A year wiser, Dragic feels comfortable with the Suns


Former UA head coach Lute Olson, who coincidentally attended some of Suns training camp this week, always used to say that college players make their biggest improvements between their freshman and sophomore seasons.

It will certainly be interesting to see if that holds true for Suns guard Goran Dragic as he enters his sophomore NBA season.

All you Dragic bashers would be wise to consider the plight of Leandro Barbosa during his first two seasons as a Sun before giving up on the second-year Sun.

At times LB was absolutely lost on the court his first two years, not unlike Dragic. I remember him clanking shots off the side of the backboard in the playoffs against San Antonio during his second season in 2004-05, and who knows how that season might have turned out differently if that squad had the LB of today.

LB averaged about seven points per game his first two seasons and then turned it on in Year 3, averaging 13.1 ppg, and he hasn’t looked back since on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s premier subs.

Obviously LB and Goran possess different games, but the point is you can’t just expect a kid (I can call him that since I’m almost a full month older than him) from another country to come right in and be a formidable NBA player.

After four and a half months of suckitude, Goran started to show flashes of being a competent NBA player in the middle of March and then April when the Suns were essentially out of it. He averaged 7.6 ppg and 3.4 apg in an average of 18.0 mpg during the season’s final month, while showing the ability to take the ball to the rim with authority and hit outside jumpers in clutch situations.

After looking downright scared for most of the season, Goran Dragic started to act like he belonged in the NBA.

Going into this season, Dragic said he’s “a lot more comfortable. This is going to be my second in the NBA, so everything I already know how it works and everything, so it’s going to be much easier for me. Last year the last two months I was playing great, getting big minutes, and Summer League was OK and national team, so I have a lot of confidence, and I’m looking forward to this new season.”

This summer Dragic played an up-and-down Summer League, looking fantastic in some games and very mediocre in others, before finishing with averages of 12.0 points and 5.4 assists per game.

Playing off the ball in EuroBasket competition he again was plagued by inconsistency, looking like the Suns’ point guard of the future in some games and barely putting up any stats in others. In all, he averaged 9.3 ppg and 1.3 apg, while shooting 78.6 percent on 2s (11-for-14) but just 2-for-11 on triples (18.2 percent) before suffering a MCL sprain that limited him to four games. The injury has not prevented him from taking part in training camp.

The most noteworthy game for Dragic this summer most certainly came in a 90-84 overtime loss to mighty Spain, a team that captured EuroBasket gold behind a slew of NBA players.

But in this matchup, Dragic shined, offering a glimpse of what he could do in an NBA game against players of this ilk. Dragic was the star of this contest, going for 19 points and six steals, as well as a mighty block against the great Ricky Rubio.

“It was a strange game,” Dragic said of a contest that sparked a RealGM thread on whether he’s the NBA’s most underrated player. “We lost, but for me it was a great game, I played really well. I guarded Ricky Rubio, (Rudy) Fernandez and (Juan Carlos) Navarro, but still it was an awesome game. I had six steals and 19 points. It was fun.”

When he wasn’t working on his game in America this summer, Dragic spent time in his native Slovenia as a newfound celebrity.

The 23-year-old point guard whom you might not recognize on the streets in Phoenix if you’re not a diehard Suns fan is becoming quite the celebrity in his homeland.

“Of course, it’s different,” Dragic said. “I get home, everybody knows you. They ask about signature, they ask how is it in America, how is it in the NBA? Everything, if you met Kobe, LeBron. How is it with Steve, Shaq? It’s great, but at the same time it’s hard. You don’t have privacy so much like before, but I got used to that. It’s great.”

Now Dragic returns to America intent on becoming Nash’s first quality backup point guard since pretty much, well, ever.

He is still young, he will still make mistakes, and he will still commit stupid turnovers that make you pull your hair out. We also know that he struggles against pressure defense and his perimeter jumper has a tendency to leave him at times.

But on the other hand, Goran can get to the rim and finish, he has nice passing instincts, and he’s a solid, athletic defender at the point guard spot. He’s truly a good guy who wants to learn and gets to do so from the best veteran point guard in the game.

In bursts Dragic looks the part of a quality basketball player on both ends of the floor, one who will continue to develop and improve.

Is Dragic the Suns’ point guard of the future? That I cannot say, and the team wouldn’t have drooled over Stephen Curry so much if they were certain of that fact.

But just because Dragic was tragic for the first four months of last year doesn’t mean he can’t be the Suns’ backup point guard of the present.

“I’m going to try to play like the last two months of last year,” Dragic said.