Point of Emphasis: How Goran Dragic Provides Hope for the Underachieving Heat

I’m sure that many barely knew who Goran Dragic was before his breakout 2013-2014 season with the Phoenix Suns. Even if you were aware of “The Dragon”, unless you are an NBA League Pass addict, it’s highly unlikely you consistently saw him play until he was traded to the Miami Heat before last season’s trade deadline. Now, just about a year later, you have finally seen flashes what the Dragic can actually do. You may not love what you have seen from him to start his Heat career, but what if I were to tell you he is Miami’s most important key to success this season?

Who is Goran Dragic?

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(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Goran “The Dragon” Dragic took a pretty conventional path to the NBA for an international prospect. He started playing professionally in Slovenia, his home country, in 2003 when he was 17 years old. He played there for three years before going to play in Spain for a season. Dragic knew joining the NBA was next on his list of childhood aspirations, and decided to enter the 2008 NBA draft after playing another season back in his home country.

Dragic was selected 45th overall by the San Antonio Spurs (not surprising at all) but was instantly traded to the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix was so thrilled with the acquisition that the Suns’ General Manager and President of Basketball Operations, Steve Kerr, boldly claimed that Dragic was the second best point-guard in the entire draft, presumably behind Derrick Rose. That would be the case if Russell Westbrook weren’t in that draft.

He didn’t live up to any of the hype he received from the Suns’ front office during his rookie year. He averaged 4.5 points, 2 assists, and shot an abysmal 39% from the field. Even John Hollinger of ESPN called him the “worst player in the league”, and fans across the NBA started referring to him as “Goran Tragic”.

From there, his career slowly took off. In his second season, his game improved vastly and he led the Suns to a 54-28 record which was good enough for the #3 seed in the West. “The Dragon” was really born in the playoffs when he scored 23 points in the 4th quarter in Game 3 of the Conference Semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs. From there, Dragic rose and fell numerous times before landing in Miami.

Dragic’s 2010-2011 season was a major disappointment to say the least, and he was ultimately traded to the Houston Rockets after 48 games. Dragic had a very strong conclusion of the season in Houston, and had a stellar 2011-2012 season in Texas as well.

He then became a free agent at the conclusion of the 2012 season, and decided to go back home to Phoenix, where his confidence only continued to grow. He had the best season of his career in 2013-2014, where he averaged 20.3 points, 5.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds and shot 50.5% from the field and 40.8% from three, both career bests. The excessive amount of guards on Phoenix’s roster last season forced them to trade him to the Miami Heat.

Misconceptions About Dragic with the Heat:

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(Photo: Sun Sentinel)

Everyone seems to think that Dragic and Dwyane Wade have struggled to find chemistry because of their ball-dominant style of play, but this actually couldn’t be further from the truth. Last season they had absolutely zero chemistry. They played 24 games together, and went an atrocious 11-13. It’s hard to blame them though because this transition happened toward the end of the season and it’s difficult to find an instant connection with someone you’ve never played with before.

This season, however, has been a completely different story. Even though Dragic’s stats have declined since last year, his play has clearly boosted the Heat. They are 22-15 with him in the lineup. This comes out to a .595 winning percentage, which would be good for 3rd in the Eastern Conference and 7th overall. Not bad for a team who currently sits 7th in the East. Unfortunately, with Dragic out of the lineup, the Heat are 2-6. There’s no denying that the Heat have been hit hard with the injury bug lately, but Dragic’s absence is clearly the most important.

The Heat have had an extremely difficult time holding onto the ball without Dragic in the lineup. They average 13.9 turnovers per game with Dragic handling the ball, which ranks 9th in the league. That number jumps all the way up to 16.8 turnovers when Dragic is sidelined, which ranks 29th in the Association, only ahead of the 6-39 Philadelphia 76ers. Dwyane Wade has had the most trouble holding onto the ball with Dragic out of the lineup. Over his past 4 games, he has had 20 out of Miami’s 68 total turnovers. This is obviously a factor of the ball being in Wade’s hands more, but this ultimately enhances the idea that Dragic is the most impactful player on this roster.

I really don’t understand why people claim that Dragic and Wade have terrible chemistry. By all means, their relationship is not fantastic in any way, but they have learned to peacefully coexist and lure the Heat to victories.

Everyone tends to think this chemistry is bad because Wade and Dragic are both ball dominant players. I agree that both of them do excel in the 1 on 1 game, but we still can’t forget that Dragic is a pass-first point-guard. He loves getting his teammates involved and is actually only averaging 10.7 shots per game, which is his lowest total since the 2011-2012 season.

Wade has some of the niftiest moves and one of the best mid-range games in the NBA. He just has a knack for creating his own shot, but obviously his efficiency has plummeted with age. This is where Dragic comes in to benefit the team. His basketball IQ is extremely high, and he always seems to know where to go with the basketball. He benefits Wade by finding him constantly cutting on the baseline for open shots, ultimately increasing his efficiency.

When Dragic is really on his game, he’s very difficult to stop. He can pull up and hit a three in your face, or drive strong to the hoop. His pump fakes are superb, always finding a way to get a big man up in the air to finish right around the hoop. He also has a knack for finding his big men wide open for layups. Dragic isn’t just a part of the offense, he is the offense.

Watch here as Dragic drains a three in the face of the defender:

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Also check out Dragic making a nice steal, taking the ball the length of the court, and finding Gerald Green for the easy dunk:

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Notice that Dragic takes the ball strong to the hoop and flips in it with his left hand over two defenders:

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And lastly watch Dragic hit a crisp fadeaway baseline jumper to give Miami an 8-point lead:

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As you can see, Dragic has an entire arsenal of moves that he can put on display on a nightly basis.

Offensive Fit:

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(Photo: Sun Sentinel)

 

Dragic fits Coach Erik Spoelstra’s offense very nicely, but not many other players on the Heat do. Spoelstra loves to play fast in a pace-and-space offense. Basically, he wants to push the ball up the court to see if they can get a fast break. If they can’t, then they have to spread the court out and try to attack and dish. For this offense, the Heat need strong three-point shooters, which unfortunately, they do not have. The Heat shoot 32.9% from the three-point line, which is the 4th worst mark in the league. This offense was absolutely dominant when LeBron was in town and James Jones, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, and Ray Allen were spotting up behind the three-point arc, but that clearly isn’t the case anymore. This offense has proved to be incredible with the right personnel, but it’s evident that this Heat roster doesn’t have the athleticism to run the fast break and knock down threes, except for Dragic.

There’s no denying the impact Dragic has on this team. I definitely think the Heat need to trade for a three-point sharpshooter before the trade deadline. This would definitely help maximize Dragic’s distributing abilities. The Heat look absolutely lost without their point guard, but he should be back within the next few games. Look for Miami to get back on track with Dragic running the team and show in South Beach.

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