Goran Dragic has long been overlooked by pretty much anyone who isn’t a Phoenix Suns fan. He was overlooked when the San Antonio Spurs traded his draft rights as the 45th overall pick in 2008. He was regularly overlooked as Steve Nash‘s backup in Phoenix. He was overlooked when the Suns traded him to the Houston Rockets for the artist formerly known as Aaron Brooks. He was even overlooked when he filled in for an injured Kyle Lowry and put up 18 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game in 28 starts. With Eric Bledsoe out, it’s time for people to stop overlooking Phoenix’s starting point guard.
Dragic is coming off a 31-point, 10-assist, five-rebound performance in a decisive victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, a team on an 11-game win streak. In 12 games this season, Dragic is averaging 17.4 points, 6.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the floor and 33 percent from 3-point range. Those aren’t exactly eye-popping stats, even though his scoring, rebounding and field goal numbers are all career-bests. Dragic is 11th in the NBA in assists per game and assist percentage (35.4) and has also posted a 20.4 Player Efficiency Rating, another career-best and 27th-best in the league.
Since Bledsoe was sidelined with what must be the worst shin bruise of all time, Dragic has been lights out. In the six games, he’s averaging 20.5 points, 8.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field and 43 percent from downtown. He’s scored more than 30 twice and shot better than 50 percent three times in that span. That’s an admittedly small sample size, but Dragic passes the eye test as the floor general of this fun Suns squad as well. Without Bledsoe around, the offense runs entirely through the 27-year-old Slovenian. And so far, it’s been pretty difficult for defenses to stop.
Suns offense is like the Joker. It is an agent of chaos. When it’s hitting on a cylinders it gets the opponent off its game. #SunsVsBlazers
— Espo (@Espo) November 28, 2013
The Suns’ recent offensive brilliance is a byproduct of Dragic’s abilities out of the pick and roll. The return of Channing Frye, who is averaging 18.8 points on 12.3 field goal attempts per game in his last four, has been a big boost. Now that Frye’s conditioning and shot rhythm is back to where it was two season ago, he’s reminding people how dynamic a stretch-4 can be in an NBA offense. Frye’s a constant threat on the perimeter, drawing bigger defenders out of their comfort zone in the paint. The Dragic-Frye pick and pop has been working well, but even more effective has been Dragic attacking the pick and roll with one of the Morris twins while Frye floats along the perimeter.
The Morris twins have considerably stepped up their game as well, giving Dragic even more options out of the pick and roll. Although most Suns fans prefer to see Markieff Morris taking his shots in the paint, he’s been an effective pick and pop partner for Dragic as well. Morris is shooting 50 percent from around the elbows, a shot that constitutes 15 percent of his attempts, per NBA.com. Both Morris twins are posting career-highs in 3-point shooting (35.7 percent for Markieff, 41.7 percent for Marcus) and Player Efficiency Rating (19.8 for Markieff, 17.3 for Marcus). When the Morris twins roll to the basket, that draws in the help defense that usually leaves Frye or the hot-shooting Gerald Green open from 3-point range.
The Suns are only shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range as a team, tied for 12th-best in the league. But compared to last season, when Phoenix shot 33 percent from downtown and were 28th in the NBA, we’re seeing major improvement from long range. Dragic’s 3-point percentage is actually below the team average, but a big reason why everyone else is shooting so well is because of the Dragon’s decision-making out of the pick and roll. Part of that decision-making has been how effective he’s been attacking the basket.
The pick and roll wouldn’t be effective if Dragic weren’t a scoring threat. The Dragon almost always finds the open man, but there wouldn’t be an open man if defenses didn’t have to collapse on his penetration. At just 6’3″, Dragic often finds himself among the trees when attacking the rim, but he’s still shooting a respectable 57.4 percent when doing so. Despite what the percentages say, Dragic is one of the best finishers at the rim because of the adjustments he makes in midair over taller defenders.
Dragic’s mid-range game has also been effective, an area where he’s shooting 55.6 percent on 27 attempts (and that includes him going 0-for-6 from the right baseline, a difficult shot for a lefty). What’s impressive about Dragic’s mid-range accuracy is the majority of these shots have been contested out of the pick and roll. But Dragic is a master of baiting the defender into playing off to protect the rim just enough for him to get off a turnaround or step-back jumper. Watch the hesitation coming out of the pick and roll that freezes LaMarcus Aldridge at the 1:23 mark:
It wasn’t just his 31-10-5 game against Portland Wednesday night. In the past week, Dragic nearly had a triple-double against the Miami Heat’s tough defense (14 points, nine assists, eight rebounds) and posted 23 points and 13 assists without committing a single turnover in a dominant win against the Orlando Magic. With Bledsoe out, Dragic is the undisputed heart and soul of this surprising 8-7 Suns squad. Here’s hoping his role doesn’t diminish once Bledsoe returns, because Dragic is easily the most underrated point guard in the NBA.
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