Bigger tests certainly await Goran Dragic and Slovenia than their opening game of the FIBA World Championship against Tunisia, but Dragic did all he could with an excellent all-around game in Saturday’s 80-56 victory.
Dragic led Slovenia (1-0) with 16 points and eight assists and was only a few off the team lead with five boards to boot in his team-high 26 minutes of play. The Dragon knocked down 6-of-9 field goal attempts as well.
Slovenia busted the game open with a 24-12 third quarter and cruised in the fourth. The Slovenes joined Team USA and Brazil with opening-day wins in Group B, three teams that are expected to move on from the group.
While Dragic led Slovenia to a 54.4 percent shooting performance, Tunisia (0-1) shot just 33.9 percent and saw just one player reach double figures (Radhouane Slimane with 11 on 3-for-11 shooting). Tunisia does not possess any NBA talent, so it’s no surprise they were dispatched so easily.
That will change in a big way tomorrow when Dragic has Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry to deal with. This will be a monumental challenge for The Dragon squaring off against some of the best young point guards in the NBA playing on a team that obviously can’t match the Americans in talent from top to bottom.
I can’t wait to see how Dragic responds to that challenge. In Phoenix, he is Steve Nash’s backup, so although he did some incredible things on the floor while Nash rested last season, the playmaking burden for the Suns on the whole falls on Nash’s shoulders.
It was a huge positive when Dragic exploded in San Antonio or led the second unit on another monster run, but at this stage of his career he doesn’t face the pressure of being that guy at the point guard spot.
That will not be the case tomorrow. If Dragic does not play an incredible game, Slovenia has no chance. Some might argue Slovenia doesn’t have much of a chance anyway, but they certainly need Dragic’s best just to stay competitive.
In Phoenix he also does not face any teams that gear up to stop just him. He has always shared the court with so many other offensive weapons, but it’s likely that Coach K will be aiming a large part of his defensive game plan at slowing down The Dragon.
Dragic is certainly still very early in his development, but a challenge like this will be a huge barometer for how far Dragic has come.
Turkoglu misfires but does everything else
As for the other Sun in the tournament, Hedo Turkoglu struggled with his shot Saturday but still managed to play a solid all-around game in leading Turkey (1-0) to a 86-47 victory over Ivory Coast (0-1).
Turkoglu failed to hit a field goal in a team-high 30 minutes (0-for-6, 0-for-4 from distance), but he still scored six points from the line, grabbed seven boards, dished out a team-high seven assists and recorded four steals. If you look past the poor shooting performance, Turkoglu actually put together a nice little outing.
I did not see this game, but judging from the assist numbers and how the captain likes to be used (and the fact Turkey doesn’t exactly have a Steve Nash on its team), I would assume Hedo was the primary playmaker in the half court. And although the opponent wasn’t exactly Team USA, Turkey certainly put a lot of points on the board.
I look forward to seeing Turkoglu’s playmaking on display against tougher competition and see whether this was just one cold game or more of what we saw from him last year from the field.
Up next: Dragic and Slovenia face Team USA (1-0) in a showdown at 6:30 a.m. MST on Sunday on ESPN2. Turkoglu and Turkey get Russia (1-0) at 11 a.m. Sunday.