PHOENIX — Justifiable or not, Dario Saric lost his cornerstone label once the Philadelphia 76ers drafted Markelle Fultz with the first pick in June’s NBA draft.
The belief was that Fultz, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons would become the team’s trio of young stars. Saric, even after being last season’s rookie of the year runner-up, was destined to become a role player. Or so we thought.
Fultz has missed 32 games this season due to right-shoulder soreness and the team’s desire to not play him until his shooting mechanics return.
Meanwhile, Saric was the Sixers’ most reliable player in the final three games of their road trip, which concluded Sunday with a 123-110 win over the Phoenix Suns.
The second-year power forward averaged 24 points and 7.3 rebounds while making 12 of 18 3-pointers (66.6 percent) in those matchups. That’s substantially better than his season averages of 13.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 36.6 percent 3-point shooting.
He credits his improvement to “working hard” since the start of last season.
“I need to stay focused and believing in myself, believing in what I’m doing on the court,” said Saric, whose Sixers (17-19) have won two straight and three of their last four games.
Aside from working hard, he couldn’t explain why his numbers and three-point shooting percentage have increased.
Saric scored a team-high 27 points while making four of five 3-pointers and recording three steals on Sunday.
That came one day after he had a team-high 20 points to go with nine rebounds and six assists in a 107-102 win over the Denver Nuggets. On Thursday, in the Sixers’ 114-110 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Saric had 25 points while making a career-high-tying five three-pointers in six attempts, as well as nine rebounds and two steals.
Embiid’s hand injury
Joel Embiid thinks he’ll be fine after injuring his right hand in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game. Postgame X-rays were negative.
“They said it wasn’t broken,” he said. “They think it was sprained. So, I guess, that’s the good news.”
He sustained the injury when he crashed to the floor with 3 minutes, 54 seconds left after colliding with Devin Booker near midcourt. He remained in the game but kept shaking and rubbing the hand.
Embiid said his hand was numb the remainder of the matchup. He didn’t attempt a shot following the fall. However, Embiid went on to grab three rebounds and blocked a shot before leaving the game with 41 seconds left.
“I’m a warrior,” he said. “I want to push through stuff. I want to play. I wanted to be on the court to win the game. That’s what we did.”
The Sixers’ franchise player is also battling back tightness and recovering from knee surgery.