NBA All-Star 2014: Should Goran Dragic trek to New Orleans?

Goran Dragic’s All-Star credentials have been gaining steam in the last several weeks, and for good reason. In the two broad categories that make an NBA All-Star, Dragic has shined. He has the individual statistics and he has a team that’s been using his contributions to find itself in the playoff hunt.

Those two things make it a conversation.

The NBA will announce the All-Star reserves that will join Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin as the five Western Conference starters on Thursday — Kobe Bryant’s injury un-officially makes him a scratch, opening another spot for Dragic. It gets complicated at that point, because while coaches vote on the initial list of reserves, the NBA office will select injury replacements.

Here’s what Dragic earning his first All-Star bid comes down to.

What’s the league-wide perspective?

Quickly, here are the numbers. Dragic’s Suns are sixth in the Western Conference standings as of Wednesday morning. The point guard is averaging 19.4 points per game, the 20th-best mark in the league. His 19th-best PER rating is better than reserve candidates Dwight Howard, James Harden, Tony Parker, Mike Conley and Damian Lillard. Dragic is 10th in offensive win shares, 10th in win shares per 48 minutes, 13th in offensive ratings and has been top-20 in assists per game this season, according to Basketball-Reference.

His statistical resume is there, but then it becomes a matter of who else is deserving. Here’s a list of six players who should be locks for the remaining seven All-Star reserve spots — three frontcourt players, two backcourt players and two wildcards — and a replacement for Bryant.

Dwight Howard (frontcourt)
LaMarcus Aldridge (frontcourt)
Anthony Davis (frontcourt)
James Harden (backcourt/starter)
Chris Paul* (backcourt/starter)
Damian Lillard (backcourt)

Since one of the above will replace Bryant, there are still two open spots left and three if Chris Paul doesn’t return before the break, as expected. In my eyes, there are five other players who very much threaten Dragic’s chance at making the All-Star team.

DeMarcus Cousins
Tim Duncan
Tony Parker
Mike Conley
Dirk Nowitzki

Remember: Numbers only go so far, and perception is a big deal.

It’s unfathomable to think the Spurs would lack an All-Star, so it’s likely one of Duncan and Parker get in. Duncan missed the boat in 2012, and Parker could hold out Dragic considering he owns very similar numbers as a 20-point, 6-assist per game point guard.

So we’re down to one spot.

Conley’s defensive abilities could push him past Dragic despite similar numbers, but the Grizzlies sit behind the Suns in the standings. Cousins plays for the struggling Kings, but his 22.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 blocks per game are impressive. And Dirk is, well, Dirk.

An injury to Russell Westbrook opened the door, but Kobe Bryant’s expected absence and even Chris Paul failing to return by mid-February will play a major factor in Dragic’s chances. There are a lot of guards deserving and even less spots. It seems Dragic is fighting for the final spot with Duncan, Nowitzki and Cousins, which is tough sledding.

How does Eric Bledsoe and his injury change things?

Things we already know: Dragic has put up bigger and more efficient numbers without Eric Bledsoe. Since the knee injury, Dragic has averaged 21.4 points, 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from three-point range.

The Suns, however, have only gone 7-7 since Bledsoe went down.

So do you take credit from Dragic because he needed Bledsoe for Phoenix to win at a more consistent clip? Or, in a classic Steve Nash MVP argument, does the system he plays in hurt or help his chances?

That’s debatable. But remember, Dragic with or without Bledsoe is still playing alongside a rotation of Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and the Morris twins. Even with the improvement of every single one of those players, it’s impressive Dragic has improved so much and has led the team with his dynamic game so well.

In all likelihood, Dragic’s individual torching of a number of teams will help him earn votes from league coaches when the initial list of reserves is released.

If he’s passed over in that regard and the league office would have to select Dragic as an injury-replacement, it might come down to the Phoenix market competing against others — business things. At that point, who knows?

So after that reasonably objective view of it all, do we think Dragic deserves an All-Star bid?

Kevin Zimmerman: Since watching Dragic grow into himself last season, I became a believer he had All-Star potential. After watching him grow in this summer’s EuroBasket, become a father and lead this season’s team, I’ve filled in the 5 percent of doubt. I never thought he’d have a shot at making an All-Star team in the near-future, but the injury bug has opened the doors this year, and I think he’s absolutely deserving. Like the MVP voting, there’s something to be said for being the best player on a very good team – and considering the rest of the Suns’ roster and with all due respect, he’s even more deserving.

Jeff Sanders: There is no doubt about the fact that Goran Dragic is having an All-Star season. He is the best player on a team that would be in the playoffs today and deserves a spot because of it. With that being said, Dragic is in the ultra-tough Western Conference and I am not sure he will squeeze in there. He is in competition with James Harden, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and Mike Conley for just a couple spots. What makes the stakes higher for Dragic is that he gets a $1 million dollar bonus for making the game. For his sake, let’s hope his stellar play this season does not get overlooked.

Michael Schwartz: The Suns score about 10 points per 100 possessions more with Dragic on the floor, which is about the difference between Portland’s top offense and Utah’s No. 23 unit. Even with Eric Bledsoe on the shelf, Dragic has kept the Suns humming at a playoff pace by powering the offense with his scoring and facilitating, quite the feat considering the Suns’ lowly preseason expectations. For that, The Dragon deserves the $1 million bonus he would earn by making the All-Star team despite the fact that the West boasts many worthy challengers.

Dave Dulberg: Before Kobe Bryant was un-officially ruled out of the 2014 All-Star Game Tuesday night, I would have still said yes. Now, it’s an absolute. Goran Dragic deserves to be named a reserve on the Western Conference squad. The acumen of general manager Ryan McDonough has been praised on end, as has the teaching prowess of Jeff Hornacek. But in a lot of ways, the Suns’ dramatic turnaround this season has been ignited by Dragic’s on-court improvement. He has elevated his level of play in every phase, making arguably the biggest year-to-year improvement of any single player on Phoenix’s roster. His statistics (19.4 points, 6.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game on 37.4 percent shooting from three-point range and 49.5 percent overall) alone are on par with Damian Lillard and Tony Parker. The biggest difference: He’s done it with nine new teammates who weren’t with the organization at this time a year ago. Assuming Chris Paul or James Harden gets added to the West’s starting lineup, there’s no question “The Dragic” deserves a round-trip ticket to New Orleans.

Ryan Weisert: All Star consideration is based on four factors: numbers, efficiency, team success, and benefit to the NBA. The numbers piece is self-explanatory. The efficiency and team success factors are there to rule out “good stats-bad team” gunners like Golden State-era Monta Ellis. The benefit to the NBA factor is a tiebreaker since the league has the final say. Goran checks all the boxes. His season averages are stellar, but in January, he’s top-4 among Western guards in scoring and is shooting 51 percent. His team is firmly in the playoff picture. And an All-Star selection could put Dragic in line to be the next Manu Ginobili, which will benefit the NBA’s international popularity tremendously now that Manu is in decline.

  • john

    There’s no question he’s deserving. Goran Dragic is absolutely playing at an all-star level.

    However, when it’s all said and done, I believe he’ll get snubbed. Why? Because life isn’t fair and a guy like Lillard is universally considered an absolute lock for the all-star game even though Goran has superior numbers and plays on an equally surprising team.

    Goran deserves it, and I sure hope he gets it, but ultimately I think Cousins will get that last spot.

  • Foreveris2long

    I hope he gets it because he has taken a team less talented in the eyes of most and they are currently seeded 6th in the tough Western Conference ahead of the Warriors despite one of their really good players being on the shelf. I vote for Dragic over Conley and Cousins as their teams are presently lottery bound. I am not rewarding a team’s mediocrity if the selection was mine.

  • Bandwagon Fan

    I agree with you, foreveris2long, and Coro.

    By Paul Coro
    “… A debate about whether Goran Dragic is playing like an All-Star is unnecessary.

    He indisputably is. Look at where Dragic has put the shocking Suns and held them up in Eric Bledsoe’s absence. Look at his membership in the 19-point, six-assist, 49-percent club — him, MVP LeBron James and nobody else. Look at his perpetual effort with determination that turns into fire-breathing Dragon hot streaks…”

    Goran is the 2nd best player in the league!!!

    Ok, that’s a lot of homerism there, but he is deserving of an All Star bid, nonetheless.

  • the real al

    I think he gets snubbed which will be a shame.

  • hawki

    Goran is definitely deserving…he is absolutely confident in his game right now…

    will he get in ?
    50/50 at best…for all the reasons stated above…was listening to some espn show a while ago & they were listing top PG’s….they must have ran off 15 names & did not mention Dragic.

    He is still low profile nationally…especially being a non-Americn.

    His day is coming though.

  • EarlBlackJesusMonroe

    I also think he gets in. The other coaches in the league recognize what Hornacek and the Suns have done with Dragic at the helm.

    Dragic opened eyes when he dropped 23 in the 4th quarter against the Spurs back in ’10.

    He proved himself again while a Rocket in ’11-’12 when he started the final 28 games for them.

    I think he gets the nod over Lillard because of his age and I think Duncan get left off because of the ages. No way Cousins get the nod this year.

    Blazers, Thunder, Suns, Spurs, Warriors and Clips all deserve at least one representative and I think the Rockets might not get two because they might be considered underachieving being only a one loss ahead of Phoenix.

    If the coaches don’t do the right thing, then Adam Silver will surely add him as a replacement player based on the Suns “feel-good story”.

    Suns are drawing about 2,000 more fans on the road than when at home this season and that should also help.

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  • Dave:f32

    Snubby snub.. Dragic is having an All-Star year, indeed. Will the League and media recognize it though? Most likely a passing mention, but the Phoenix Suns are a historically-despised franchise. Its sad but true that in order to be considered an “All-Star” not just having an all-star season, the media has to deem you their darling. Its ironic that so much of the time the media hype turns a player into a bust, but rarely does a relatively low-profile player like a Dragic turn into a media darling in one season! Had Dragic rode into the league on a high horse most likely his designation into the all star game would be a moot point.

  • DZ

    Dragic wasn’t selected for the AS team. That sucks but they still haven’t selected a replacement for Kobe so he still has a chance. But the West team is already guard heavy so I’m not expecting Dragic to make it. :(

  • BCrayZ

    Just remember what happened last year.

    Dubs fans were outraged when Curry was snubbed.

    They were just as surprising a team last year as we are this year. Love Gogi, but Curry is even better. This year Curry is in. Next year, Gogi will have his turn. Suns beat the Pacers tonight to go 4-0 on this road trip. It’s the 6th back end game we have won in the last 7. Also the 6th out of 7 games, since Barbisa has come back from his separated shoulder to play that have been been wins for the Suns. LB had a strong game in Indy. Will contribute more with more playing time, especially with Gogi & Frye. Make it so Jeff.

    MUST start & ALSO finish with LB. Let’s go SUNS!!!!