Season In Review: Goran Dragic
The NBA season isn’t over yet, though it appears to be trending that way. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume the plug is being pulled. We have a large enough sample to evaluate what went down, and what we should expect moving forward. For the next [insert time frame here], I’ll be reviewing every relevant player on the Heat in positional order — guards, wings, forwards, and bigs.
First up is Goran Dragic, the seasoned Slovenian in the midst of a complicated season, to be kind.
Relevant stats: 16.1 points, 49.1 percent from two, 37.7 percent from three (5.8 attempts, career high), 76.9 percent from the line (4.1 attempts), 5.1 assists
As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It was evident early in the year that Dragic had never heard the saying, much less put stock into it. The role shift and minutes dip did a wonder on Dragic’s legs, and that coincided with a bounce-back year offensively.
Much of Dragic’s interior craft remained the same. Despite another marginal loss of burst off the bounce, he was able to finagle his way into rim opportunities due to his physicality, footwork, and understanding of angles.
It took a little more work for him to gain inside leverage, though. His pick-and-roll frequency — the percentage of possessions he used in pick-and-roll — increased from 51.8 percent to 56.5 percent this season via Synergy. But once that advantage was created, Dragic proved he could still get the job done in the paint.
You see the lack of burst, and the skill Dragic possesses in the clip above. The pair of screens force what should be a favorable switch with Davis Bertans. Bertans actually does a decent job of staying attached, but Dragic is able to use Bertans’ positioning against him, spinning left and creating enough room to cash in the floater.
Dragic converted 58.8 percent of his non-post-up shots at the rim this season — over 10 percentage points better than his injury-ravaged campaign in 2018-19 (48.4), and more in line with what he did in 2016-17 (58.1).
What really caught people (read: me) off guard was Dragic’s work off the bounce. Via Synergy, Dragic graded out in the 85th percentile as an off-the-dribble shooter, generating 1.036 points per possession on those looks.
He became more comfortable pulling up against defenders that dipped under picks. He started unleashing a bevy of side-step and step-back triples against unsuspecting enemies.
That confidence extended to drives, where he made the rare shift from a cautious passer to daring one. The pocket pass windows he often passed on (I had to) were now being utilized. The lobs he missed — or flat-out wouldn’t throw — were added to the assist tally. It felt like we were watching someone control Dragic on 2K, rather than the real-life, risk-averse version.
This wasn’t the best offensive season of Dragic’s career, at least not statistically. However, Dragic looked like the most complete version of himself. The outline of a three-level scorer with plus-passing chops were there. That, along with his decision making, is why Erik Spoelstra trusts him with long second half stints and closing opportunities.
Calling Dragic the Sixth Man of the Year may be a little rich for my taste. He was, however, pretty firmly in the mix because of his offensive contributions.
Relevant stats: 0.6 steals, 1.0 steal rate, six charges drawn (3rd on team)
If you’re wondering where Dragic’s 6MOY case falls apart, it’s on this end.
Of course, the easy counter to that would be Lou Williams and Jamal Crawford winning five of the last six, to which I’d reply, “That ain’t right, either.”
Dragic’s decline on defense has been steep. It has been ugly. It has been bad. The lack of lateral quickness shines through in the possessions he has to defend on-ball. Effort and IQ aren’t issues; he fights over picks against pull-up artists, and ducks under against non-shooters. He generally knows where to be, digging down from the nail or displaying solid awareness at the edge of Miami’s zone.
It just … doesn’t matter all that much if you can’t get to those spots, or bother opponents when you get there. Take this possession against the Magic for example.
Dragic does nothing wrong on this play. He’s matched up against Markelle Fultz, a guy more known for literally relearning to shoot than he is for his actual basketball talents. Dragic spins under the screen and beats Fultz to his spot, but then Fultz hesitates and jets to his right.
Dragic isn’t able to slide fast enough to stay in front, so he concedes inside leverage. Once Fultz gains that angle, he’s able to body Dragic on the layup attempt. Dragic’s lack of length hurts him here, as he isn’t able to bother the attempt despite putting his hand up.
There is only so much a team can do to hide a point-of-attack liability. The Heat have stashed him on non-threatening wings. He’s been placed at the edge of the zone. They’ve shown willingness to have Dragic hedge-and-recover against wing pick-and-rolls. They switch more to help him stay in front — though that change coincides with the additions of Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala.
It hasn’t mattered that much with Dragic specifically. Teams have hunted him at the end of games, and it’s easy to project that being a crunch-time strategy in playoff games.
This postseason could’ve been huge for Dragic. If he was able to prove that his offensive chops overshadowed his defensive shortcomings, he would be in for quite the (short-term) payday. It still might come. The Heat brass love him. and he’s stated on multiple occasions that he wants to retire in Miami.
Can’t say I blame him.
What this season has made clear is that the reserve role is what’s best for him. Limiting his workload has done wonders for his body. Facing lesser, or at least slightly-tired competition made his life a little easier. The bounce-back in rim efficiency is an encouraging sign. If the pull-up shooting proves to be real, he’s going to be an effective offensive weapon for at least a couple more seasons.
The defensive questions aren’t going away. He’ll likely be worse on that end the next time we see him. That should affect his viability as a late-game option in games that matter, and that should lower his market value a bit.
If I had to guess, Dragic will be back on a 1+1 deal in the 16-18 million-per-year range. His usefulness as a sixth man is pretty clear. Beyond that, he’s a reliable lead ball-handler that Spo can trust while Kendrick Nunn gains experience.
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