Pool play is over at the FIBA World Championships, sending teams like Iran and Tunisia home and leaving the final 16 to fight for medals.
After 5 games, Goran Dragic is clearly his team's best player. Yet, he's played better against weaker competition (Croatia, Tunisia and Iran) than the strong ones (USA and Brazil).
After the jump, we analyze his tournament so far. The good and the bad. And how he can overcome a very accurate scouting report.
Ha ha - Brett Brown, the coach of the Australians, is a San Antonio Spurs assistant!
As an assistant coach with NBA club San Antonio in last season's Western Conference semi-finals, Brown could only watch as Dragic scored 23 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter of game three as Phoenix launched a furious comeback.
They would win the game for a 3-0 lead and ultimately sweep the series.
"We couldn't stop him," Brown told AAP. "He had 23 points in that period and we had no answer for him.
"The Phoenix Suns ended up sweeping the Spurs and we pride ourselves on defence.
"I have haunting memories of Dragic and all of that."
Goran Dragic has become the face of the Slovenian National Team
Overall per/game stats: 13 pts, 3.8 rebs, 3.6 assists
- Team leader in: minutes, free throw attempts, assists, turnovers and points.
- Nearly led team in: 2-pt FG % (2nd) and Rebounds (3rd)
So Goran spends a lot of time playing off the ball, explaining why his rebound totals are higher than his assists, year over year. The team looks good when he's running point, but the Slovenian coach still likes the veteran wiles of Lakovic, despite his diminishing effectiveness. In fact, the coach's affinity for Lakovic led Beno Udrih to leave the team this summer without a promise to start ahead of Lakovic or Dragic. Of course, you can't argue with the coach at this point. Slovenia is 4-1 in this tourney, and Lakovic had this best game in their biggest win (against Brazil, with 20 pts and 5 assists).
Another reason you can't totally rely on Goran in crunch time against good teams yet: the scouting report.
Force him to his right, and he's much less effective.
Teams with the defensive skillset to keep Goran going right (USA and Brazil) held him in check. Even when Slovenia screens his defender on a lefty drive, the opposing big man has been able to switch and show hard, forcing Goran back the other way.
Goran is going to have to figure out a counter-punch to this tactic. Of course, he's not the only person in the league who likes to drive with his strong hand. Kobe's scouting report is much the same, except with the opposite hand. So is Lamar Odom's. And Leandro Barbosa's. And Manu Ginobili's. In fact, very few players can drive effectively with either hand.
One counter-punch to the over-hard-show-on-a-switch tactic is the step-through move. Ginobili developed a dribble-through/step-through move to split the defenders. Once you split them, there's an open court for the strong lefty drive. And once you prove you can do this, their defense has to adjust by closing off the seam. Which means they can't show quite as wide or hard. Which opens up the lefty drive again.
Another counter-punch to forcing him to his right: isolation. Either before or after the switch. Just back up and get the defender in isolation with an open court. Barbosa and Ginobili do this all the time. Dragic and LB took turns doing this against the Spurs, and one of Dragic's top-10 highlights of the year was an isolation drive against the Lakers in the WCF. The downside of this is stagnating the offense. But at least you force the defense to pay for it's tactics.
Finally, a tried-and-true counterpunch to the over-hard show is to swing the ball back to the weak side. If the defense is doubling the pick-n-roll, that means you've got someone left open on the weak side for an easy score. This reduces the PG's "stats", but keeps the offense flowing.
Goran knows this and swings it back to the weak side all the time. And clearly this is working. Slovenia has a very efficient offense, and is 4-1 in the tourney.
The 4-1 record is extremely important to me. Goran is doing this - leading his team across the board in stats - in a winning environment. He's the definition of a PGPFWE.
Now the round of 16 starts. No more creampuffs (Tunisia and Iran, for example). We'll see if Goran can overcome his scouting report and produce against better teams.
First up is Australia (link to preview). This should be a very winnable game. Slovenia played Australia twice in warmup games this summer, going 1-1. Since then, they've added Lakovic (above) and SF Bostjan Nachbar.
After that, it looks like Goran will be facing the Suns' highest-paid newcomer: Hedo Turkoglu. Turkey went 5-0 in the preliminary round, winning with a stifling defense. Yes, I just said that. Stifling defense.
Hedo is shooting poorly, but you can't discount the fact that his team is 5-0 and he's contributing to a very effective defense. Hedo may not be a good individual defender, but he's not a defense-killer either.
One of these guys' World Championships will be over by next Wednesday at the latest, in the quarterfinals.
And the other will likely move on to the medal rounds (final 4).
Which will it be?