mike Muscala had perhaps his worst game as a Sixer in Friday’s night loss vs. the Pacers, shooting 1 for 8 and looking out of sync with his teammates on both ends of the floor. Brett Brown attributed Muscala’s poor performance, in part, to his return from an upper respiratory infection. 

Muscala looked more like himself Sunday, with eight points, six rebounds and three blocks. 

• Butler didn’t attempt a shot and was scoreless in the first quarter. He’s averaged just 4.0 points in the first quarter with the Sixers. While the Sixers could get Butler more involved on offense early, you sense his slow starts are in part because of his efforts to blend into the Sixers’ offense and defer to Simmons and Embiid. 

• The Sixers allowed a total of 114 second-half points during their two-game losing streak. Their defense after halftime was improved in Cleveland, as the Cavs had much less success in transition than in the first half and there were far fewer issues with the Sixers’ communication and rotations.

• On Friday, the Sixers got just 21 points outside of Embiid, Simmons, and JJ Redick. Those three were, as usual, the Sixers’ go-to players offensively, but they received more help against the Cavs.

Landry Shamet caught fire in the fourth quarter, shooting 6 for 7 on the afternoon and tying his career high with 16 points.

Wilson Chandler, who was scoreless vs. the Pacers, chipped in 11 points, including an important three-pointer at the end of the third quarter to stop a 12-0 Cavs run.

• It was nice for the Sixers not to have to deal with Tristan Thompson on the offensive glass. Cleveland had six offensive rebounds Sunday. Thompson had eight by himself on Nov. 23. 

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Sixers weekly observations: Lack of depth, lack of point guard shooting, and Joel Embiid’s resurgence

Sixers weekly observations: Lack of depth, lack of point guard shooting, and Joel Embiid’s resurgence

For the first time since October, the Sixers had a losing week, with a win over the Pistons on Monday followed by defeats vs. the Nets on Wednesday and Pacers on Friday with Jimmy Butler sidelined by a strained groin.

At 19-11, the Sixers sit at No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, though the standings are constantly shifting. The Sixers are a game behind the Bucks, a half game behind Indiana and a half game ahead of the Celtics.

In this week’s observations, we look at Joel Embiid’s resurgence, the Sixers’ weakness on the bench, a telling stat and more.

• Joel Embiid’s “slump” is officially over. Embiid averaged 32.3 points on 55.3 percent shooting, 15.3 rebounds, and four assists over the past week. He’s drawing fouls at a high rate again too, with 38 free throw attempts in his last three contests. 

It wasn’t too difficult to sense the exasperation of Domantas Sabonis and Kyle O’Quinn on Friday night when, on back-to-back possessions, Embiid drew fouls on them with his sweep-through move during his dominant, 28-point first half. 

• As we’ve harped on several times, the Sixers have a paucity of strong defenders outside of their stars. That weakness is most apparent against a team like the Nets, whose guards target players like Furkan Korkmaz and Landry Shamet and post career highs.

When they’re not hitting shots, players like Korkmaz, Shamet and Mike Muscala go from having a neutral or slightly positive value to being major negatives. 

If you exclude Embiid, Ben Simmons and JJ Redick, the Sixers shot 8 for 32 vs. the Pacers. You can label such a performance an outlier. But subpar defense has been the norm, and as a result, poor shooting from the Sixers’ role players just about guarantees a loss. 

The Pacers, Bucks and Celtics are each within the top-six in the NBA in bench plus-minus, while the Sixers are No. 16, at minus-0.6. 

• Here’s an interesting stat: The Sixers have three of the top five guards in the NBA in terms of field goal percentage. Two-way player Demetrius Jackson is technically No. 1 — he made his only shot this season in garbage time of the Sixers’ win over the Knicks on Sep. 28. While Jackson's place isn’t worth any deep analysis, Simmons coming in at No. 4 (57.3 percent) and T.J. McConnell at No. 5 (57.1 percent) is telling.

The positive spin is that Simmons and McConnell know their spots on the floor, and they’re good at converting in their comfort zones.

The less positive spin is that neither player has strayed from their comfort zones very often. To be fair to McConnell, his shot distribution is very similar to what it was less season. He had 49.2 percent of his attempts from 10 feet or fewer last season and is at 49.1 percent through the Sixers’ first 30 games.

Simmons’ range has actually shrunk, which, along with his improved post-up play, helps explain why his shooting is up a couple percentage points. Only 11.2 percent of his field goal attempts have been from 10 feet and out, down from last season’s 20.4 percent. 

The Sixers’ point guards shoot a higher percentage than any other team’s. They also space the floor worse than any other team’s point guards. Embiid is forced to float out to the perimeter when Simmons occupies the post. And it's much easier to effectively double-team the Sixers' big man when opponents can aggressively send help off Simmons or McConnell, who usually station themselves in the short corner on Embiid post-ups.

• After the loss to the Pacers, Embiid didn’t pretend the Sixers have nothing to worry about. He acknowledged the team’s fundamental defensive issues and said the Sixers are “still learning how to play with each other.”

But he also said this: 

We’ll be fine. We’re not on red alert. It’s two games; the season is long. We’re going to go to Cleveland. Last time they beat us, so we’re going to go there for revenge. We’re going to want to punch them in the mouth because we lost against them, which shouldn’t have happened. That’s going to be a good game. But the season is long. Hopefully we get Jimmy back against Cleveland and it’ll be a better game.

That perspective from Embiid is fair enough. The Sixers’ defense is a serious concern, and you have to strain your imagination to picture their current bench playing in the NBA Finals. But, even after two straight losses, the Sixers have five more wins than at this point last season.

A loss in Cleveland, though, would edge the Sixers a little closer to red alert.

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