Seltzer's Notebook | Saric's Endearing Qualities, Team Defensive Goals, Poythress an Academic
Brown Praises Saric's Style of Play
We’re certainly not going out on a limb by writing the following, but among the foremost takeaways from the 2016-2017 Sixers season has been that there’s a lot to like about Dario Saric.
His production - as a rookie, he’s generated 17.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.8 3-pointers made per 36 minutes.
His durability - with a week left in the regular season, he remains the only Sixer to have appeared in all 78 of the team’s games.
His personality - while the forward no doubt takes his hoops seriously, he’s also shown he has a humorous, playful, and goofy side.
Combined together, these attributes have allowed the soon-to-be 23-year old to become an immediately respected presence inside the Sixers’ locker room, and an instant hit among the club’s fan base.
At the root of Saric’s appeal, Brett Brown believes, is a “single ingredient that links the whole thing.”
“He plays hard,” Brown said Tuesday, drawing out the word “hard” for a little bit of extra emphasis.
The head coach’s comments came shortly before the Sixers’ Atlantic Division match-up with the Brooklyn Nets. Saric, recently placed on a 24-minute guideline to ensure he stays as healthy as possible in the home stretch of the season, posted 10 pts (4-9 fg, 1-5 3fg), three rebounds, and two assists in 19 minutes.
Brown has admired Saric’s fight.
“He is just beyond competitive, he wears his heart on his sleeve, he cares,” said Brown. “It gets down to the word that most comes freely - competitive, a close cousin of tough. You look at that quality, especially in this city. If you don’t have it, you’ve got no shot. You really have no shot in the city of Philadelphia. He has it in spades, that’s who he is. It’s the thing that makes him endearing to his teammates, it’s the thing endearing to the fans, and it’s born out of respect. How can you not respect how he plays?”
That Saric holds both himself and teammates to a high standard is a mindset captured by the intensity and passion he brings to the floor. Not surprisingly, following the Sixers’ 141-118 setback to the Nets, he spoke straight from the heart.
“This will be motivation for next game,” Saric said. “We will go out more strong and win, and play better.”
Over the past two months, as injuries and transactions have altered the shape of the Sixers’ roster, Saric has helped fill the void in a major way, particularly on the heels of Ersan Ilyasova being traded February 22nd.
Since then, the power forward has flourished, providing needed contributions. The move not only resulted in Saric experiencing a 7.0-minute per game increase in playing time, but corresponding boosts of approximately 7.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per tilt.
“All over the place, we have something very unique in our program,” Brown said of Saric. “Who would have ever thought that, [and] maybe a few things? First, he would actually play this year. And then second, for him to do what he’s done, and be in a very strong position to win Rookie of the Year.”
Monday, Saric collected his second consecutive NBA KIA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month honor. The crowd at The Center gave him a nice hand, which he acknowledged, during a commercial timeout video montage celebrating his achievement.
Saric, of course, was acquired by the Sixers from the Orlando Magic in a 2014 draft night swap, and subsequently went on to delay the start of his stint in the NBA in order to further polish his skill set overseas in Europe.
Now, with a day off separating Tuesday’s setback to Brooklyn, and Thursday’s pairing with the Chicago Bulls, Saric his hopeful he and the Sixers can regroup, and rebound in the second contest of a four-game homestand.
“Sometimes, it happens like this, and I hope it will be a lesson for us,” said Saric. “Fans need for an end of the season win at home, or maybe two. I hope we will come more focused, because we can do that.”
The determination has almost come to be expected from the promising prospect, who, as Brown noted, really seems to know only one way - going hard, and giving his all.
As the Sixers’ season has moved along, and signs of improvement have surfaced, Brett Brown has been reluctant to dwell on certain types of tangible evidence reflecting his team’s progress.
Specifically, he has refused - at just about every possible turn - to give any hint whatsoever of a win total that, in his eyes, would constitute a successful campaign.
Over the past few days, however, with the season winding down, several of his players have indicated that reaching 30 victories has been on their minds. Dario Saric was the latest to do so, saying as much Tuesday morning after shootaround.
With Brown, though, numbers don’t seem to carry much weight or significance, unless, of course, you’re talking about defense. Growing the Sixers on that side of the floor has long been a chief priority.
“For me, the only goal that we said from a numerical standpoint on ‘day second’ of Stockton [training camp] was we want to be a top 15 defensive team,” said Brown.
Heading into Tuesday’s pairing with Brooklyn, the Sixers ranked 15th on the NBA’s defensive rating chart, yielding 105.9 points per 100 possessions. As of Wednesday morning, that figure had increased by 0.4, moving the Sixers to 17th overall.
“That’s the only stat that I reference to our team,” continued Brown, saying that he doesn’t do it often. “We leave it alone, then we come back to it. We try to strip it down.”
Learning last week that they would be without Robert Covington, ESPN.com’s top-rated small forward in real defensive plus-minus, for the rest of the year, the Sixers have since been forced to adjust, while simultaneously striving to maintain quality defensive play.
“It’s hard,” admitted Brown, whose Sixers have forged ahead in the absence of the lane-clogging, rim-protecting Joel Embiid as well. “You just have to rely on more team concepts. You got to do everything by committee.”
“The 30 wins, other things, I understand,” said Brown, “but for me...it’s being a top 15 team with the understanding we want to get into the top 10 next year.”
Poythress’ Academic Pursuits
Since acquiring Alex Poythress via a medical hardship signing over the weekend, Brett Brown has said the undrafted rookie forward will be evaluated based on the three primary tenets of the Sixers’ system - defense, pace, and space.
Off the bat, Brown has said he thinks the 23-year old could check off the first two boxes on that list.
“He might even go three for three,” Brown allowed Tuesday, citing Poythress’ 40.3 3-point percentage in 46 appearances with Fort Wayne of the NBA Development League.
Sure enough, Poythress knocked down a triple later that night.
What Brown didn’t realize about Poythress immediately, though, was that the four-year University of Kentucky product was named an Academic All-American last year. Poythress needed only three years to complete his undergraduate degree in marketing, and is two classes shy of finishing a master’s degree in sports leadership. Upon leaving Lexington, he recalled his GPA being somewhere in the high 3’s.
“The intellectual part of it, you think, ‘Well, that sounds quite impressive,’” said Brown.
As was the case Sunday in his NBA debut against Toronto, Poythress again scored in double-figures Tuesday versus Brooklyn, depositing 10 points. He also supplied seven rebounds, three assists, and one steal in 27 minutes.
“Just go out there and have fun,” Poythress said Tuesday, when asked about his approach. “There’s no worries. Try to take advantage of the opportunities, and that’s what I’m doing.”