PHOENIX — Confidence has long been a critical component of Goran Dragic’s success, the lack of which has led to his struggles.
As a rookie in 2008-09, Dragic played timid most of the time to earn the nickname “Tragic” and at one point early in his rookie season I wondered if Sean Singletary might be a better backup.
He returned as a sophomore with a renewed sense of confidence and led the Suns’ best bench of the Nash era to surprising heights.
But his confidence regressed once again in his third campaign playing with an oddly-composed and ever-changing bench unit, and the Suns traded Dragic to Houston as his confidence waned throughout the season.
That’s why I found Luis Scola’s answer about how Dragic improved most throughout his season and a half as a Rocket so interesting.
“I think mostly his best improvement is the confidence,” Scola said. “He needed to be in the court playing significant minutes and also knowing that he’s got the chance to fail and then keep playing. Being the backup point guard for him is a little tough, and when he finally got a chance to play more minutes and play with more confidence he had a chance to make more mistakes without a lot of consequences, and that makes him play even more and make even less of those mistakes.”
If it weren’t for the Argentinean accent and the lack of “Mmm kays,” I would have thought that was Alvin Gentry speaking in 2009-10. Gentry constantly said many of those same things during Dragon’s sterling second season.
Not surprisingly, Gentry raved about the improvement in Dragic’s confidence once again at Thursday’s press conference.
“The thing for me that I noticed the most is that his confidence level is at an all-time high,” the head coach said. “In this league that becomes a really important thing. I think that he feels that he belongs now, he can line up and play against anyone in the league.”
I asked Gentry if he feels Dragic has turned a corner in that regard since he did play with confidence at times as a Sun, and he said that players eventually reach a level where they can put bad games behind them much quicker, which wasn’t always the case for the young Dragon.
Dragic’s confidence finally reached that level when he became “that guy” at the point guard spot for the Rockets following Kyle Lowry’s injury.
No longer was Dragic playing eight minutes and then making way for Steve Nash no matter how good he was going. Instead he was able to run for 35-40 minutes and play through whatever mistakes he made.
Now, this happened on a smaller scale in Phoenix as Gentry gave him a good amount of rope and encouraged him not to worry about mess ups, but never had he enjoyed this kind of freedom to run his own team, the kind of freedom that’s impossible to get with Steve Nash on your roster.
“That gave me a lot of confidence that I can be a starting point guard,” Dragic said of his superb finishing kick.
Dragic’s confidence has grown in terms of his leadership as well. No longer is he that shy kid afraid of taking command of a bench unit full of vets. His court presence is such that he’s not afraid to get in anybody’s face, especially on such a young Suns team.
Dragic even provided veteran leadership this week in Vegas when he asked Gentry if he could talk to Kendall Marshall about his poor first Summer League game “and explain to him it’s no big deal he didn’t play as well as he’d like his first game,” as Gentry remembered it at the presser. “Just remember when I had my first game I left the arena and I went back up in my room and I cried for an hour after the game.”
“I just thought that was great advice, things that he wouldn’t have done a few years ago that he wants to help Kendall in every way that he possibly can,” Gentry said. “I think that those guys are going to be very good together.”
Basketball is a confidence game, and few players need to feel confident quite like Dragic to succeed.
In the end gaining that confidence as a Rocket may have been the best byproduct of the ill-fated Dragic trade to Houston, something that Lon Babby even joked was worth a non-lottery first-rounder.
“My confidence went way up,” Dragic said. “I was not rushing my shots, I was just playing and trying to run the team. I think that’s the main reason I’m a different player now than I was before because I have the opportunity. I don’t have any hard feelings for this organization because I left. I think that was good for me to show all the people what I can do, and I’m really happy to be back.”
Tags: Goran Dragic