Can Dario Saric become the Philadelphia 76ers Chase Utley?

Aug 18, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley (26) signs autographs for fans prior to action against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 18, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley (26) signs autographs for fans prior to action against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The 76ers are welcoming Dario Saric, a rookie looking to make a career-impact on the city of Philadelphia like another athlete has.

The 76ers are going to finally welcome their rookie Dario Saric to the team. He somehow already has the hearts of a lot of fans because of his dedication and willingness to play in Philadelphia.

On 8/16/16 the Philadelphia Phillies fans welcomed home their prodigal son – Chase Utley – with a standing ovation before his first at-bat, followed by Utley demonstrating exactly why he deserved the adulation of the Philly fans.  Via 5 RBIS, 2 homeruns, 2 very brief curtain calls and 1 press conference Utley reminded all the locals exactly how he had won the hearts of the Philly fans over his 13 year tenure in Philly.

While certainly an extremely talented hitter, it was always toughness, leadership by example and a relentless competitiveness that defined his tenure here and was what drove the last Philadelphia World (F’ing) Championship team. Who can forget – Utley getting hit by a pitch and generously returning the ball to the pitcher  –

…his outstanding play fooling a runner and nailing him at home plate –

….and scoring from second on an infield hit –

These are all examples of the approach and very high situational awareness that he brought to the game. He consistently demonstrated his knowledge and respect for the game and could always be counted on to show his work ethic and grit through a very long season and particularly in post-season games.

Fans overlooked his SoCal background and took to him as the quintessential Philly guy.  Girls loved him and guys wanted to be him.  On a team loaded with stars that included Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels,  Ryan Howard as well as Carlos Ruiz, Utley still managed to stand out.

Nerlens Noel
Nerlens Noel /

.  There is great optimism and even substantial basis for expectations that a few of these may ultimately become stars on a par with the Phillies Big 4.

The hype around Jo-Jo is real, and very well warranted, based on his generational combination of massive size with jaw dropping athleticism, topped off with a ‘joie de vivre’ (his first language IS French) that fans already adore before he has even set foot on the court.

More from Philadelphia 76ers

Likewise, the anticipation of Simmons’ arrival is growing by the day with his uncanny ability to throw passes that test certain laws of physics and his budding social media discussions with teammates promising to boost both the win total and entertainment value of the team.

The likely very high draft picks coming in the near future (#hisnamewassamhinkie) that can bring in even more talent to round out a growing roster of stars have many fans both locally and nationwide starting to pay attention again.

This brings us to Dario Saric, where pundits are already questioning his role in a very crowded frontcourt.  A number of scouting reports and scouts acknowledge the role that Saric played for both Anadolu Efes in Turkey and for the Croatian National team in the Rio Olympics (did you see that block?).

The scouting reports were questioning the impact that he can have in the NBA, pointing primarily to a lack of athleticism (did you see that block???) and a slowly improving 3 point shot as limitations that will hamper his future role for the 76ers.

While these are valid concerns and it is possible to probable that Saric’s ultimate role may be as a valuable 6th man, these evaluations overlook the cultural and leadership impact that Saric can have on the exceedingly young 76ers team.

“If I ever have a son,” Kershaw said, “I’m going to tell him, ‘Watch the way that Chase plays the game. That’s the way you want to play the game.’”

A criticism that dogged Utley earlier in his career, particularly while Larry Bowa was the manager was that he was not vocal enough.  Everyone saw and respected how he went about his business, showed up early, prepared and played hard, and left it all on the field.  It was never Utley’s way to be vocal, and it took a little longer, but his leadership approach has arguably ultimately been more effective.

While it is a lot to ask a 22 year old basketball rookie to emulate a local legend, 6 time all-star and borderline hall of famer in another sport, the substantial parallels are there.  Jumping off the page is his decision to join the 76ers after two years in Turkey when waiting just one more year would have enabled him to have a substantially larger payday.

When asked about this curious-to-Americans decision, his response was a simple – “I gave them my word”.  This is actions speaking much louder than the many words spouted by Philly columnists, many of whom ‘guaranteed’ he wasn’t coming over.

‘His determination and basketball IQ are really what makes him such an attractive prospect, and the hope will be that he can overcome his limitations through desire, hard work and dedication –’

Similar to Saric, Utley’s athletic ability was never the differentiating factor, but was overcome by sheer will and determination.  Saric shows many signs of a similar commitment to the game.

A final parallel is his holding himself completely accountable and refusing to make excuses for any performance.  Saric clearly HATES losing, and won’t tolerate less than full effort from himself, and will expect similar production from his teammates.

The modern NBA is a curious place with stars playing the roles of GMs, forming ‘superteams’ and occasionally changing coaches to suit their particular needs.  Stars certainly are important, and if “The Process” is to be successful, the 76ers will need their share of them.  But not every player can be a star, and each team needs much more than just scorers.

Players with a relentless commitment to winning, to being the best at their role, whatever that role may be will always be essential components to a successful team.  It is very early in his professional career, and his Philadelphia 76ers tenure has not yet even begun, but there are as many reasons for optimism about the part that Saric may play for the 76ers as there are for both Simmons and Embiid.

Next: Sixers Trade Kendall Marshall

There is hope that the 76ers may have found their center, and their facilitator.  There are also reasons to believe that the 76ers have found their heart.