For anyone who has been paying attention, Goran Dragic’s ascent to the top of the NBA point guard food chain isn’t a surprise. Those who have been tracking Dragic’s career since the beginning knew just how special a player Dragic could be during Game 3 of the 2010 Western Conference semifinals.
Dragic, then a snot nosed 6-3, 190-pound 23-year-old-kid backing up future Hall of Famer Steve Nash, exploded for a 23-point fourth quarter and carried the Suns to a playoff victory over the Spurs. From that point on, Dragic became one a player everyone in the know raves about but for whatever reason (and in Dragic’s case, a myriad of reasons) can’t seem to breakthrough.
Following that May 2010 evening, Dragic’s career took a series of dizzying twists and turns that nearly derailed him from finally having the breakout season many thought he was capable of. First, Dragic was flipped at the 2011 trade deadline to the Rockets for Aaron Brooks and backed up Kyle Lowry. (Think about damage the the Rockets could have done with a Lowry/Dragic starting backcourt. And folks still want to praise Daryl Morey as a genius. Please.)
After averaging 17.2 minutes on the Rockets to close out the 2011 season, the native Slovenian returned to Europe during the 2011 lockout and played in Spain. Just a day before the lockout ended, Dragic was a involved in the Chris Paul trade that would have landed CP3 in purple and gold and Dragic in the Bayou as a member of the Pelicans before David Stern put the brakes on the deal.
Back to Houston Dragic went. Though he saw an uptick in minutes, jumping from 17.8 to 26.5, Dragic was still in a reserve role behind Lowry. In March 2012, Lowry was forced to miss a few games with a bacterial infection and Dragic ran with the opportunity, earning Western Conference Player Of The Week. Following the season, Dragic made his return to Phoenix, inking a four-year, $30 million contract. No longer in Nash’s or Lowry’s shadow, Dragic was given the keys to the offense and posted a respectable 14.7 points, 7.4 assists per game to set the table for his breakout 2013-14 campaign.
After five seasons of playing the backup role and one year as a starter, Dragic finally proved that those who lauded him as a starting point guard were correct. Under the tutelage of first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek, “Dragon,” as he’s referred to by the Suns play-by-play team, led the upstart Suns to a shocking 48 wins and averaged 20.3 points (on just 14.4 shots) and 5.9 assists along the way. Robbed of an All-Star bid, Dragic was awarded for his efforts with the 2014 Most Improved Player honor and a spot on the All-NBA Third-Team.
This season, Dragic and the Suns won’t be sneaking up on anyone and, individually, the pressure on Dragic with a new contract looming is high. Considering the way his backcourt mate Eric Bledsoe racked up, and Dragic may be in line for a max/near-max deal in a relatively weak 2015 free agent class.
Dragic’s 2013-14 campaign saw him become just the 12th player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, shoot 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Compared to the ‘12-13 season, Dragic’s shooting percentage jumped from 44.3 percent to 50.5 percent and his three-point shooting jump from 31.9 percent to 40.8 percent and his scoring jump from 14.7 ppg to 20.3 ppg.
To get the big-money contract offers likely coming his way, the 28-year-old Dragic will have to make another statistical jump to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. With a bullseye on his back, that’s much easier said than done.
What makes Dragic so intriguing is that his game is unlike any of the other top point guards in the NBA. A lefty, Dragic’s best weapons are his excellent footwork and ability to finish strong through contact at the rim. Fast moving north to south, he isn’t overly quick but fools defenders with herky-jerky head fakes, ball fakes and bullies his way to the rim against smaller guards.
He isn’t the athlete Russell Westbrook is, can’t pass like Rondo, doesn’t have the ball-handling skills of Kyrie Irving, nor can he shoot like Steph Curry. Shit, by the end of the season he might not even be the best point guard on his own team.
But what Dragic can do better than just about any other point guard is put the ball in the damn basket. If the season goes according to plan, that skill will lead him to being one of the highest-paid floor generals in the League. If he can’t match last season’s output or plateaus, Dragic could go from Top-20 to not mentioned at all. Pressure’s on.
|#SLAMTop50 Players 2014|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.