In today’s exhibition game against Slovenia, most basketball fans in the United States will be rooting for Team USA. But for Phoenix Suns fans, USA Basketball’s final tuneup game before the 2014 FIBA World Cup also represents a chance to root for their favorite NBA point guard, Goran Dragic.
The game represents a test for starting point guard Kyrie Irving, who will be tasked with defending the Dragon right out of the gate. That’s no small task considering Dragic is coming off a season in which he won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, was selected to the All-NBA Third Team and averaged 20.3 points and 5.9 assists per game (while shooting 50.5 percent from the floor and 40.8 percent from three-point range).
Irving’s defensive struggles have been well-documented through his first three seasons in the league, and since Dragic is one of the craftiest guards in the league, Team USA’s entire defensive strategy will likely be planned around containing the leader of Team Slovenia.
Think about that for a second, Suns fans. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, one of the most brilliant basketball minds in the business, will be putting that brain to work in an attempt to contain Goran Dragic. If that’s not a testament to how far he’s come during his six seasons in the NBA, I don’t know what is.
For Dragic and Team Slovenia, the only problem is they’re outmatched at pretty much every position. Dragic is a much better individual defender than Irving, but he’ll still have a hard time shutting down an offensive talent like Kyrie. Dragic is the only NBA player on Slovenia’s roster, though his brother Zoran Dragic has proven he can compete with NBA talent and lead the team when defenses are focused on stopping Goran.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) August 25, 2014
That being said, Slovenia is in way over their heads here. Even if Dragic wins his individual matchup with Kyrie Irving, Team USA has way more backcourt depth, not to mention a huge frontcourt advantage.
Other than 7’2″ center Alen Omic, Slovenia’s roster sports only one other player taller than 6’8″. And to be clear, nobody on that roster is on par with the NBA talent that USA Basketball has.
Still, today’s exhibition game will give Slovenia and the Phoenix Suns a clear idea of what to expect in the 2014 FIBA World Cup. In the past, Dragic hasn’t been quite as assertive playing with his national team as he was leading the Suns the past two seasons, but perhaps his breakthrough year in 2013-14 will give him a bigger leadership role this time around.
In 2013 Eurobasket, Dragic averaged 15.8 points, 4.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game, not far off from his averages with the Suns last season. His brother Zoran Dragic averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in Eurobasket last year.
But outside of those two, Slovenia will certainly have their work cut out for them, even in a meaningless exhibition game.
All in all, most Phoenix Suns fans will just be happy for Goran Dragic to make it through the 2014 FIBA World Cup in one piece after watching what happened to Paul George in that fateful televised scrimmage. But watching NBA players makes international basketball 10 times better, and with Dragic once again taking on a leadership role, Suns fans will get a little taste of what’s to come in 2014-15.