Is Goran Dragic better without Marcin Gortat?

Heading into the 2012-13 season, Marcin Gortat and Goran Dragic were supposed to be the focal points of the Phoenix Suns’ offense. It was assumed by many that Goran Dragic would seamlessly fill Steve Nash’s shoes, especially when it came to running the pick and roll with Gortat. Here’s a fun exercise: close your eyes and try to recall any memorable play involving the two of them. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

I find it difficult to think of a single one – a revelation that perfectly sums up Phoenix’s best laid plans for this season. Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that Gortat was injured for the last six weeks of the season. But part of it has to with the lack of chemistry between the Marcin and Goran.

As partners in pick and roll crime, Dragic and Gortat were never very successful. Their lack of success could be blamed on any number of things including Dragic’s speed, ability to get to the rim, or left handedness. Even though he studied under Nash for some time, Dragic is a very different player and Gortat never seemed to adjust to his new point guard. Now that the season is over, the only thing that’s clear about the Suns’ roster is that Dragic is someone the team will build around. He may have started slowly as he adjusted to new teammates and a full-time starter’s minutes, but he got better and better as the year went on. In fact, he was actually at his best after Gortat got hurt.

Take a look at the following stats chart. The first row is Dragic’s stats with Gortat on the floor. The second shows his production with Gortat on the bench. The third row captures Dragic’s stats after Gortat went down with injury.

Dragic without Gortat Stats

The first thing that stands out is how bad Dragic was with Gortat on the bench over the first two thirds of the season. He shot under 40%, he dished out less than 10 assists per 100 possessions, and his effective field goal %, true shooting %, and points per shot were all lower. The only slight increase was the pace at which the Suns played. These stats make sense because most of the minutes Dragic played with Gortat on the bench were played alongside Phoenix’s second unit players. That means defenses could key on Dragic and make scoring harder for him. Likewise, his assist numbers dropped because he was playing alongside the less-talented members of the Suns’ roster.

But when Gortat went down, Dragic got to play without with the rest of the starters. And that was when the Dragon really spread his wings. Across the board, Dragic was at his best during this stretch of the year. His per game assists and scoring stats were markedly higher. His shooting percentages were all increased, as was his assist rate. The Suns didn’t win many games after Gortat went down, but that didn’t stop Dragic from producing at a near All-Star level for six weeks.

So what spurred Dragic to this incredible run of play? It’s easy to say his improved production was solely a result of increased opportunity as his usage and minutes both increased slightly. But his usage and possession-adjusted stats increased just like his per game stats did, so more opportunity doesn’t tell the whole story. Another factor is the Suns playing a faster pace. Dragic loves to get out in transition and while he’s not SSOL Steve Nash, he definitely showed this year that he’s more effective when running than he is when mired in the half-court.

But the biggest factor seems to be Gortat’s absence. Gortat’s preferred spot to post up is the left block. Catching there, he can drop step to the middle and shoot a right-handed jump hook or turn over his right shoulder and shoot a 5-7 foot baseline jumper. But that spot is directly in Dragic’s preferred path to the basket. Dragic is most effective when penetrating and finishing with his left, but having Gortat in that area made that difficult.

In pick and rolls with Nash, Gortat was used to setting a screen on Nash’s right. That allowed Gortat to roll down the middle and dunk with his right hand or finish off the glass with his left. When Gortat set the same screen for Dragic, it forced Goran to go to his weaker right hand which made him a less effective scorer. With Gortat on the bench and Scola, who preferred to pick and pop for a 17-foot jumper, as the screener, Dragic could get into the lane with ease because there was no teammate crowding him. Dragic’s speed and ability to get to the rim make him the ideal partner for a player like Scola. Luis prefers to stay out on the perimeter after setting the screen whereas Gortat likes to roll down Broadway to the hoop. Without a roller clogging up the lane, Dragic has the option to finish on either side of the hoop or pull up for a short jumper. Dragic and Gortat never found this balance which is why both of them struggled offensively for much of the year. Once Gortat went out however, all of Dragic’s issues seem to disappear.

More freedom in the lane is definitely what made Dragic better at the end of the season. Now the question is can Gortat learn to give Dragic that freedom and space or do the Suns need to make a change at center? Goran is seemingly the only player on the roster who is untouchable this offseason. If the Suns want him to play next season the way he ended this season, then they may have to part ways with the Polish Hammer.

Tags: Goran Dragic Marcin Gortat Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Analysis

  • Mark

    So nice that Goran stats went up after Gortat injury but who cares.. they managed to win 3 games without MG4 that’s crazy stat even when you consider tanking

  • Bill-in-Tokyo

    Why build around Dragic? You already said he’s limited and needs players who fit his limited skills. Start from sratch. You evaluate everyone against what you can draft or trade for. If you can draft a better future player, the trade the present player for that draft pick.

  • Scott

    The point I take away from this is if the Suns continue to pair Gortat and Dragic, they need to work out an offensive plan for the two of them very early in pre-season. I don’t know how difficult that would be, but obviously it never happened under Gentry.

  • Morgan

    Now is not the time to try and replace your starting pg. I do believe in upgrading the position if possible, but that is not happening unless you are convincing Chris Paul to play here. If we keep Gortat needs to man up and play like a big man. He was dominating the first couple weeks of the season. If he can’t toughen up then we should trade him while he has value.

  • Sonec9

    the one I call limited here is Bill-in-Tokyo, really. Yeah limited players lead the league in assists (ROFL) and I don’t care, if that’s only true for a part of the season, also they are usually not the best players on any NBA team, right? …hehe, the fact is he is very skilled, one of the fastest and one of the best play-makers in the league. He will only continue to prove that next year, no doubt and yes he and Gortat can play together, we’ve seen that in games before Gortat went down. Maybe they just needed the time to figure each other out. At least it seemed so. I think there’s no point of us trading the good pieces on a team (just yet), except if, as Morgan said, you can get Paul or Randolf right now. Trade Brown first for someone more reliable, add a draft pick, hopefully good one, and go confident into the next season. Our young players should make the next step forward in development, the team as well (under Hunter). Maybe even make the playoffs, who knows. I’d be completely happy with that (progress)…for one #GO SUNS

  • Mr.Ball

    Dragic was born for pushing the tempo. Thats his game and he is one of the best at it.

    If you want him (and team) to excel you just surround him with good 3pt shooters, PnP players and play fast.

    You can cover his “limited skills” by adding another complementary good half court playmaker in SG body or just utilize princeton offense (harder to defend since everything is not relying on one player, more team-oriented plays, etc).

  • hawki

    Well said Mr. Ball

    btw….your writing style reminds me of someone

    anyway…hope Goran (Zmag) Dragic has a great year.

  • John Armstrong

    nice piece – thanks

  • bill.thomas

    @Sonec9: I don’t think we can get much of anything for Brown except in a multi-player trade with him as a supportive expiring.

    Please explain ROFL and your view of Dragic’s stats.

  • hawki

    @ bill.thomas

    Both Mr Ball & Sonec9 remind me of some posters from azcentral…I won’t speculate in print & besides I’m probably wrong anyway.

    ROFL = Roll On Floor Laughing

  • foreveris2long

    Since the Suns were going no where with the quickly approaching 30 Gortat, they should have traded him a year or two ago when his stats were impressive. I tried to tell them at the time but they would not listen. Anyway McD should be a more progressive thinker and not wait until a players value is in decline to do a deal.He can only deal with the hand he has.