Goran Dragic: The Rise of the Dragon

Let’s hit the rewind button back to, oh, say around September right before NBA training camps opened. What if I came to you with a preseason prediction for the Phoenix Suns, make it a bold one at that. The prediction? Two weeks away from the All Star break, the Phoenix Suns will be sitting as the 6th seed in the Western Conference, 11 games above .500. Upon hearing this prediction, I’m assuming most of you, even myself, would laugh hysterically, probably block me on Twitter and report me for Spam. Am I right?

Well, believe it or not that’s what has managed to transpire thus far this season as the Phoenix Suns have exceeded every expectation given. The success for this obviously has to start at the top with head coach Jeff Hornacek. But, it’s been the play of point guard Goran Dragic that has helped flipped the Phoenix Suns from potential conductors of the tank to playoff contenders.

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The Slovenian guard entered the league during the 2008-2009 season, used primarily as Steve Nash’s backup, but was seen by the organization as the heir apparent to Nash. His shinning moment coming in the 2010 playoffs where he tallied off 23 fourth-quarter points against the San Antonio Spurs. His tenure with the Suns didn’t last for long, and halfway through the 2010-2011 season Phoenix traded Dragic to the Houston Rockets for Aaron Brooks. Dragic spent the last half of the 10′-11′ season and the lockout shortened 11′-12′ season with Houston. An injury to then starting point guard Kyle Lowry, gave Dragic an opportunity to shine, rising to notability.

i-5Becoming a free agent after the 2011-2012 season, Goran Dragic decided to return to the Phoenix Suns when he inked a three-year deal worth $34 million. His first season back in Phoenix was disastrous, the club changing coaches during the season, floundering to a 25-57 finish. Dragic saw his points per game increase, but his field goal and three-point percentages dropped. As the 2013-2014 season began many believed that this year would be a repeat of last season, possibly even worse. So far, it’s been anything but, and the Phoenix Suns are flourishing and Goran Dragic is having his best year to date as a pro.

Dragic has always been a solid point guard, that’s undeniable, but with Jeff Hornacek now manning the ship, it’s allowed Dragic to show his true abilities as player. Hornacek caters the offense to suit each of his players strengths; most notably putting PJ Tucker in the left corner where he’s shooting 50% from deep, utilizing Channing Frye’s ability to shoot by using him as a stretch four in the pick-and-roll. Dragic’s best attributes are his speed, quickness, ball handling and his ability to finish around the rim. Hornacek’s offense has allowed Dragic to best utilize those assets.

This season Dragic is averaging a career high in points and field goal percentage, at 19.9 ppg while shooting 50% from the field, per NBA.com. He’s averaging a respectable 6.1 assists per game and has seen his 3P% increase to 39%, up from 31.9% last year.

Per Synergy Sports, the majority of Goran Dragic’s offense comes from the pick-and-roll at 38.2%, where 47.3% of those plays end in a score. And accordingly, as the Suns are best fast break team in basketball, transition is where the other major portion of Dragic’s offense comes from, at 25.5%, finishing 58.1% of his attempts.

In a half court setting the Phoenix Suns spread the floor, assembling shooters on the wings, at times having one big on the block, usually Miles Plumlee (if Channing Frye is setting the screen), the other big setting the screen. Below are a couple of clips of recent plays made by Dragic using the pick-and-roll.

Coming off the screen, Dragic has a plethora of options. He has room to attack the rim, hit the roll man or one of the three (four, Frye is setting the screen) shooters, standing on the wings. What creates the biggest problem for opposing teams and where Dragic is the most lethal, is attacking the rim off the screen. Dragic puts the big defending the pick-and-roll on an island and with his speed and ability to finish, it puts the defense at a disadvantage.

In transition is where Dragic can be even more potent. On defense, once the Suns have secured the rebound Dragic at times, can be seen near half court ready for the outlet pass. Again, below is a series of clips from Dragic in transition.

Once Dragic gets the outlet pass, he’s shot out of cannon, turning into a blur as he sprints down the floor. As seen in the clips above, Dragic’s speed in the open floor causes nightmares for teams trying to get back in transition. Add in his ability to weave around defenders and finish at the rim, Dragic in transition is a sight to see.

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As good as Goran Dragic is in the pick-and-roll and in transition this season, he’s excelled in another area that may be more important than the former, leadership. Before his injury at the beginning of January, Eric Bledsoe and Dragic formed a dynamic duo, some calling them the “Slash Brothers”. When Bledsoe was rule out indefinitely, many began to speculate whether or not the Suns would be able to maintain their current play without him.

GoranDragicSunsHN1Since the injury, Dragic has not only stepped up in a leadership role, his play has stepped up as well, putting the team on his back. In the month of January, Dragic’s averages were 22.3 ppg, 6.6 asp, while shooting 52.2% from the field and 46% from deep, per NBA.com, the Suns going 9-7, ending the month 28-18 overall. When many thought that without Bledsoe, the Suns would flounder into lottery contention, Dragic’s play and leadership has allowed them stay afloat and become one of more dangerous, exciting teams in the league.

Goran Dragic has been phenomenal this season, garnering much deserved All Star worthy hype. And though, Dragic may not have been selected to the All Star, as reserves were announced this past week, there’s no denying he’s been playing at an All Star level. If the Phoenix Suns are able to resign Eric Bledsoe this offseason, they will be one of the leagues premier duos for years to come. Goran Dragic’s status as a point guard has never been questioned, but this season the Dragon has flown to new heights.

(Via Hoops-Nation.com, Tyler Pleiss. You can follow him on Twitter at @ThePleissIsRite)

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