If you ask NBA fans about Goran Dragić you will most likely get a handful of different opinions. Some people might tell you that Dragić is a rising star in the NBA. Some people might tell you that he is overrated. Some people might say that Dragić displayed the best of his abilities last year because he was in a contract year and that now he is fine with playing average basketball. Some people might say he is underrated. For those of you not watching all of the Suns’ lackluster and entertainment-lacking games, how do you know the truth?
Goran Dragić’s story is unique. Dragić was horribly underrated at start of his career. This is pretty understandable as he stood in the shadow of one of the best floor generals to ever play the game who also happens to be a two-time league MVP (Steve Nash).
Steve Nash is one of the greatest floor generals to ever play the game.
Photo Credit: MattyStevenson, Flickr.com
Dragić found glory in the playoffs of 2010. During Game 3 of the Sun’s matchup against the Spurs he broke out and scored 23 points in the fourth quarter to help guide his team to victory. The aforementioned performance is formally known as “The Goran Dragić coming out Party” (by me).
Thanks to his playoff heroics the Suns found that Dragić’s value around the league was at its absolute peak and made a stellar trade with the Houston Rockets. The Suns gave him and a first-round pick for Aaron Brooks. I could not make that trade up; although it is not entirely surprising seeing as how this is not the first time the Suns’ management has “dropped the ball”. Brooks at the time was a recent winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Unfortunately for the Suns, that was the best year of Brooks’ career and he panned out to be a trigger-happy, ineffective and inefficient point guard who has never since found his niche in the NBA.
This is one of Daryl Morey’s (also known as “Dork Elvis” in some circles) sneaky-good moves that rarely gets talked about (or at least not enough). Morey traded Brooks when his value was highest. He saw before most everyone that Brooks was only having a good year and would cool off and quickly lose his value.
When Kyle Lowry went down last year due to a bacterial infection, Goran Dragić finally got the opportunity to show the world what he could do with starter’s minutes. Dragić exploded with additional court time. He averaged 18 points, more than eight helpers and nearly two steals per game (according to NBA.com). He did this all while playing controlled basketball with a veteran-like calm and nearly helped the Rockets sneak into the playoffs last year.
Both the Suns and Dragić were happy to be reunited this past off-season.
Photo Credit: prideandvegudice, Flickr.com
When Dragić became a free agent this year the Suns were eager to right their wrongs and bring their former young star home. They offered him a four-year, $34 million deal. Suns fans were ecstatic to have him back, but some were wary of the long-term contract.
Over the summer the Rockets replaced Dragić with Jeremy Lin and signed him to a three-year, $25.1 million deal. If you do the math, Lin’s full salary (he does have a “kicker” clause) has him averaging nearly $8 million a season. Dragić in comparison is averaging around $7.5 million a season.
This season Dragić has better per-game averages in nearly every major category. Lin even has the luxury of playing alongside a superstar in James Harden as well as some very nice complimentary players, which makes his job easier. Dragić, on the other hand, has one of the weakest supporting casts in the league. He is the focal point of opposing team defenses every game. Yet he has still managed to lead his team in scoring and assists this season. Although his numbers do not pop off the page, they are very solid.
The truth is Morey stole Dragić from the Suns and then felt bad about it. So he let the Suns re-sign Dragić and then overpaid for Jeremy Lin to under perform the next three seasons (or at least that is my theory; not even Sam Presti can nail every decision). I think Dragić is a wonderful player with a great upside. However, he will never be “the guy” on a contender. He would make an excellent second option though (I sincerely hope he gets the opportunity).
It is important to keep in mind that Dragić is still a developing player. This is only his first full season running a team. Right now it is safe to say that he has earned his contract and that his numbers do not do him full justice. It is also safe to say that he will only get better and that in a year or two, Dragić could be one of the league’s best bargain-contract players.
When it comes down to it, Dragić somehow has once again made himself one of the league’s most underrated players. He might never be in the conversation for the leagues best point guard, but no team would be unhappy with his services. The next few years should be a real pleasure to watch him grow and get the recognition he deserves.