PHOENIX – Arizona’s legendary former basketball head coach Lute Olson always talks about how players make their greatest improvements during the summer between their freshman and sophomore seasons.
With that being the case, I can’t wait to see how Goran Dragic looks next year.
Dragic started this season in a backup point guard battle with Sean Singletary and got fairly regular time for about a month, during which time he was pretty awful.
The rookie then spent the better part of three months on the bench for Terry Porter’s squad, before Alvin Gentry took over and started to play him double-digit minutes on a fairly consistent basis.
Near the beginning of Gentry’s tenure at the end of February, the new coach was mic’ed up during a national TV game in Los Angeles and told Dragic to just play without worrying about mistakes.
It was the opposite of what happened under Porter, a coach who always seemed to pull Goran when he messed up (which was often).
Before Gentry took over and rejuvenated Dragic, Suns fans couldn’t believe the organization felt the Slovenian was the best point guard in the draft not named Derrick Rose.
Once Gentry took the shackles off we saw a different player, still a rookie who made mistakes and committed too many turnovers while struggling against pressure, but a player who ferociously drove to the tin (he has a shirt that says he’s dunked more times than Steve Nash to prove it) while also draining key jumpers without hesitation.
With Nash resting, Dragic knocked down a pair of huge threes during the fourth quarter of a March win over Utah and nailed a triple to start a fourth-quarter victory over Denver that same week.
The rookie would not have even attempted those shots in those situations even a month earlier.
In the final month we saw a player who can shoot it from long range and midrange, who can get to the basket and finish and who can deftly find teammates for open shots while even adding in a touch of defense.
Basically he was everything the Suns could ever want in a backup point guard to Nash and point guard of the future.
Granted, Dragic was still inconsistent and has a ways to go in each of those areas, but whereas in the first part of the season he looked like a wasted draft pick, by the end of the year you could see Goran Dragic becoming a pretty damn good basketball player one day.
“I think Goran has shown just how talented he is in terms of his speed and his athleticism,” GM Steve Kerr said. “Once he got comfortable and gained some confidence he showed he can be a very good point guard. I think the depth that those guys (the rookies) will add, along with the defense – Goran’s defense is underrated, he’s got long arms, he’s quick – so that’s the goal as we go forward.”
Dragic has a busy summer ahead of him, as he plans on playing for the Suns’ summer league team with fellow rookie Robin Lopez before working out with the Slovenian National Team for a few months and playing in the European Championships in Poland.
What I really can’t wait to see, though, is how much his confidence improves by the time the 2009-10 season tips off.
Dragic told the Suns’ official site at the end of the season that this year was “really fun” and that he enjoyed just playing next to stars such as Shaq and Steve Nash, a player he’s always looked up to and presumably has helped him immeasurably this year.
“For me personally it was really good, not for team, just for me,” Dragic told Suns.com. “I’m going to be ready for next season. I’m going to be in shape. It’s definitely going to be better than this season.”
This year Dragic must have shown up to camp and seen the names “Nash,” “O’Neal” and “Hill” next to his locker and wondered if he belonged.
Sure, he certainly isn’t close to their level yet, but at least he won’t have the kid in the candy store look in his eyes that any normal 22-year-old would have walking into such a room.
We already saw it last year where the first month’s timid Goran Tragic turned into the no-hesitation shooting and fearless driving Goran Dragic.
If Dragic improves the way Olson expects rookies to do so after their first season, the Suns may have finally found Nash’s backup.
As for that point guard of the future moniker?
Let’s wait to see Dragic’s sophomore season before etching that into stone.