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Phoenix Suns Goran Dragic compares favorably to former Sun Steve Nash, 5.5 years in...

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On January 21, 2011, I wrote a post entitled "Nash vs. Dragic 3 years in". Shortly thereafter, Dragic was traded to Houston along with a first round draft pick for Aaron Brooks.

I was devastated. I had defended Goran against a merciless barrage of criticism, some of it warranted, most of it not. I saw Dragic as a future star, and thought that our front office had made a terrible mistake. I attributed his troubles to having to play alongside ball-dominant players such as Hedo Turoglu and Vince Carter, or a hodgepodge of below average, ill-fitting players such as Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress (although Dragic thrived with them in the limited time they were on the floor together). It didn't matter - the pitchforks were poised, the torches were burning, and Goran was gone.

I figured on the near anniversary of that article, it was worth revisiting again. Eric Bledsoe is out with a meniscus tear, Dragic is beasting and making a bid for the all-star team, Nash is taking up valuable cap room in LA, and the Suns sit on the playoff bubble. How is Goran doing?

The following is from my 2011 article:

YEAR 1 (1996-97) Nash

He played in 65 games, and averaged 10:30 per game, putting up 3.3 points, 1 rebound, and 2.1 assists against 1 turnover per game. He shot 42.3% from the field (74-175) and 41.8% from 3 (23-55). He shot 82.4% from the free throw line (42-51).

That Suns team ended with a 40-42 record under Paul Westphal, exiting in the first round to Seattle 2-3.

YEAR 1 (2008-09) Dragic

Goran played in 55 games in his first year, and averaged 13:11 per game, putting up 4.5 points a game, 1.9 rebounds, and 2 assists against 1.3 turnovers per game. He shot 39.3% from the field (88-224) and 37% from 3 (20-54). He shot 76.9% from the free throw line (50-65). Part of the year was under Terry Porter, who gave way at the All Star break to Alvin Gentry, which was a boon to Goran - he went from 2.9 points per game to 5.9 points under Gentry, his minutes went from 12 to 14:24, shooting percentage went from 31.3% to 44%, 3 point percentage from 14.3% to 45%, and his APG from 1.7 to 2.3. Rebounding stayed the same.

All in all, fairly comparable. However, Nash saw a large reduction in minutes post all star break. Not sure why - perhaps some of the more historically minded here can fill us in.

YEAR 2 (1997-98) Nash

In his second year, Nash's minutes went up considerably, from 10:30 to 21:53 in 76 games. Consequently, his numbers increased, to 9.1 ppg on 45.9% shooting, 3.5 assists against 1.3 turnovers, 2.1 rebounds, and .8 steals per game.
Ranked 13th in the NBA in 3-point accuracy (.415), connecting on 81-195 with the Suns....Connected on 74-86 (.860) free throws, tops among the Suns....One of the most improved players in the NBA, Nash bettered his rookie numbers by 5.8 points, 1.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists.

YEAR 2 (2009-10) Dragic

Goran's numbers also went up, to 18:00 per game. In 80 games, his ppg increased to 7.9 on 45.2% shooting, 3 assists against 1.6 turnovers, and .6 steals per game. He shot 39.4% from 3, and 73.6% on free throws.

YEAR 3 (1998-99) Nash

In his 3rd year, Nash was traded to Dallas. He only played 40 games of the strike-shortened 50 game season, and started all 40, playing 31:41 per game. His ppg actually dropped to 7.9 on 36.3% shooting, 5.5 assists to 2.1 turnovers, and .9 steals. Shot 82.6% from the free throw line. Missed the final 10 games of the season due to a lower back strain....Scored in double figures 12 times and dished-out 10-plus assists five times.

YEAR 3 (2010-11) Dragic

Of course, this year is incomplete, but in his 40 games so far, he's putting up 7.9 in 18:36, 3.2 assists to 2 turnovers, and .7 steals per game. He's shooting 41.7 from the field, 30% from 3, and 61.8% from the free throw line.

2014 UPDATE: After the trade to Houston, Goran backed up Kyle Lowry. He played in 22 games, starting the last 3 of the season as Houston contended for a final playoff spot. His minutes stayed about the same, but his fg% jumped from 42.1% with Phoenix to 47.2 with Houston, his 3pt% went from 27.7 with Phoenix to 51.9% with Houston, his FT% increased slightly, his turnovers dropped from 2 to 1 per game, his defensive rebounds went up slightly, and his points per game showed a modest increase from 7.4 to 7.7. Modest increases, to be sure, but stability and a better roster seemed to do him good.

YEAR 4 (1999-2000) Nash

Another rather pedestrian year for the future 2 time MVP, with a slight reduction in minutes to 27:23, 8.6 points per game, 4.9 assists to 1.8 turnovers, and .7 steals.

1999-2000:
Appeared in 56 games (27 starts) and averaged 8.6 points, 4.9 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game in 27.4 minutes....Played his best at the end of the season after returning from a right ankle tendon strain which cost him 25 games....In the last 10 games he averaged 13.6 ppg, 8.1 apg in 40.1 minutes....Scored in double figures in 15 of the last 20 games and 24 times overall....Had six double-doubles all of which came in the last 19 games....Played a career-high 51 minutes at Denver on 4/6/00....Posted a season-high 11 assists twice - 3/16/00 at San Antonio and 3/27/00 at Utah....Twice went 10-11 from the foul line to post career-highs in both of those categories - 3/27/00 at Utah and 4/18/00 vs. Lakers.

Year 4 (2011-12) Dragic (added in 2014)

Dragic put up some pretty good numbers in this lockout shortened season, especially after Kyle Lowry went down late in the season with a staph infection. As a reserve, he played 38 games, shot 42% from the field, 25.7% from 3, 74.2% from the FT line, averaged 1.8 rebounds and 3 assists in 729 minutes. (average 19.2 min per game)

In 28 games as a starter, he improved his FG% to 49%, his 3 point shooting increased to 37.9, his FT% ballooned to 83.9%, his rebounds doubled to 3.5, and his assists nearly tripled to 8.4 per game. It was this, coupled with Nash's exodus to LA, which led Lon Babby to admit his mistake and offer Goran the job he had wanted from the beginning, starting for the Phoenix Suns. Aaron Brooks went away, Houston signed Jeremy Lin to a silly contract, and Goran came home.

YEAR 5 (2000-01) Nash

Steve played 70 games this year, breaking out in a big way, scoring 15.6 per game, dishing 7.7 assists against 2.3 turnovers, 3.2 rebounds and 1 steal a game. Dallas made the playoffs for the first time since 1998.

Year 5 (2012-13) Dragic (added in 2014)

Goran returned to Phoenix to lead a team that had seen the acquisition of several new players, including Luis Scola, Michael Beasley, and Wes Johnson. What could go wrong? Well....

It started well, but Gortat, after a strong start, seemed to check out before an ankle injury sidelined him for the rest of the year, Beasley never seemed to get here, and the Suns put up their 2nd worst season in their history, going 25-57. Goran (and Scola) played hard, but the issues have been well chronicled. Still, Dragic established himself as a legit starter, shooting 48.5%, 31.9% from 3, 79.3% FT, and 7.9 assists to go with 1.7 steals, .4 blocks, and averaging 15.8 points per game in 33.5 minutes per game. A little less than the 18/8 we were hoping for, but on a really bad team, pretty respectable. In fact, it was in perfect alignment with the career trajectory of Nash.

Year 6 (2001-02) Nash (added in 2014)

Nash continued his trek to stardom, making his first (of 8) All-Star appearance(s). He started all 82 games for Dallas, leading them to the playoffs again. He shot 48.3%, 45.5% from 3, and 88.7% on free throws while putting up 8 assists, .7 steals, and only 2.9 turnovers, while averaging 18.6 points per game.

Year 6 (2013-14) Dragic

Here we are. Of course, this year is incomplete, and Goran has bounced from shooting guard to PG, but he is putting up All-Star caliber numbers, and as you can see from the accompanying graphs, Goran has kept almost perfect pace with the trajectory of Steve Nash's career. Whether that will translate to an all-star berth is questionable, but there is no denying that he deserves one.

Nashvdragic_medium

via i1117.photobucket.com

(from 2011) So what conclusions can we draw from this comparison? What I see is that Dragic is developing in much the same way that Nash did, so far. It remains to be seen whether he will make that quantum jump that Steve did in the future, but I found it very interesting that Nash didn't make that leap until year 5 of his career. Nash got a lot more starts early - he started all his games in the third year - but he definitely wasn't amazing.

Present Day -

Seth Pollock posted this on Friday -

Is this the part where I get to say

I told you so?

From his first preseason game:

Goran Dragic will lead all rookies in assists and sun burns. This kid is very white and very smooth with ball in his hands. He glides down the court and dishes the ball like he’s serving up a short stack of buttermilk pancakes. Defensively, he’s adjusting to the tighter NBA rules for perimeter contact and the speed. He simply could not keep Acie Law in front of him. He’s a work in progress but I already would much rather have the ball in his hands then in Barbosa’s or Strawberry’s facing a hard trap or an aggressive defender. Next summer’s agenda includes improving the jump shot. And a tan.

Or this from 2009:

It is typical for young players to take several years to develop and Goran is no exception. With his 6’7" wing span and 37-inch vertical, he has more athletic gifts than most point guards and has already displayed an innate ability to see the floor.

Oh, there’s more…

Twitter me at: @sethpo

by Seth Pollack on Jan 10, 2014 | 10:30 AM reply unrec (13)

The answer to your question is: Yes, Seth. He was Dragic's number one defender, and he did it long before I arrived at BSotS. I will lay claim to the #2 spot, however. I've always believed Dragic had star potential. He hasn't let me down. I've kept a running comparison of Dragic this year compared to the top 2 guards in the league - right now, he's 4th in WP48, behind Wes Mathews, Wade, and Ginobili, at .205 - legit star level. He's 7th in points per 48, 2nd in assists (behind only Ginoboli), and that's while switching seamlessly from SG to PG several times in the same game, not to mention picking up the slack while Bledsoe is out with injury. He's a top SG and a top PG at the same time - there aren't many NBA players who have done that.

On a more personal tip, let me say that I love watching Bledsoe play. His balance, change of speed, extension, and cold-blooded nature are a pure pleasure. But for me, Dragic is more fun to watch. I love speed, I love PG-centric play - it's why I was drawn to the Suns in the first place. I'm glad he's back, I'm glad he's doing so well, and I hope he never leaves.

Steve Nash continued his torrid play for 2 years past the point covered in this article, while playing for Dallas. The next 8 were for the Suns. Goran Dragic is one year younger than Nash was in each of these years of development. Will I be revisiting this subject in 10 years?

I sincerely hope so.

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