Whoever said that the rise of the Phoenix exists only in mythology is wrong. Just a season removed from suffering a dismal 25-57 2012-2013 season, the Phoenix Suns have risen from the ashes and are currently sitting in the last playoff spot in the tough Western Conference with a 1 ½ game lead over the Memphis Grizzlies. But how did they manage to turn it around so quickly?
First, they overhauled their roster and shipped out Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown, Jared Dudley and Michael Beasley. Then they added Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green and injected young blood to the team. And then of course, there is Goran Dragic, the 27-year old, 45th overall pick in the 2008 draft.
He’s a career 11.0ppg scorer and led the Suns in scoring last season at 14.7 ppg. But he’s upped that tremendously this year to 20.6 and his Suns are one of top 5 scoring teams in the league right now. Dragic has been torching the basket with his 51% FG and 41% 3PG shooting display. Not only that, he is dishing out 6.1 assists per game, which is also a career high. But these stats didn’t just appear out of the blue.
On Jan 25, 2010, Dragic hit 6 of 7 from the three point land and scored 32 points in a losing effort against the Utah Jazz. That same year, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals, he torched the San Antonio Spurs with 23 points in the 4th quarter to spearhead a Suns rally and finish off San Antonio 110-96. As a member of the Houston Rockets in 2011, he had a triple double against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He returned to Phoenix and on March 24, 2013, continuing his scoring spree with a 31pts, 12rebs and 9asts game against the Brooklyn Nets before ending last year’s miserable season.
He was also named to the All-Tournament Team in the 2013 Euro Basketball Tournament after being in the Top 5 for scoring and assists.
So why didn’t we notice Dragic? He was playing for a losing team and had to fill in a huge pair of shoes in Phoenix, that of 2 time MVP Steve Nash, who had left for the bright lights of LA.
The Suns are coming off that forgetful 25-57 finish last season. They’ve won 10 more games this season, with still 23 games to go. They are currently engaged in a neck to neck battle with the Memphis Grizzlies for that last ticket to the big dance, but if we put the Suns on the other end of the fence, in the Eastern conference, they’d be the number 1 team in the Atlantic Division and have the 3rd best record behind Indiana and Miami. However, they’re in the Wild West.
The Suns sputtered on the road last season, winning only 8 of 41 games. This year, they are above .500, winning 14 of 27. The Suns have played high octane offense this season and are 16-5 in games decided by 10pts or more. Dragic leads the scoring and is ably assisted by Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green.
Phoenix has been ruled by a great court general in its glory years. They never went to playoff battles without a great court general, except of course during the era of Sir Charles Barkley. First there was Kevin Johnson, then Jason Kidd and finally Nash. This year, it’s been the year of the Dragic.
Dragic wasn’t named to the All-Star team, although his stats said otherwise. Damian Lillard, Tony Parker and Chris Paul were the reserve guards for the Western All Stars. Stephen Curry was the starting PG and Anthony Davis was Kobe Bryant’s replacement. Again, if we were to put him on the Eastern side, he would’ve probably been an All Star with John Wall as the only other PG on the reserve list, but the West is filled with the league’s top PGs whose teams are in the playoffs and have better records than the Suns. Look at this:
Tony Parker San Antonio 42-16
Damian Lillard Portland 40-18
Yet if we look at individual stats, Dragic is the top scorer on that list. He shoots the better percentage amongst the group as well. He is a close third in assists, and here’s one important thing: those other point guards have superstars around them with Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin. Dragic has none, except his rag tag and over-achieving crew of virtual unknowns. That’s what makes him truly special.
The Suns hope to be in the playoffs for the first time in the post-Steve Nash era this season. They are breathing heavily in the eight spot, but could go to 7 or even 6. Only the Top 5 seeds in the West seem to be locked right now. The remaining slots will go down the wire.
Phoenix has mightily struggled with the +.500 teams this season. They are only 12-17 against winning teams. They’ve also got a tough schedule ahead because they have to play 12 games against playoff bound teams, but they’ve defied the odds so far this season. And they hope to ride their Magic Dragic to the playoffs and even beyond.
During his first stint with the Suns, Dragic wore the jersey number 2. I don’t know if it was pure coincidence, but perhaps it was because he played back up to Steve Nash. When he returned in 2012-2013, he changed his number to 1. Last season, it didn’t really mean much and no one gave it a thought, although he had a fairly decent season, but after 54 games this season, we need not ask him why he changed numbers, and the stat sheets answer that question. He deserves that jersey as much as he deserves the respect of everyone in basketball. The Phoenix has risen in the Valley of the Suns. And in Arizona, Goran is the One and Dragic is magic.