Heading into the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Team Slovenia was something of an afterthought compared to the juggernauts of international basketball. Team USA, Spain, Argentina, Brazil and Lithuania are the teams that first came to mind in the category of “dangerous.” The Slovenians had Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns and were coming off a fifth place finish in the 2013 Eurobasket tournament, sure, but most had them pegged as the third-best team in Group D behind Lithuania and Australia.
So far, the Dragon has had other plans.
We’re only two games into the group stage of the FIBA World Cup, but Dragic already has Slovenia looking like one of the bigger surprises of the tournament (again). Slovenia is 2-0 and sits atop the Group D standings with a plus/minus differential of +31. Lithuania is also 2-0, but only has a +26 differential at the moment.
In Slovenia’s World Cup opener against Australia, Dragic was magnificent, leading his team with 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and a team-high plus-minus differential of +25. The Dragon went 8-for-12 from the floor, 3-for-5 from three-point territory and made big plays time and time again to help his team overcome a late Boomers comeback and escape with a 90-80 win. Whether it was finding open perimeter shooters or making Aron Baynes look silly, Dragic was a man on a mission.
Suns fans weren’t surprised to see it happen, but Slovenia beating the higher ranked Australian team led to a thorough victory over Mexico in the team’s second group stage game Sunday. In a dominant 89-68 win, it was Goran’s brother Zoran Dragic who led the Slovenians with 22 points, three rebounds and three steals, but Goran’s contributions had the Mexicans seeing Double Dragons.
Dragic followed up his brother Zoran with 18 points, six assists and one steal. He went 6-for-8 from the floor, 1-for-2 from three-point range and got to the line seven times to lead his team. He also finished +23 for the game in 26 minutes.
Am I picking Dragic to lead Slovenia to the gold medal game? No. Not by any means. But once again, the Slovenians look like a cohesive unit capable of competing with almost anyone on a given night, especially when they’re led by the double-headed dragons (should we start calling them hydra?).
In Team USA’s final exhibition game leading up to the FIBA World Cup, the Americans completely shut Dragic down, limiting him to just six points en route to a 30-point victory, so no one should forget that in the event the Dragon isn’t breathing his normal dose of fire, Slovenia is extremely vulnerable. The Slovenians also don’t have the kind of size to compete with teams like Spain or Brazil unless they’re absolutely lighting it up from three-point territory. Or, unless this continues to happen:
— Espo (@Espo) August 31, 2014
Through two games though, Dragic and the Slovenians look like an underrated opponent that could give some teams problems. The Dragon is coming off a season in which he won the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award and earned Third Team All-NBA honors after averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists per game. If he’s able to continue to orchestrate Slovenia’s offense, it should be no surprise to anyone to find themselves in a dogfight with this team down the stretch of a close game.
Slovenia’s next game is Tuesday against Korea. If this 31st-ranked team is unable to stop the Dragon’s offensive attack, Team Slovenia could be having Korean barbecue for lunch.