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The Philadelphia 76ers and their "Other Rookies"

A lot of attention has been given to the Philadelphia 76ers and their #1 selection from the 2016 NBA Draft, former LSU Tiger Ben Simmons. Simmons is a fantastic talent and could fill up stat sheets every game for the young, rebuilding Philly squad. However, the Sixers genuinely believe that they have three candidates for 2016 Rookie of the Year: Simmons, 22-year old Croatian power forward Dario Saric, and 22-year old former Kansas Jayhawk Joel Embiid.

Saric was drafted in 2014 by the Orlando Magic and later had his contract rights traded to Philadelphia while he played until 2016 for Anadolu Efes S.K. in the Turkish Basketball League. Meanwhile, Embiid was drafted 3rd overall in the 2014 NBA Draft after averaging 23.1 minutes, 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game en route to winning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, but has yet to play a game in the NBA due to persistent and serious health issues.

With additional young talent like Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, and interesting young players with potential like Jerami Grant and Nik Stauskas, it is easy to see how two 2016 rookies who were drafted two years ago could get a little lost in the shuffle. However, when it comes time to think about potential sleepers for the 2016-2017 NBA season, don't let Saric and Embiid slip your mind. When the Sixers say they have three players who could win ROY, they aren't blowing smoke, and there are many good reasons why you should keep these two dormant prospects on the tip of your tongue as the regular season draws nearer.


Dario Saric

After Kristaps Porzingis was a breakout star for the Knicks last season, expect the annoying trend of drafting untested European players to continue in the NBA for a few more years until we witness another catastrophe like 2003 when Darko Milicic was selected 2nd overall before Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade. However, Dario Saric was no such reach at the 12th overall in 2014 and could reward the Sixers big time for their patience in acquiring him to stash in Europe for two years. He brings a variety of weapons that he was able to showcase throughout his European career. In the 2015-2016 season he played in 24 games and averaged just 22.5 minutes per contest. In that time he was able to average 11.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.5 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game. However, Saric has shown impressive peaks in each statistical category. He has averaged as much as 12.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steal, and 0.9 blocks per game; which he did in the 2013-2014 season in which he played 32.8 minutes per game.

Saric played at his best efficiency ever for his five year European basketball season in 2015-2016 for Anadolu Efes Istanbul. He produced at a rate of 18.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.7 blocks per 36 minutes played. Since 2011 Saric has a Euro-career average of 15.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.0 steal, and 0.7 blocks per 36 minutes; so he has been proving himself as a versatile forward since he was 17 years old for KK Zagreb. The most notable and important stride that he has made has been in the volume and accuracy of his long-range shooting. Between 2011 and 2015, Saric averaged just 1.95 3PT field goal attempts per game and never shot at a higher percentage for a season than 30.8%. Last season, however, Saric made great efforts to perpetuate the "European Big-Guys Who Can Shoot" stereotype by increasing his volume of attempts from beyond the arc with 3.0 shots per game and shot at a fantastic clip of 40.3%.

Dario Saric has proved himself year after year in Europe from the age of 17 to 22. He can score, he can rebound, he has a decent eye for passing, he packs more grit in terms of steals and blocks than the average European forward, and his 3PT shooting went from mediocre and practically invisible to razor-sharp and quite prevalent. For a young and untested 76ers core, it would seem likely that Saric will eat up more than his 22.5 minutes per game from last season, especially if he can stretch the floor with a much-needed infusion of shooting for the 76ers. If that happens, well, he has shown us what he can do with increased floor time. While the trend of drafting teenage European projects in hopes of returns four to five years down the line like an MLB organization may have gone a bit far this year, Saric has certainly put substance behind the chatter about his potential in the NBA.

Bottom Line: Fantasy owners should target Saric in fantasy drafts as a sleeper pick who could produce rebounding and three point shooting, along with slightly above-average assists for a power forward.


Joel Embiid

To watch Joel Embiid try to finally make his NBA debut has been a lot like watching Greg Oden trying to live up to his #1 overall hype or Derrick Rose just trying to stay on the floor for a team that had so many pieces in place. It had looked continuously less promising with every miserable set back that the Cameroon-native had sustained, but he's now seemingly finally healthy and you shouldn't let his health issues distract you from what he is capable of if he finally gets to see the floor. After all, that is what a sleeper is.

Joel Embiid is apparently still growing, and at a weed-like rate, which is quite frightening considering he wasn't exactly a small guy when he came out of Kansas. He is currently listed at 7'2'' and 250 lbs. His doctors have speculated that he could be as tall as 7'6'' by the time he takes the court in the "City of Brotherly Love". Even when compared to other famous and unusual growth spurts, this one is still jaw-dropping. Embiid has always been known to be exceptionally athletic for his gargantuan size, and he has peppered social media with dynamic videos of himself dunking and showing off his athleticism in his time recovering from injury.

There's the snag. The injuries have always been the biggest problem, and quite possibly the only problem when thinking about Joel Embiid. The Sixers didn't allow Embiid to play in the Summer League, which is quite reasonable considering the delicate nature of the situation. He has now progressed to the point in his rehabilitation where he is taking part in legitimate 5vs5 work. His foot is reported to be healthy, he has yet to experience an off-season setback, and he is projected to be more than ready to play once the 2016-2017 season starts. There are even hopes that he can get a couple of tune-up games in during the NBA preseason. As far as health indications go, that is about as optimistic as they get for Embiid's type of situation.

With Joel Embiid, there has never a concern on whether he can play, the concern has always been whether he CAN play. Considering that the highly talented center is looking healthy, is on the right track towards starting the season in stride like he never missed a day...let alone two years, and is apparently growing like bamboo or the alien from Space Jam who stole Shawn Bradley's talent; things are looking brighter than ever for Embiid and the Philadelphia franchise.

Bottom line: If he can stay on the floor, the impressive and athletic Embiid should be a strong source of rebounding and blocks, with the finishing moves to score plenty of high-efficiency points catching the ball from Ben Simmons.


How the Rest of the Team Impacts Saric and Embiid

As we have mentioned before, the rebuilding Sixers have plenty of exciting talent in the youth department. Only so much playing time can go around in a regulation NBA game, but fortunately for Saric and Embiid, the Sixers have been getting by for the last few seasons with cheap patch work and conservative roster construction.

Philadelphia's roster leaves a lot to be desired in the back court and they are still being forced to use a herd of aging veterans and undrafted no-names. They currently have bargain basement free agents like Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson; past-their-prime type players like Elton Brand, Sergio Rodriguez, and Carl Landry; former second-round picks Richaun Holmes and Jerami Grant; and undrafted players like Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, Brandon Paul, and Hollis Thompson. Now to be fair: Former Michigan Wolverine Nik Stauskas has been a bit disappointing in his pro career but he still holds plenty of promise, French shooting guard Timothe Luwawu could provide more rookie support from the wing this season if he's not stashed in Europe, and unheralded floor generals like McConnell and Kendall Marshall have given impressive performances at the point for a team that was going through one of the worst stretches in the history of the NBA.

Regardless of the production and potential offered by the Sixers' economy back court, it should come as no surprise that their guard play is where the team is weakest; while the team has so much young depth in the front court that they have been openly marketing Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Joel Embiid on the trade block for awhile. If they wanted to; they could roll out the biggest team in the NBA on a nightly basis with Ben Simmons running the offense, Saric getting minutes as an over-sized small forward, and the center trio of Noel-Okafor-Embiid rotating in two at a time and keeping a constant wall of 7-foot+ in the paint. While the rest of the NBA is moving towards "Small Ball" and the style of play that the Warriors have made so sexy in the last couple of years, Philadelphia could move towards a style dominated by athletic and physically imposing big men who bring versatility and technical skill in combination with their intimidating physiques.

If Embiid ever gets traded, that will affect him on a case-by-case basis. However, if Noel or Okafor eventually end up getting dealt, then that means a couple very important things: 1: The 76ers trust in Joel Embiid's health enough that they would be willing to roll the dice and make him their official "Center of the Future" and 2: Embiid wouldn't have to split playing time with two other phenomenally talented front court players. A future trade for a Philadelphia PF/C could be potentially earth shattering, so that is certainly a story line to keep your eye on.

At 6'10'' with his well-rounded play, proven competitive track record even at such a young age, and newly found dead-eye shooting touch, Dario Saric probably has a clearer path to consistent and meaningful playing time than Embiid does. While Ben Simmons matches Saric in height at 6'10'', they are very different players stylistically and what they will be asked to do should keep them out of the others way. Robert Covington and Jerami Grant certainly have value in more category-specific roles, but they don't offer the versatility that Saric does and all of these 2nd Round-Undrafted players are likely to find themselves in significantly reduced roles as the Sixers are eager to get their future stars underway with NBA development.

Everyone is well aware that Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, and Ben Simmons will be lighting up fantasy draft talk. The more informed echelon of Fantasy Basketball Managers may also still be on the lookout to see if Marshall or McConnell can repeat their high-volume assist figures for the improved Philly squad. It is vital to remember that in between the stars and the mega-sleepers, sit Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. They both hold incredible potential and could truly compete for the ROY award alongside teammate Simmons if their respective situations play out favorably.

If Embiid remains in top shape then he could immediately contribute heavily in scoring, rebounding, blocks, and steals. If Saric gets the increased playing time that he should probably be receiving in light of Philadelphia's current rag-tag wing crew; he can immediately contribute in scoring, rebounding, 3PT FG, and 3PT% with some sneaky sleeper potential in assists, steals, and even blocks.

It is an exciting time to be a Philadelphia 76er, an exciting time to watch NBA rebuilding processes, and an exciting time to believe in dense youth as a Fantasy Basketball Manager. Ben Simmons was forced to put his Tiger team on his back in college in the 19 games they managed to win. As a rookie in Philadelphia for the 2016-2017 season, he will have incredibly talented rookie teammates Joel Embiid and Dario Saric to relieve him of some of the load. It is even possible that by the year's end, one of the two will be lifting more than the #1 overall draft pick. Maybe even both, who knows? One thing we do know: both Embiid and Saric possess the talent to take the league by storm.

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