Up and Down
Goran Dragic has had an incredibly interesting career thus far. The peaks have been high, the valleys have been low and there have been plenty of both in his six seasons in the NBA.
You needn't have even followed his career as closely as most of us here on the Bright Side have to know what I'm talking about; all you would need to do is take a look at his win shares per 48 throughout his career.
It really is bizarre. Dud (rookie year) to stud (sophomore year; Spurs fourth quarter) to dud (third year slump) to stud (back-up in Houston) to stud (back-up/starter in Houston) to stud (first year back in Phoenix) and finally to star (this year). Dragic even surprised himself this year.
"In some games, yes, [I was surprised by my play]," Dragic said. "But my confidence was high. A lot of credit goes to my teammates. They make me better. My coach makes me better. But I always had this in my head that I can play in this league; that I'm good enough. If you ask me I'm always, probably like every player thinks he's the best, and I always think for myself I'm good enough and top 10 of players."
Last year, the Suns struggled mightily but Dragic put up a solid individual season.
14 points and 7 assists are solid if not spectacular numbers for a starting point guard. Dragic flashed moments of brilliance, but the consistency wasn't there. He was a good scorer, but seemed content to take a bit of a back seat at times and looked to set everyone else up before himself, even though he didn't have a lot of talent around him. The aggression and will to dominate was not there on every play.
Fast forward one year, and Dragic is a completely different player.
No more taking a back seat. Dragic let everyone know that Phoenix was his team. He put up numbers we've seen from few guards in the history of the game. And now he is likely to be named to one of the All-NBA teams. The only thing that slowed him down this year were injuries, something he will hopefully be able to avoid next year.
Dragic averaged 20.3 points on 50 shooting from the field and 40 percent shooting from 3-point range. Dragic became one of the best finishers in the game, and got to the rim more than he ever has before.
Per Synergy, Dragic scored 1.23 points per possession and shot 63.3 percent in transition. He scored 0.98 points per possession in isolation, good for 26th among all qualifying players. He also scored 0.98 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, good for 10th among all players, and shot 51.5 percent.
We all knew Dragic was really fast and very athletic, but he managed to channel and refine that speed and athleticism this year to turn himself into a deadly scorer. He also refined his pull-up and step-back jumpers as a counter when the lane was cut off, and steadily improved his 3-point shooting as the season progressed.
The side effect of Dragic's new ultra aggression was a drop in his assist numbers, but that is a trade-off the Suns were more than happy to make. Dragic still averaged a respectable 5.9 assists while splitting ball-handling duties with Eric Bledsoe, and his size double-digit assist games show he can still break down a defense and find his teammates when the situation calls for it.
Dragic has a fiery personality and plays with great intensity on the court, and that is something his new backcourt mate Bledsoe said he appreciated and identified with.
"Goran is an unbelievable competitor," Bledsoe said. "He goes into every game wanting to win, me and him both. That's all you can ask from your two point guards."
Speaking of Bledsoe, there were many questions about the ability of Dragic and Bledsoe to coexist in one backcourt. All of those questions are hilarious in retrospect. There were some growing pains, but the two meshed very well and each other's presence allowed both to have the best season of their careers.
The Suns went 23-11 when both guards started, and their chemistry improved with every game they got under their belt. Bledsoe supplemented Dragic's 20 and 6 with 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds of his own. The Suns were able to pair up two of the best penetrating and finishing guards in the NBA, and the result was nearly a playoff berth after a 25-win season the year before. Their combination of speed and aggressiveness also allowed the two to get after opponents defensively when they were out there, only helping to force turnovers and fuel their vaunted fastbreak.
"No question [they were one of the best backcourts in the NBA]," P.J. Tucker said. "If you look at the numbers, what those guys mean to our team, the way they performed all year, hurt, fighting all kind of adversity, those guys stuck together and made it happen even when people didn't think it would be good. Those guys were amazing."
Looking Back and Moving Forward
Dragic said this season was his second favorite behind only the 2010 Western Conference Finals run, and said it was individually the best of his career. However, Dragic is not content with where he is at, and knows there is still work to do.
"My goal is to not only have one season like that," Dragic said. "Of course, you need to have several seasons like that to be an elite point guard and I'm still not there and I still need to work hard."
Dragic may have been named the league's Most Improved Player this season, but he is planning on coming back even better next year.
"I'm like a broken record," Dragic said. "Every exit meeting I say the same: try to work on my game and try to be a better player, a complete player. This season was an unbelievable season for me, and just for my name to be mentioned in that category [with other top players], it's shown me that I'm on the right path, I'm working hard and I'm still not done. I still have to improve some things."
Now go watch this highlight video if you're suffering from Dragic withdrawals.