Goran Dragic is the best player on a team that would make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference if the season ended today. Without Eric Bledsoe in the lineup for the Phoenix Suns’ last 12 games, Dragic has stepped up and kept his team entrenched in the seventh spot in the West. Sure, a 5-7 record in that span isn’t impressive and losses by the Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves probably helped keep Phoenix at No. 7, but Dragic’s play, especially recently, is more than deserving of an All-Star spot.
But if you asked any average NBA fan who should make the All-Star team as a backcourt reserve, Dragic wouldn’t be the first choice. You’d hear Damian Lillard and rightfully so. But then you’d probably hear Tony Parker or Russell Westbrook, and you might also hear names like Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio and Klay Thompson. Even in a career year that has this Suns team in the playoff picture, Goran Dragic is still underrated.
The numbers don’t lie. Heading into last night’s game, the Dragon was averaging 19.4 points, 5.9 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and 37 percent from 3-point range. But in the month of January, when Bledsoe has not logged a single minute, Dragic has been even better: 21.7 points, 6.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 50.1 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from downtown. Considering the increase in production, despite the fact that Dragic is carrying this team on his back, that’s pretty darn impressive.
Friday night Dragic had 19 points, 11 assists and two steals in a disappointing loss to the Washington Wizards at home. Although he missed some key shots down the stretch, it was his 14th straight game with 15 points or more and no one could really blame the loss on him anyway (especially since P.J. Tucker‘s poor decision on a fast break resulted in two missed free throws and marked the turning point of the game’s closing minutes). The loss served as yet another reminder that although there are a ton of players who have stepped up for the Suns this year, this team would be pretty incompetent without the Dragon.
It’s hard to say Dragic doesn’t deserve an All-Star spot because his team is under .500 since Bledsoe’s knee injury. That’d be like saying Mike Conley should lead the Grizzlies to a winning record without Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol, or that Damian Lillard should do the same sans LaMarcus Aldridge. It’s just unrealistic. But there are plenty of reasons Dragic deserves the nod over some of his talented competition.
First, let’s recognize that the Western Conference is loaded with talent. With names like Chris Paul, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Dwight Howard, Damian Lillard, Goran Dragic, Tony Parker, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Dirk Nowitzki all still in the running for a reserve spot, it’s pretty clear that if any of those guys played in the Eastern Conference, they’d be locks for an All-Star spot.
— Espo (@Espo) January 24, 2014
Unfortunately that’s not the case, so let’s break down which of these guys deserve it the most. Chris Paul has been injured for a few weeks, but he was a borderline MVP candidate when healthy and says he plans on returning for the All-Star Game, so good luck convincing any rational NBA coach that he doesn’t deserve a spot. James Harden was snubbed a starting spot because fans voted an injured Kobe Bryant into the starting five, so The Beard’s a lock and rightfully so. LaMarcus Aldridge and Dwight Howard barely missed the cut for the starting five and both deserve a spot.
Russell Westbrook would be another lock if not for his latest knee injury, which frees up a spot for the likes of Lillard, Dragic and others. With the Portland Trail Blazers having such a successful season in this ultra-competitive conference, Lillard deserves to make the cut ahead of Dragic. That means the decision comes down to Dragic vs. some combination of Parker, Dirk and Boogie, with Mike Conley, David Lee and Isaiah Thomas not far behind. We’ll exclude the frontcourt players for the sake of choosing the most deserving backup guards:
Tony Parker is a three-time NBA champion. In past seasons he’s been in the MVP conversation and there’s no doubt the San Antonio Spurs wouldn’t be a Western powerhouse without him. That being said, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have been every bit as vital to the Spurs’ success this season, which hurts Parker’s worth as an All-Star candidate. Parker is averaging 18.4 points, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 51.6 percent from the floor on the season, which makes his stats comparable to Dragic’s numbers. But the All Star Game isn’t a lifetime achievement award and any Gregg Popovich team is expected to win games.
As for Conley, his numbers are pretty similar to Parker’s (18.1 points, 6.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game with 45.4 percent shooting), but there’d be no point picking Conley over Parker when their numbers are so similar and the Spurs have a far superior record compared to the Memphis Grizzlies. The same goes for Isaiah Thomas, who has slightly superior stats but plays for a pretty blah Sacramento Kings team. That leaves Dragic, who has the highest win shares of the group and the second-highest Player Efficiency Rating.
Other reasons for coaches to vote Team Dragic? For one thing, he’s a lefty and that’s always fun. We could also mention his craftiness, his heart or his ever-positive attitude. But the biggest reason, to put it simply, is the Phoenix Suns deserve an All-Star this year. Phoenix was expected to be at the very bottom of the West heading into the season. Just a few months later, this underdog Suns squad is competing for a playoff spot. In a year filled with tanking attempts, the Suns took a different, tougher path. As the surprise of the season, the Suns shouldn’t go unrewarded. Dragic deserves some recognition for his efforts, especially without Bledsoe in the lineup.