Point guard Goran Dragic leads the Suns in scoring with 14.1 points per game. He’s tops on the team in assists (6.1apg), steals (1.5spg) and Player Efficiency Rating (17.4). He may be the only member of the Suns deserving of the word “consistent” this season.
He also might be the worst point guard Phoenix has had in 15 years.
That’s no knock on “The Dragon”, whose nickname is more proof that Dragic might end up being the lone (and marketable) bright spot in an otherwise trying season. The truth is, however, that Dragic inherited the point guard spot after a long list of All-Star quality floor generals, including three potential Hall-of-Famers.
Steve Nash. Jason Kidd. Kevin Johnson. Stephon Marbury (don’t laugh, we’ll get there). It’s a pedigree — with all due respect to University of Arizona alum Michael Schwartz — strong enough to call Phoenix the elite point guard producer in the nation.
Here’s a look at Dragic’s predecessors and how he stacks up to them (note, this breakdown does not include the period between the Suns’ trade of Marbury to New York and signing Steve Nash, otherwise known as “a really, really bad time”):
Steve Nash (1996-1998, 2004-2012
Stats: 14.4 ppg, 9.4 apg, 3.1 rpg, 1.2 spg, 50.4 FG%
Similarities: It’s worth wondering if Dragic ever thinks about the similarities that do exist between him and Nash. It might give him more confidence. Like Nash, Dragic started his career as a backup in Phoenix before being traded away (Nash to Dallas in ‘99, Dragic to Houston in 2011).
As they did with Nash, the Suns decided to reacquire Dragic after their previous point guard moved on (or, in Marbury’s case, was moved on).
It’s hard to blame Phoenix for pursuing Dragic, an above-average scorer and a much better defender. He also shows a similar knack for seeing all his teammates on the floor, an ability which makes him an exceptional passer, though the Slovenian’s 6.1apg look paltry to Nash’s numbers while in Phoenix ().
Then again, Gortat/Dudley/Scola isn’t exactly Stoudemire/Marion/Richardson, is it?
Differences: The shooting, for one. In eight seasons with Phoenix, Nash’s shot dipped below 50 percent just once, and that was by a whopping .008 percentage points. Dragic is currently hovering just under 45 percent.
Another point on their shooting is the “when.” Whenever Nash sensed the game might be slipping out of control or if crunch time buckets were needed, he’d step up.
Like this (starting at 0:43):
Dragic has donned the cape a couple times for Phoenix, but is far more comfortable playing within the flow of the game than putting his personal stamp on it. There are a million other differences between the two, but that might be the most glaring.
One other difference worth noting: Nash made teammates better. A lot better. It’s a big reason why management never never felt bad about slowly whittling the talent around him. They knew Nash would probably make it work, and he usually did.
If anything, the Suns are under-achieving this season, though that’s not Dragic’s fault as much as Michael Beasley’s. Still, Nash had an effect that helped boost his teammates’ numbers between two-to-four points per game, an effect Dragic has yet to achieve.
Stephon Marbury (2001-2004)
Stats: 21.3 ppg, 8.1 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 spg, 43.9 FG%
Similarities: Marbury played in China and the “Dragon” would be a popular nickname there? Sorry, moving on.
Differences: Swagger. Marbury carried himself on the court like he was Jordan, even when everyone in the arena (or shouting at the TV) knew he wasn’t.
The Suns probably wish Dragic had more swagger than he does now. Maybe he just needs to visualize Sasha Vujacic before every game.
The thing is, Marbury played like that all the time. Granted, his lack of efficiency made that more of a bad thing than a good thing, but that was the reason the Suns picked him as their new point guard in the first place: he wasn’t afraid of the moment.
Jason Kidd (1996-2001)
Stats: 14.4 ppg, 9.7 apg, 6.4 rpg, 2.1 spg, 41.9 FG%
Similarities: Like Kidd, Dragic can stuff a stat box, though not nearly as often or to the degree Kidd did. Defensively, they have similar height and length that allow them to hawk the ball (again, Kidd was far more consistent with this).
Neither of them should ever bleach their hair, though only one ever did it.
Differences: Kidd was a pitbull, particularly when grabbing a rebound. Once he secured the ball, Kidd started the fast-break by himself. Since he rebounded the ball at such a high rate for a guard, that become something opposing defenses had to account for every game.
Kidd was also a triple-double machine and dominated games without needing to score. He did this to the point that he finished fifth in MVP voting in 1999 despite the Suns finishing with a 27-23 record.
People talk about how Nash made players around him better, but Kidd helped the Suns sneak into the playoffs every one of his years in Phoenix despite his best teammates being Rex Chapman, Hot Rod Williams, a surgically repaired Penny Hardaway, and a rookie Shawn Marion.
Unless Dragic makes a leap to Kidd-level, the Suns probably won’t make the playoffs until he sees better teammates around him.
On the flip-side, opponents would play Kidd the way they play Rajon Rondo today, daring him to shoot (Kidd was a terrible shooter in his early years). Dragic has a lot more respect in that category.
Kevin Johnson (1987-2000)
Stats: 17.9 ppg, 9.1 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.5 spg, 49.3 FG%
Similarities: Remember that 23-point fourth quarter Dragic exploded for against San Antonio in the 2010 playoffs?
KJ played like that all the time…when he was healthy. That was Johnson’s Achilles’ heal, just like assertiveness is Dragic’s issue.
When they shrug(ged) their respective kryptonite aside, however, Johnson and Dragic are remarkably similar. They both have/had an amazing knack for getting to the rim and passing through traffic. They were/are willing passers, but able to take over the offense themselves when needed.
Differences: Johnson was much better, much sooner, for much longer. Here’s a look at his most healthy years in the league.
1988-89: 20.4 points, 12.2 assists, 4.3 rebounds, 46.3%FG
1989-90: 22.5 points, 11.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 50.5%FG
1990-91: 22.2 points, 10.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 49.9%FG
1991-92: 19.7 points, 10.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 47.9%FG
If Dragic approaches those numbers just one year, Suns fans’ kids would be fighting to wear his No. 1 the way Phoenix kids fought to wear No. 7 in the early 90s.
Again, though, Johnson’s health was a constant worry. People forget he missed nearly half of the 1992-93 season, the year Phoenix made the Finals.
People also forget this was because Johnson foolishly tried to lift rookie Oliver Miller (315 pounds) off the ground during a preseason game. The consequent hernias completely derailed his health for the rest of his career.
Between that and Johnson’s horrendous 3-point shooting (he shot better than 22 percent from deep just twice in his career), Dragic has a couple things going for him.
You can follow Matt Petersen’s Suns-related thoughts/updates on Twitter at @SunsPetersen.