Phoenix Suns erstwhile point guard Goran Dragic made third-team All-NBA last season with a breakout year in which he set career highs for points per game (20.6), shooting percentage and three-point percentage. This year, he's been so far relegated to the shooting guard role on a team loaded with quality point guards.
But does that mean he's ready to leave Phoenix? Not so fast, skeptics.
"I don't know from where (this news came)," he said to a Slovenian reporter over the weekend, translated by our very own BSotS correspondent kajkejti, "I haven't said (anything) about that at all. It's mostly written by media. I feel very good in Phoenix, I have a lot of friends (here), family."
But you can sympathize with Dragic's struggles this season, and none of us would be surprised if Dragic at least listened to other teams before making a free agent decision next summer.
He was one of only a handful of NBA players last year to ever to put up 20+ points and 5+ assists while shooting 50+% from the field and 40+% on three pointers.
Then over the summer, while Goran and his brother Zoran led their Slovenian team deep into the FIBA World Cup, the Suns came around and signed his brother to a two-year guaranteed contract. Even before that, Goran was asked about his own intentions to re-sign with the Suns and made it sound like a high probability that he would stay in Phoenix long term.
But the Suns also re-signed point guard running mate Eric Bledsoe to a $70 million deal for five years and fellow PG Isaiah Thomas to a $27 million deal over four years to replace Ish Smith and form a three-headed "hydra" that on paper didn't look like it could work. Less than a handful of NBA teams in history have successfully employed a system like the Suns' are trying to create this season.
Color the PGs themselves as unsure how this will all play out. Dragic recently spoke to Slovenian media (translated by our own Kajkejti) about his role on the team this season. It isn't specified when the interview took place but our guess is either Friday or Saturday after the game.
"A lot of things have changed," Dragic said. "As you can see we have three play-makers, I'm playing mostly off the ball, I'm not that involved on the pick and roll which is my game. But this is part of sports, the team is playing well, so you have to make some sacrifices for the team. As long as it's working."
Markieff Morris has not shown the instincts to be a proper pick-and-pop player in the Suns system as Channing Frye's replacement because Morris doesn't feel comfortable hoisting several threes a game in a catch-and-shoot situation. Lately, Hornacek has discovered P.J. Tucker's ability to make those threes as the power forward in a smaller lineup. Tucker has hit a number of catch-and-shoot top-of-the-key threes in the past week, something the Suns' offense and Dragic in particular desperately need to spread the floor properly.
For now, they are winning games in a manageable season-opening schedule (ranked by b-ref as 16th toughest in NBA so far) but there hasn't been a night in which all three looked comfortable since the opening night win (they combined for 54 points) over the hapless Lakers.
A look at their raw stats shows that the three players almost are a carbon copy of each other.
Both Bledsoe and Dragic's numbers are slightly down from a season ago. Dragic says that's to be expected.
"Yes it's normal," he replied. "If you look at the other players, also Eric doesn't have the same numbers as last year. The team is more complete, we have more quality players - more players who can help on the court, the coach is taking advantage rotating players. I think (so :P) this is good, because we have 82 games, the season is long, so we try to stay as fresh as possible for each game."
Dragic and Bledsoe still play the most minutes and Dragic is shooting the best of all three overall (except for three-point %). But his assist rate (3.1) is the lowest of the three despite Thomas playing 7 fewer minutes per night. And when you look at the advanced stats, Dragic is having a lesser impact on the game than Bledsoe or Thomas.
While Thomas and Bledsoe each get to the line for free throws early half the time, Dragic does not. And each of Bledsoe and Thomas has a higher "true shooting" percentage which factors in threes and FTs.
Much of that is because Dragic is playing "off the ball" a lot more this season than either of the other two. Look at Dragic's "usage rate" - a measure of how often he finishes a possession with a shot or assist. He last of the three (21.9), which is in line with every other season of his except for last season's career high rate.
In fact, Dragic's season in general is paling in comparison to last year's Most Improved Player season in which he set career highs in nearly every category.
The Slovenian reporter asks him about the reports from the past week (about reporters saying he'll explore other options) and "if that is connected to the changes on the team"?
"No," he said, "I mean, I think everything is connected. But I'm not thinking about that yet and I don't know from where (this news came), I haven't said (anything) about that at all. It's mostly written by media. I feel very good in Phoenix, I have a lot of friends (here), family.. When the season ends, I'll think about it, just put all the cards on the table and see which option is the best. For now I really can't say more (about this)."
The reporter continues to ask him about his comment on there being only one ball and if this is referring to there being overcrowding on the floor. Goran says it was taken a bit out of context, he was just replying to a reporters question on why the 3pgs haven't all had a great night together.
"But this is their (reporters) job," he said (insert cheeky grin), "to make the most interesting story and that people read it."
At the end he talks about Zoran Dragic, says he is training hard, but still has to wait for an opportunity since sadly all the games he was active were close.