Thanks to EuroBasket, Dario Saric returns to Sixers more mature, complete

76ers forward Dario Saric drives to the hoop against the Orlando Magic.

With so much excitement surrounding the regular season debuts of rookies Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons, it’s easy to forget some of the core pieces returning from a year ago who will be pushing for minutes in the Sixers lineup.

If you’ve watched any of EuroBasket 2017 so far this summer, you have seen a much more matured and complete player in Dario Saric leading the way for Croatia.

Saric, who averaged 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists in his rookie year for the Sixers, has averaged 15.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists to lead Croatia to a 4-1 record in Group C, including a 107-69 win over the Czech Republic on Thursday.

Going into his second season, many expect Saric to pay a pivotal role in the Sixers’ second unit when the season gets underway in October. With Simmons and Robert Covington projected as the starting forwards for the team, he’ll need to carve out a role and impress the coaching staff in the offseason in order to garner more minutes.

“We have a very, very competitive situation,” coach Brett Brown told 97.3 ESPN on Wednesday. “We will have a very competitive gym in the month of September. People will draw their own line in the sand and claim their own chunk of the rotations and minutes.”

Saric, drafted in 2014, spent two years playing for Turkish club Anadolu Efes before joining the Sixers last season. Several national and local media outlets questioned whether he’d ever join the team before he silenced all of his skeptics last summer. He finished second in the NBA’s Rookie of the Year voting last season to Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon.

Last season, Brown voiced what it means to coach him and what he means to the organization.

“I love Dario Saric,” Brown said. “I love everything about him and I truly mean that. … I just think he does so much and cares so much and represents everything that I’m trying to [teach] to grow our program and have the city be proud of us.”

Having so much talent to pick from is something that Brown has never dealt with in his head coaching career up to this point. How he manages minutes for players like Saric will be a crucial step in the Sixers’ success moving forward. One thing’s for sure, Saric has proven on both the national and international level that he deserves a starting role, whether he’s projected or not.