When the Phoenix Suns acquired Eric Bledsoe last summer to team up with incumbent point guard Goran Dragic, the Suns said it was a perfect match made along the lines of Jeff Hornacek's run as the combo guard next to Kevin Johnson that helped an upstart Suns team to 4 seasons of 53+ wins and a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 1991.
Hornacek was drafted into turmoil, his rookie season marred by a team drug scandal and only 27 wins. Dragic was signed as a free agent, his first season as a starter marred by an underperforming, mismatched roster that won only 25 games.
Jeff saw the Suns acquire hot shot PG Kevin Johnson, who had backed up All-Star Mark Price in Cleveland, in one of the roster-purge trades to be the PG of the future.
Dragic saw the Suns acquire hot shot PG Eric Bledsoe, who had backed up All-Star Chris Paul in Los Angeles, in one of the roster-purge trades to be the PG of the future.
Hornacek and KJ clicked immediately because Hornacek deferred the primary point guard duties to the smaller but more athletic (and periodically hurt) Johnson while Horny became the dangerous scorer/passer who averaged 13+ points, 5+ assists, and 3.5+ rebounds for four straight years alongside the mercurial KJ as the Suns won at least 53 games in four straight seasons.
Dragic and Bledsoe clicked immediately because Dragic deferred the primary point guard duties to the smaller but more athletic (and periodically hurt) Bledsoe while Dragic upped his scoring average while keeping his assists at nearly 6 per game.
Jeff Hornacek's best scoring season was 1991-92 when joined the 20/50/40 club by scoring 20.1 points while shooting 50+% from the field (51.2%) and 40+% on three-pointers (43.9%).
In the 21 NBA seasons since, only one guard (Drazen Petrovic, 92-93) and three forwards (Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki) have matched the 20/50/40 feat in a season.
Until now (hopefully).
With five games to go, Goran Dragic's best NBA season is on schedule to join Hornacek, Petrovic and three of the best forwards of all time in the 20/50/40 club. Dragic is averaging 20.5 ppg, .508 FG%, .417 3P%.
Let me repeat. No NBA guard has matched the 20/50/40 marks since 1992-93, and Dragic's own coach was the last American guard to do it.
But that's not the only warm and fuzzy connection here. Dragic remembers Petrovic, a Croatian, fondly.
"He was one of the best European players," Dragic said of Petrovic, who was Yugoslavian along with Dragic until the country split into multiple parts. "When I grew up, he was a national hero back home. If I can do that...(shakes head). It's all hard work, and it's paying off. I cannot sleep on those numbers, I have to keep getting better."
Then I had a nice exchange with Dragic about who was the last NBA player before Petrovic to join the 20/50/40 club.
"Do you know who made it before Petrovic?"
"KJ?" he asked, thinking I was setting him up after the earlier questions, but he guessed wrong. When I shook my head, he said, "I don't know."
"Hornacek," I told him.
"Jeff?!" he yelled in surprise. A big smile opened up. "I didn't know. I'll have to talk to him."
"He told you it was going to work out for you," I said, about pairing with Bledsoe.
"Yes he did!"
As long as Dragic doesn't go off the rails in the next week, he will join his own coach Jeff Hornacek and one of his country's heroes Drazen Petrovic as the only NBA guards to score 20+ points per game while shooting 50+% from the field and 40+% on three pointers.
Not bad for a 6'3" guard from Slovenia once dubbed 'Goran Tragic'. In retrospect, the hiring of Jeff Hornacek could not have been more perfect for the Slovenian guard.
Dragic had a rough start to the Oklahoma City game, missing his three first-quarter shots before coming out. He was frustrated, given the high stakes of the game for the Suns' season.
"He told me, 'Kid, you're in Slovenia, and your fans are cheering for you'," Dragic recalled, of Hornacek trying to get Dragic to clear his head and start fresh in the second quarter. "'It's 0-0, go out and have fun.'"
Dragic came out and scored 19 second-quarter points, making 8 of 10 shots in the process as the Suns grabbed a 9-point halftime lead. That the guard gave credit to his coach for helping him clear his head is yet another sign that Hornacek and Dragic are kindred spirits on the court. Dragic has had similar stories all season long of how encouraging Hornacek is with him and all the players.
Now, with a rare 20/50/40 season under his belt, he should be named to an All-NBA team after the season as one of the top guards in the league.
What a great story to have for the rest of his life.