Remember Dragic's first year, when he'd stop his progress, turn his back and crouch to protect the dribble when an opposing player got within a couple feet of him? And how his biggest problem was an inability to effectively run an offense?
I do. I remember folks wondering regularly why Kerr spent millions to get this kid from Slovenia.
It was Dragic's second season where he flourished as a change-of-pace backup, when our expectations were no higher than 8 points and 3 assists in 15 minutes against the other team's bench. Those occasional 10+ point games were a revelation. When he started 1 game that second year - a 16 and 10 performance against the rising Thunder - our eyes began to open to the possibilities of his future. Then that 28-point game against San Antonio sealed it. Dragic was a rising star!
Unfortunately, 2010-2011 happened. Dragic regressed. His shot failed him, and his confidence was close behind. The Suns were struggling for a playoff spot and the Suns' second unit was terrible. Horrible. And this was still when Frye and Dudley played in that second unit. So he was sent away for a chance at lightning in a bottle that never came. But don't fool yourself - Dragic played himself into that trade.
Some of us - me included - thought Dragic would never progress into a viable starting PG. His lack of confidence and streaky shot, and his inability to drive to his right, would forever limit him to "good backup" or "okay starter on a bad team".
But then something happened to Dragic. Maybe it was the shock of the trade - like a cutting of the apron strings - that forced Dragic to grow up and become his own man.
Last night, Goran Dragic showed the game that we all hoped he had. All while staying calm and collected. But the best part was that, between plays (and even once during a play), he kept his sense of humor and friendships with Suns players alive.
I counted several great exchanges between Dragic and a Suns player last night, in between him leading the second unit to 57 big points, including 11 of his own points plus 11 assists, 4 rebounds and a couple steals. Each one of those little exchanges with our guys made me smile.
- He and Nash shared a laugh and a few words when they first met up on the court during a timeout.
- A moment later, as Dragic was calling out a play to his teammates, Nash turned and mimicked the two-hand gesture. Dragic chuckled. Then drove to his left like a bat out of hell and dished a pretty pass.
- On the other end of the court, Nash tripped and fell face first to the floor. The ball was still live, as Nash was able to punch it to Gortat. As the ball swung to the corner, Dragic help Nash back to his feet. All while the ball was still in play.
- Just before the third quarter started, Robin Lopez playfully tried to block Dragic as he practiced his 3s. Dragic had missed 4 straight practice shots. Then Lopez defended his friend, crouching down into a defensive stance and half-heartedly rising to block the shot attempt. Dragic drained it and walked away with a big smile on his face.
- Later in the game, Grant Hill drew one of his patented charges on Dragic. They both tumbled to the floor, Dragic on top of Hill. I swear that, once the tumbling stopped, Dragic stayed down a second or two longer and maybe even patted Hill on the shoulder as they exchanged words. Then Dragic got to his feet and helped Hill back up.