Spotlight | Embiid, Simmons, Saric Selected to Rising Stars Challenge

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA - The 76ers’ involvement in All-Star Weekend has gotten even stronger, and, for one member of the team, even busier.  

Wednesday, the NBA announced that Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Dario Saric will suit up for Team World as part of the league’s annual Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars Challenge.

The exhibition, which pits a collection of American first and second-year players against their international counterparts, will be held Friday, February 16th at STAPLES Center, two days before Embiid starts in the All-Star Game itself at the same venue.

Having acquired a wealth of blue-chip talent in recent seasons, the Sixers will be sending multiple prospects to the Rising Stars Challenge for a fourth consecutive year. With Embiid, Simmons, and Saric tapped to compete in the 2018 edition of the game, the club has now produced 12 Rising Stars during the Brett Brown coaching era.

"I think in some ways it's a confidence builder, it should be," Brown said of his players receiving their respective honors. "I think it's a good thing, it's a positive experience."

Since he last week became the first Sixer voted to start an All-Star Game in eight years, Embiid’s stellar season has been well-documented. The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the big man is averaging 23.8 points (13th NBA), 11.0 rebounds (6th), 3.4 assists, and 1.9 blocks (5th) per game. His 20 double-doubles are tied for 11th-most overall.

After learning of Wednesday’s news, Embiid seemed pleased that he’ll be able to enjoy the All-Star Weekend with some teammates.

“That definitely makes it better,” said the 7-footer. “Having them there is going to be good. You always want to have your [teammates] around you.”

Embiid and Saric both said Wednesday they thought Simmons deserved to be chosen for the weekend’s main event, too. The Aussie certainly made a legitimate push.

Establishing himself as an early candidate for Rookie of the Year honors, Simmons has not only exhibited dynamic potential during his first playing season, he’s done so while adapting to always-demanding starting point guard duties. As of Wednesday, the Aussie ranked third among all rookies in scoring (16.3 ppg), first in rebounding (7.9 rpg), first in assists (7.2 apg), first in steals (1.9 spg), and first in double-doubles (18).

He’s the first rookie to average at least 16 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.5 steals since Magic Johnson in 1979-1980.

Saric, meanwhile, will be returning to the Rising Stars Challenge for a second straight year. The Croatian forward earned a starting assignment in 2017, and went on to post 14 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in Team World’s 150-141 victory over Team USA.

“Of course, it’s an honor to be part of All-Star Weekend,” Saric said. “What can I say? I’m just happy, I’ve improved every season. It’s [a] gift to me, to my parents, my family, all people around me.”

On the heels of a 22-point, 10-rebound performance Monday in Memphis, Saric had recorded a double-digit scoring output in 23 consecutive contests. The streak is the longest of his career.

“It’s special,” Saric said of being nominated to Team World along with Embiid and Simmons, and the long-term implications it carries for the Sixers. “When you have three players in the Rising Stars Game, that means something really good can happen in the future.”

The development doesn’t bode too badly for the present, either.