Seventeen points and nine rebounds Monday, 15 points and six rebounds in 21 minutes while making 4-for-6 3-pointers two games before that, 18 points two games before that, and yet Dario Saric barely gets noticed among 76ers rookies because he’s not Joel Embiid, social-media monster and pretty much a monster, period.
Saric has been an obvious positive, though, as Philadelphia has won six of the last eight to already surpass last season’s win total. Not at the Embiid level, because no one on any team matches him among first-year players, but enough that Saric is more than just the other Sixers lottery-pick rookie everyone waited years to see.
That status is a losing battle to Embiid as well – Embiid played at Kansas, showed amazing court presence in college for someone relatively new to the game and was around the 76ers while rehabilitating through two seasons lost to injury, while Saric was based in Turkey the same years, playing around Europe, a secondary concern to most fans waiting for help to ride in over the horizon. Saric isn’t even No. 2 on the list of prominent Philly rookies, not with Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick in 2016, working toward a return from foot surgery.
Saric has carved his path mostly playing beyond the spotlight of the bigger-name newcomers in his own locker room, going from No. 12 pick in 2014 to staying in Europe for two seasons to one of the best rookies. His production the last couple weeks in particular has contributed to the most encouraging Philly stretch in years, even as Embiid leads the way and anticipation for Simmons’ 2016-17 debut ramps up.
“I feel that people expected something from me,” Saric said of the at-last move from Turkish club Anadolu Efes to the NBA. “It’s like stones on your back. Of course. Because you come here that means you are a good player. European basketball means something for them. But it’s OK. Every basketball player who is in the league has some kind of pressure. That’s normal.”
The search for consistency has been frustrating, he opened the season playing power forward and then got a lot of minutes at small forward as the 76ers sorted through their cluttered big-man rotation, but 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds the last 10 games is Saric finding solid ground to help Philadelphia string together wins while he remains in the top three of the Rookie Ladder for the 10th week in a row.
1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
He has scored at least 20 points in nine consecutive appearances (two other games were missed for rest), the longest streak by a rookie since Blake Griffin had 14 in a row in 2010-11 and the longest by a Sixers first-year player since Allen Iverson did it 11 straight in 1996-97. That would be headline enough. Embiid, though, has done it without playing more than 30 minutes, making him the first player of any experience to go nine in a row while sub-30 since the Elias Sports Bureau began tracking minutes in 1951-52.
2. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks
Just in case his shooting, especially behind the arc, and efficiency as a distributor, at No. 1 in the class in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.64) along with No. 1 in assists per game (3.9), wasn’t impressive enough, Brogdon is now stringing together big rebounding games. He has at least six boards from the backcourt in five of the last nine outings, a new layer of continuing to surprise. It doesn’t take much to climb the rebound rankings in a season of few quality bigs, but tied for 10th is impressive no matter what for a 6-foot-5 guard.
3. Dario Saric, Philadelphia 76ers
The 17 points Monday at Milwaukee marked the eighth game with 15 or more, trailing only Embiid, while making eight of 16 3-pointers the last three outings bumped Saric to 35.9 percent behind the arc, sixth among rookies. He is also second in scoring, second in rebounding, sixth in minutes and 10th in PER. Brogdon isn’t giving him an opening to re-take second place, the spot Saric held from mid-November to late-December, but this could turn into the closest thing to a race near the top of The Ladder if both maintain the pace.
4. Buddy Hield, New Orleans Pelicans
No sooner has Hield used a shooting streak to charge up the list than he cooled off to 37.3 percent the last six games, although also 44.8 percent on 3s. He is down to 38.8 overall for the season, ninth among rookies, and up to 37.3 behind the arc, fifth best behind Brogdon, Davis Bertans of the Spurs, Alex Abrines of the Thunder and Mindaugas Kuzminskas of the Knicks. Now to see if dropping to 12 and 15 minutes the last two games is a temporary dip or the start of another bad trend.
5. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
The playing time has inched back up slightly, from four minutes on Jan. 5 and then sitting out three games in a row to 11, 13 and 15 the last three. It’s not a return to the days of routinely playing into the 20s, but it is important at a time several mid-Ladder residents are having trouble getting on the court. Welcome to the season when just a little action is a credibility boost. Being second in shooting, second in blocks and tied for fifth in rebounding helps too.
6. Andrew Harrison, Memphis Grizzlies
The last five games: five, eight, 11, zero and zero minutes. That needs to change soon, even slightly, to avoid a rankings slide. The pro-Harrison camp can be encouraged as the Grizzlies head into three games in four nights, a stretch that will require depth. For now, he is second in assists, second in assist-to-turnover ratio, fourth in steals, eighth in blocks, fourth in minutes and sixth in defensive rating.
7. Marquese Chriss, Phoenix Suns
Establishing himself as one of the solid rookies, with the chance to be a lot more in the second half, Chriss is climbing on the strength of a full resumé: seventh in scoring, seventh in shooting, eighth in rebounding, sixth in blocks and 11th in 3-point shooting at power forward, all while just ninth on the Suns in minutes. He could soon gain a larger role if Phoenix moves away from playing several veterans, a logical step while scraping the bottom of the standings. For now, he is 12th in the class in minutes.
8. Isaiah Whitehead, Brooklyn Nets
He is playing, an accomplishment compared to some others in the same range. He just isn’t playing well. Whitehead is shooting 35.7 percent the last six games, has not topped 40 percent in any of the six and and has more than three assists once in the same stretch. He keeps having enough games with multiple blocks to hold third place in the class, commendable work for a 6-foot-4 point guard even in a season with a very thin group of bigs.
9. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers
Making at least half his shots in six of the last nine games has pushed Ingram from the 33.6 percent of December to 46.8 in January, while his accuracy behind the arc has jumped from 20.6 to 42.3. It’s still not enough to move him into the top 10 in the class in either category, but Ingram is one of the hottest rookies and positioned to climb again while fifth in scoring, fourth in rebounding, first in minutes, tied for ninth in assists and tied for ninth in blocks. He is one of the rookies who doesn’t have to worry about getting an opportunity.
10. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
The shooting slump is about four weeks old, with Murray at 34.3 percent overall and 21.4 on 3 the last 15 games. The minutes have been inconsistent – 19 and 23 within three recent games, followed soon by 11 and five in consecutive outings – with the Nuggets in the playoff conversation at the halfway point of the season and every outcome important. Murray is sixth in scoring, but out of the top 10 among rookies in every other category.