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How Dario Saric’s improvement opened door for Ben Simmons and the 76ers

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DETROIT – Dario Saric emerged as a 6-foot-10 playmaker as a 76ers rookie last season. He could initiate the offense, put the ball on the floor and distribute. His size, fluidity and ball skills created mismatches. His 3-pointer was unreliable, though.

That’s the profile of a helpful player.

The only problem: Philadelphia had another – higher-upside – player in the same mold: No. 1 pick Ben Simmons.

Simmons sat out last season with injury, leaving Saric to seize that role and finish second for Rookie of the Year. With Simmons healthy this year, it was unclear how the two would coexist. Only one could handle the ball at a time. The other wouldn’t space the floor.

Saric provided a solution. He increased his 3-point percentage from 31% to 39% while launching 3s even more more often.

“That is the single thing that has made Dario different,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “It’s The. Single. Thing. that’s made Dario different.

“You need a stretch four that can shoot 3s. Europe taught us that two decades ago. And when you look at the modern-day sport, and when you look at end-of-game situations, and it’s only going to be magnified in the playoffs. Watch that position. And he can do it.”

That might be the biggest thing, but it’s not the only thing.

Simmons has become the NBA’s biggest point guard, and Philadelphia’s offense runs through him. Saric’s seconds per touch are down 17%, and his dribbles per touch are down 38%. Only Carmelo Anthony had greater reductions in both categories from last season (minimum: 1,000 minutes each season).

Yet, Saric looks comfortable deferring to Simmons. Saric is making the quicker decisions necessary to thrive as a secondary ball-handler and passer. With the ball less often, Saric has also committed to hitting the offensive glass harder.

“The way he’s been playing helps me, and me improving my game is going to help everybody,” Simmons said.

Saric’s improvements and adjustments have unlocked the NBA’s best heavily used lineup. The 76ers’ healthy starters – Simmons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Saric and Joel Embiid – are outscoring opponents by 21.4 points per 100 possessions, best among the 28 lineups to play 300 minutes this season. That unit scores better than the league’s best offense and defends better than the league’s best defense.

Here are the league’s top lineups with at least 300 minutes, showing the spread from defensive rating (left) to offensive rating (right) with net rating listed. The gray bars represent the NBA’s best defense (Celtics) and best offense (tie between Rockets and Warriors):

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Philadelphia obviously needs an injured Embiid back to use this lineup again. The 76ers have been outscored when Simmons and Saric play together without Embiid. The star center is still so important to this team.

So are Covington and Redick, who are often involved in cross-matching defensively – a necessary product of starting a point guard and power forward of the same height. Saric’s athletic shortcomings limit him defensively, but he makes up for them with high effort.

All in all, Saric has improved from 1.0 win shares last year to 6.5 win shares this year. That 5.5 win-share increase is the NBA’s largest from a previous career high to this season.

Here are the biggest win-share gainers, with the spread from their previous career high (left) to this year (right) and the increase listed:

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Not only has Saric improved immensely, he improved in the exact ways a 76ers team with Simmons at the controls needed.

Even if he needed a season to adjust from the shorter 3-point arc in Europe, few saw this coming from Saric, who had only one good 3-point season overseas. With a massive jump of 31% to 39% from deep, how could anyone have seen this coming?

But those around him aren’t terribly surprised, either. They saw how much he improved throughout his rookie year, and – even if they didn’t know exactly how it would manifest – they believed in him.

“He’s just got that demeanor about him,” Covington said, “that he really took on everything that came his way.”

Was Stephen Curry just using his moon landing comments to promo his new shoe?

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The current social media marketing landscape is sort of a gross place to be. People will do anything for clicks, views, and the idea of “all PR being good PR” is taken to the extreme by many parties.

We live in a world where Kanye West, who made a couple of good albums a decade ago, says something patently crazy in advance of any new marketing campaign as a way to keep his name in the news (and in search engines) prior to the release of a shoe or a new song. It’s not very subtle.

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry appears to have done much the same this week. Curry proposed that he didn’t believe that humans had landed on the moon, prompting widespread discussion of the kind of negative impact those comments can have. NASA wasn’t happy about it.

Both ESPN’s “PTI” and “The Jump” issued commentary on it that was out of the ordinary, and fans denounced Curry for setting a bad example and being “anti-science” and “anti-history”.

And now, just a couple of days later, Curry has a new shoe for you to buy from Under Armour. Imagine that!

Tuesday night Curry was at an event showing off the new shoes, and he even did a Q&A on Twitter. Perfect timing, don’t you think?

Steph, let me tell you buddy. This is not the way to sell a shoe. Well, it is one way to sell a shoe in 2018, but as the two-time NBA MVP and a three-time NBA champion, it’s definitely not the right look for a guy of your stature. This is gross, and inappropriate, and honestly damages the legacy of how people will write about you and view you in the future.

Say it was a bad joke and move on. It’s not worth it to look like you’d sell your soul just to huck some rip-off Kobe 10 All-Stars anyway.

The UA Curry 6 drops soon but I’m not telling you where.

Rumor: Suns not interested in Markelle Fultz

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We finally have a diagnosis for Philadelphia 76ers point guard Markelle Fultz. According to doctors, Fultz suffers from thoracic outlet syndrome, which has hampered his ability to shoot a basketball and be functional on an NBA floor.

There have been rumors that the Sixers want to move on from Fultz. Those rumors have been shot down, but a public denial is not a guarantee against a private admission.

Meanwhile the NBA sphere has started to churn about where Fultz could fit in and start over. An obvious landing spot would be the Phoenix Suns, who have needed a point guard for some time and come with less pressure than Philadelphia.

But according to at least one report from Arizona, the Suns aren’t interested in Fultz. Phoenix radio host John Gambadoro said as much on Twitter on Tuesday.

Via Twitter:

This doesn’t say much. Any information sourced to reporters at this juncture could just as easily be Phoenix driving down the cost of a Fultz trade as it is true information about them not having interest.

Still, the idea of Fultz in Phoenix does make some sense on paper, and if the Suns aren’t interested it adds another layer to the story about where the young point guard might eventually end up. The future doesn’t seem bright for Fultz and the Sixers, but for now we’ll just have to wait.

Kevin Durant on legacy of current Warriors stars: ‘We’ll probably all get statues’

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Will Kevin Durant stay with the Golden State Warriors after this summer?

That’s the question on the mind of everyone in the NBA and particularly the basketball fans in the Bay Area. Durant is rumored to desire a change of scenery, especially if he wins another championship at the end of this year with the Warriors.

If Durant does leave Oakland, what will his legacy be with Warriors fans? It’s hard to determine that right now, just as it would be difficult to know how the organization would deal with honoring Durant after he retires.

No matter what, Durant thinks the best players on this current roster will have their jerseys retired and have statues put up out front of the new arena in San Francisco.

“I know for a fact that we’ll all get out jerseys retired,” said Durant. “We’ll probably all get statues in front of the Chase Center. We’ll be Bay Area legends forever.”

Via Twitter:

There’s no indication from Durant’s comments that he is going to decide to stay with the Warriors, so take them with a grain of salt. I think the Durant is one of the most enigmatic stars to have graced league in the last 30 years, so any assumptions about what he wants is pure speculation.

But, if he leaves, do you really think Golden State would give him a statue?

Rudy Gobert says if officials don’t start protecting him from fouls ‘it’s gonna get ugly’

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Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert has been no stranger to NBA officials this season. The Frenchman has already been fined for his comments on what he believes is poor officiating, and he doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon.

After the Jazz lost a heartbreaker to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, 122-113, Gobert again decided to make it known how he felt about the folks in gray.

Specifically, Rudy Gobert said that if officials weren’t going to start protecting him against other players fouling him with disregard, he would have to take it into his own hands.

Via the Salt Lake Tribune:

“Tonight, someone grabbed my arm, pulled me down — that was a very dangerous play, and I got called for the foul. So if I gotta do justice myself, I’m gonna do justice myself. And it’s gonna get ugly,” Gobert said. “Hopefully I don’t have to do that. I just want to play basketball.”

That’s about as close as we’ll ever get to fighting words in the NBA, and Gobert was probably pretty heated after the loss when he said those things.

Still, officiating has been a question around the league this season, and it’s possible that Gobert has some legitimate complaints. Hopefully the coaching staff and front office in Utah is doing what they can to lobby the league so that Gobert doesn’t take it out on his fellow players. He’s already slapped a water bottle off the scorer’s table this year, and the Jazz can’t afford Gobert boiling over.