Goran Dragic looks to take next step in Year 3

Goran Dragic shined as a second-year player. What will he do for an encore? (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Goran Dragic shined as a second-year player. What will he do for an encore? (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

PHOENIX — As a timid rookie, Goran Dragic didn’t look like a player who belonged in the NBA, his lack of confidence masking his considerable skill.

But in his sophomore NBA season last year, Dragic became “The Dragon,” Steve Nash’s first quality backup point guard, and a guy who could not only keep the Suns in the game while Nash rested but sometimes even extend a lead.

All season long he led the bench on furious rallies as the starters cheered. Then the playoffs came along, and Dragic allowed the Suns to clinch in Game 6 at Portland with Nash at less than his best; he followed that up with the game of his life by exploding for 23 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3 to beat San Antonio. Suddenly the man once known as “Tragic” was gracing the front of ESPN.com.

Now the question begs, what will he do as an encore?

“I think one of the things about players sometimes is that when you come back when you’ve had a pretty good year and you’ve ended on a real solid note then I think the confidence level really grows,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “I think Goran is kind of in that category right now where the confidence he has has really grown. I think you’ll continue to see him get better.

“His ballhandling has improved, I think you’ll see him run the team a bit little better, I think he’s probably one of the top two or three best athletes we have on the team, so I think you’ll see him continue to improve in that area, and he’s become a better shooter.”

As The Dragon continued to emerge last season while Leandro Barbosa sat with one of his myriad injuries, he made LB less and less relevant. Suddenly the former Sixth Man of the Year was playing less than the Suns’ second-year guard, and with Dragic possessing superior playmaking and defensive skills as well as the ability to play both guard spots, it was almost a foregone conclusion the Suns would dump LB this offseason.

Dragic will once again lead the second unit that he really became a leader on, and he can play some two next to Nash (or even Turkoglu) if the Suns want to go small, giving Gentry another versatile piece on a Suns team that largely lacks positional definition. After entering the past few seasons with few external expectations, the Suns are counting on Dragic to take another couple steps as a third-year player.

“I feel really well,” Dragic said. “The first season I was scared, but this will be my third season so I feel really comfortable with that, and I just want to play my game.”

Dragic could not exactly do that this summer as one of the leaders of the Slovenian national team. At first he was wondering where his teammates were as he pushed the ball with a group of teammates used to a much slower pace.

But for the first time at that level of competition, Dragic was the player his team relied on for clutch play to win basketball games. He led his team in scoring (12.7 points per game) and assists (4.1 per contest), and in the games when Dragic struggled his team did as well.

Still, he managed to will a team few thought had a chance of advancing in the medal round to a 4-1 record in group play and a round of 16 win before dropping three straight in the medal round to finish eighth.

“I would say first before the World Championship nobody was saying that you’re going to make first eight, everybody was saying we were going to battle for 14th place and behind,” Dragic said. “Maybe before the World Championship I would take that eighth place, but after the World Championship I was a little disappointed because the first round we played really well and I thought we were going to make maybe in the semifinals, but still it’s a great success for us, a small country.”

The book on Dragic is to force him right, and as we saw in the FIBAs that’s a plan of attack that can thwart The Dragon, especially when he’s a team’s primary scoring option. He said he’s been working on a number of aspects of his game, but none is more important than improving his right hand. It’s an obvious hole, and if he improves that he could be lethal.

Dragic established himself as an NBA player last season; now it’s time to take the next step. With Nash around, he won’t get the keys to the car for another couple years, but he should be one of the better backup point guards in the NBA next season.

“We expect a lot from him this year, I think we all trust in him greatly,” Nash said. “We’re excited for his development not only for him as an individual but for our team. We think he can have a huge impact on our team. When he plays well we’re really tough to beat.”

The preseason is here

The Phoenix Suns open preseason play tonight at 7 p.m. MST at Sacramento. As Schmitz wrote yesterday, figuring out rotations will be one of the most crucial aspect of the exhibition season for the Suns.

Tags: Goran Dragic

  • Steve

    I’m still not very high on Dragic. I think he can be a good NBA player, but I don’t think he’s ever going to be a top-tier talent. Are we really going to be mentioning Dragic in the same breath as Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, and Rajon Rondo? My guess is no.

  • http://www.youtube.com/gordonsvideoresume Gordon

    Rajon Rondo is overrated… Paul, Williams, Rose are better than Goran. Westbrook and Rondo are on par with Goran.

  • KJ Loyalist

    Doesn’t matter how he compares to any of those names listed. How silly.

    What is more important is how he can eventually lead a team dictated by the system that is installed for him.

    People keep talking about Rondo. I supposed it’s because he got a ring. That was more do to him coming in and being surrounded by an awesome trio of Garnet, Truth, and Jesus.

    Great on-ball defender, good with his hands. Great slasher.

    Outside of that, what? He has no outside shot. He is wobbly at best from the stripe. He has no perimeter game. If Boston doesn’t keep elite players around him, he will fall quickly.

    What has Paul done that Goran hasn’t in the stats that matter? Williams? Rose? Only Paul has really won a playoff game by himself. Goran has already done that on a couple of occasions and he’s not even starting.

    In year 3, nobody ever thought that Steve Nash would be mentioned with the greatest point guards of all time let alone a “good” point guard. It’s easy to say: “well you can’t compare him to Nash” but at the time, Nash was in the same position in year 3.

    I’ll keep Dragon and his outside shot. His slashing. His on-ball defense. His vision. His hustle. and his progression.

  • Auggie

    I second KJ loyalist’s post.

  • Steve

    I agree that Rondo has no perimeter game, but at this point in his career, he doesn’t need it to dominate games. When he slows down, he’s going to find a nice warm spot on the bench if he doesn’t pick up his shooting, but there isn’t a need to spot that hole in his game when the rest of his game elevates him to better performances than any other point guard in the playoffs last season. Rondo is overrated if people consider him a top 3 PG in the league. He is not overrated if you consider him to be top 6.

    “What is more important is how he can eventually lead a team dictated by the system that is installed for him.”

    If we build our system around Goran, we are going to be terrible. We can’t fashion our game to the strengths of Goran, because the strengths of Goran simply aren’t that strong.

    What I see out of Goran is a good athlete with a great feel for the game on the defensive end. On the offensive end… different story. Here’s what I see:

    Relatively poor set-offense vision, mediocre open-court vision, sub-par handling, good 3PFG shooting, sub-par finishing ability, sub-par mid-range game, lack of versatility (aka no right hand).

    It’s clear to me that he has the talent to be a decent scoring guard in this league. But play-making isn’t something that can easily be taught. Guys either have it or they don’t. I don’t think he has it. I don’t think Goran is ever going to get to the point where he’ll have 15/15/5 games with two turnovers, three steals, and a block. I just don’t think he’s that caliber player. He reminds me more of a Manu than a PG, but he doesn’t have NEAR the skillset of Manu.

    I like Goran. I want him to succeed. I want him to lead my Suns to a championship. I just also want to be a realist.

    Btw, your PG analysis was quite entertaining. The fact that you would consider Goran on par with Westbrook (twice the points, three times the assists, twice the turnovers, twice the rebounds, four times the blocks, twice the steals…) is astounding to me. I’m not calling Westbrook the second coming or anything, but what has Goran done that makes you think he is on par with Westbrook? Goran might have the potential, but Westbrook has DONE it (and Westbrook is two years younger, at that).

    “What has Paul done that Goran hasn’t…”

    Is that a serious question? Chris Paul, the definition of efficiency at PG (even more so than my beloved Nash), did more in his broken season last year than Goran has done in his career. I hate Chris Paul, but until Goran averages 19/11 with over 2 steals per game (Paul’s numbers last year), I’m not going to pretend Goran has anything on Paul. Same with Williams.

  • Joe

    Steve, Dragic when averaging his numbers to 38 a game which is what the guys you mention, and the great players average, he comes up with very respectable offensive numbers.

    As far as his right hand, I suggest we remember the savage spinning streak past the Lakers finishing with his right hand.

    The man is the real deal, give him his due respect.

    Let’s do his numbers per 38 min.

    points 16.6 assists 6.3 steals 1.1 rebounds 4.2

  • Steve

    Most bench guys will have somewhat respectable averages if you stretch them out for 38, especially if they play in a fast-paced system like Phoenix, where there are lots of boards to be had and tons of shooters to convert assists and create opportunities for scoring. Stretching a bench player’s minutes isn’t a reliable method of talent assessment. They come off the bench for a reason. The guy ahead of them is better, and when they get their minutes, they’re usually playing against the other team’s number two option at that position.

    I don’t consider myself an NBA scout or anything, but there are certain things about fairly young players that are indicators of how their careers will play out. What I see out of Goran is not superstar potential. I’ve never said he was terrible. I’m just saying he’s never going to be a top 5 PG in the NBA. Maybe top 10. I’m almost positive he’ll be top 15. But the ceiling on this guy seems lower to me than what most Suns fans are willing to accept.

  • Joe

    Yes, when you are behind Steve Nash at this stage of your career…that is not exactly what I would call lack of ability. To me, I would consider it a blessing to be mentored by Steve Nash.

    I simply showed that his stats are comparable the above listed players. It’s almost like people looking at Kevin Love’s stats and then proclaiming him to be 2nd tier before understanding that when given minutes the man pulls down close to 18 points and 18 rebounds!

    Dragic is the same, he has been given time and when given the opportunity, has embarrassed many top flight players.