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Phoenix Suns' Goran Dragic Steps Into the Spotlight

PHOENIX - MAY 29:  Goran Dragic #2 of the Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX - MAY 29: Goran Dragic #2 of the Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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As often happens with role players who have career nights on the big stage – in Goran's case, the 2009-2010 playoffs – national expectations for the next season tend to venture beyond realism.

Such is the case with the Suns’ young point guard Goran Dragic, entering his third year in the NBA as the backup to All-Star Steve Nash.

Once Goran scored 23 points in the fourth quarter of Game 3 against the previously-unbeatable Spurs, his national light began to burn. Follow that up with great second-half performances in Games 4 and 6 of the Conference Finals against the Lakers – including the infamous standoff against Sasha Vujacic – and you’ve got yourself a national darling.

A big enough darling that, when the CelticsRajon Rondo embarassed an opponent with a dipsy-do layup a week after Goran did the same to a Spurs big man, the ESPN commentator exclaimed "He just got Dragic’d!". Unscripted. On national TV. And no one laughed.

A big enough darling that he almost made BDL's Top 30 PGs last week. According to the writer Kelly Dwyer, via twitter and the weekly Hump Day Chat on that website, he was 31st or 32nd overall. Wow. That would make him one of the best backup PGs in the league.

Hyperbole? Or reality?

(read more about Goran after the jump)

For the next two weeks, Goran will carry his Slovenian team through the preliminary round of the World Championships in Turkey. Notably, his team will play Team USA this Sunday, sure to be carried on some national stage.

The fact that he is now his team's star player is quite a change from even last summer. During Slovenia's run to 4th in last year's Eurobasket Championships, he was a bit player trying to find his rhythm. His highlight was a 4-steal, 10-point 4th quarter against powerhouse Spain that nearly led his team to a win. The very next game, Goran tweaked his knee and missed the rest of the tourney.

Yet this summer, Goran is the star. Our blogging buddy Blaz13 has been covering his exploits via continued comments on a single thread (here). Starting Saturday, Blaz will hopefully start a new thread (since his old one is now archived) to follow Goran through Slovenia's "real" games.

And then the NBA season comes right after that.

The Suns are on national TV at least 25 times next season. What will the media, the color commentators and journalists, talk about?

Seven Seconds Or Less? Been there, done that.
The Suns lack of size? Old news.
The "Benjamin Buttons", Nash and Hill? Snooze.
Amare’s gone. D’Antoni’s long, long gone. No more quote machines in the locker room.

Enter, the Slovenian Dragon.

In fact, it's already started. The national media actually picked up on the little panic surrounding his "interest" in returning to Europe. Think anybody would have cared about that a year ago?

He's young. He's fresh. He's easy to talk to, and seems genuinely excited about being in the NBA.

We’re not talking Amare or Nash levels, but anything more than "the Suns can’t afford to lose Nash here, since they have no backup plan" has to be considered revolutionary.

Expect highlights of his past exploits, and lots of anticipation surrounding the game. "When will Dragic come in?" "Oooh, did you see that step-back 3? Just like Manu used to do" "He got Dragic’d!" "How can Gentry take him out? The Suns need Goran’s energy right about now."

But with talk come expectations.

A game line of 8 points and 3 assists won’t be enough. No longer will the media be happy with occasional moments of brilliance. They will be looking for consistently exciting plays.

It won’t be enough that Goran shows flashes of Manu. They’ll want him to "be" Manu.

It won’t be enough that Goran has a nice assist, or a driving layup. They’ll want more than one.

Games of 32 points against Utah, 18 against San Antonio, 16 and 10 against OKC, 10 in the fourth to lead a comeback… the media will expect that in a month’s worth of national games, not a season’s worth.

Goran Dragic has a bright future, but I worry that in 2010-2011 his mettle will be tested moreso than in his previous 2 seasons.

We know he has the drive to succeed when he is expected to fail. But does he have the drive to succeed when he is expected to succeed?

You probably think I’m overblowing this. That Goran will be much happier this year in a bigger role and no longer having to deal with the "bust" label.

But logic will tell you that it’s harder to meet high expectations than it is to meet low expectations.

Quite a change from last summer, that’s for sure.

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