The departure of veteran Ersan Ilyasova means it's Dario Saric's time to shine.
With Ilyasova being traded to the Hawks Wednesday, Saric is now the man at the power forward spot. The 22-year-old rookie started the first 10 games of the season at the four. The Sixers acquired Ilyasova from Oklahoma City on Nov. 1, and the nine-year veteran took over the starting spot a couple weeks later.
Ilyasova had earned the role, starting 40 of the 53 games he was with the Sixers while averaging 14.8 points per game and shooting 36 percent from three-point range. The native of Turkey also garnered the reputation around the organization for being a "true professional." Especially with the young Croatian, Saric.
But now Saric has earned the starting nod. The 12th pick in the 2014 draft, Saric was acquired from the Orlando Magic on draft night. In perhaps Sam Hinkie's second-best move, he was able to acquire Saric and re-acquire the Sixers' 2017 first-round pick (from the disastrous Andrew Bynum trade) for the rights to point guard Elfrid Payton. It was a two-year wait, but Saric is proving to be worth it.
With an increased role over the last six games, Saric is averaging 19.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. He's also shooting 51 percent from the field during that span. His three-point percentage has dipped a tad (34 percent), but his confidence is growing as he's taking almost six threes a game in the last six games.
Beyond the stat sheet, Saric has been an invaluable catalyst to the team. He brings plenty of grit. He's not afraid to mix it up down low and has grabbed several clutch rebounds. His unselfishness also stands out, most notably in a win against the Kings last month when he dished out six assists. If you haven't heard him talk off the court, he's also a whole lot of fun.
The Ilyasova trade, coupled with the trade of Nerlens Noel, could help out a couple of other Sixers as well. Saric is the only true four on the roster. Even during his impressive run over the last six games, Saric is averaging 27.8 minutes per game. He's played 30-plus minutes only five times this season. He's also played in all 56 games. Fatigue may become a factor for a rookie that's never played 82 games.
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If Jahlil Okafor remains with the team, he'll obviously be the biggest benefactor of all this. It hasn't gone well when Okafor and Joel Embiid have been paired together, but with Embiid's knee injury, Okafor should see plenty of minutes if he's still here.
The other player that stands to benefit is second-year big man Richaun Holmes. Holmes' game is better-suited to play with Embiid. Holmes has shown the ability to hit from the outside and is a much better fit at the four from an athletic standpoint. It'd be interesting to see if Holmes could keep up with an opposing stretch-four.
As for Saric, he now has 26 games to prove to the Sixers that he deserves to be in their starting lineup next season. If he does, the Sixers' future will look even brighter.