Zoran Dragic, the newest addition to the ever-expanding number of guards on the roster, is a high-energy player with relentless motor and great defensive skills. Here is a (somewhat) detailed look into the pros and cons of Zoki (his nickname in Slovenia).
High energy and great hustle
You may have seen our own Goran Dragic running for an entire game, stopping only when the final whistle blows or when he's too exhausted to carry on. Well, expect the same from Zoran.
He is, in the words of his first coach, like that Duracell Bunny, never staying still, always on the move, always doing something. Zoran will not slow down, he just won't, so he's a great option to have in transition, speeding down the court, waiting for a pass to drive to the rim or take the open three. On top of that, he's the same on defense, always looking for the ball, waiting to get into those passing lanes and get a steal. He jumps for every loose ball, no matter if it's against a guard or a big man, he's reminiscent of PJ Tucker in that respect.
Zoran has been constantly and steadily improving throughout his career. His first coach said he had real trouble with him, with Zoran never staying still long enough for him to actually learn something. He never was very interested in playing on defense. He was mostly just about running with the ball and taking a shot from deep. Yes, from deep. Fun fact: Zoran was a very good 3-point shooter starting his career in the junior leagues but his second coach (the one that taught him to play defense) realised just how quick Zoran is and from then on, he was not allowed to shoot a three, ever. His only job was hustling on D and driving to the rim past his slower opponents, effectively making his shooting stroke something nobody want to see, while it mirrored his efficiency-very poor. But for the last few years, especially in Unicaja Malaga (a great video by Euroleague about Zoran), Zoran has been individually working on his shooting stroke before and after every practice in Malaga, and things are looking up. It's not hard to see him improve even more with one of the best shooters in the league as his coach. Work your magic, Jeff.
Speedy with some crafty moves driving to the rim
Speed is the basis of Zoran's game. He never really listened to his parents and teachers when they were yelling: "Will you stop running!". He's quick, Goran-quick, maybe a tad slower but very speedy nonetheless, with a touch of Dragon's craftiness (18th second of the video) in the open court and when it comes to finding an open teammate. He's a good finisher at the rim, especially on the fast-break, where he's very hard to stop, as he's almost two meters tall (196 cm/6.4 ft) and can easily dunk one-handed or finish from under the basket.
Well, I don't need to tell you how hard it is to guard a left-handed player, as you've seen plenty of Goran's moves at the rim. Zoran's drive down the left side is very strong and he is very much capable of finishing through contact, at leas in Euroleague, where he's become on of the best (jut kidding, THE best player for Unicaja) on court for his team on most nights. It's not a great big thing, to be a lefty, but Zoran is the type of player that will use anything and everything against his opponents if it will help him get the ball or score. He's been described as on of the least-favorite opponents in the Euroleague by the very players he was guarding.
This was, up to the 2013 Eurobasket, Zoran's bread and butter. He was sent on the court time and time again against the best guards in Europe with a single instruction: Do not let them score. And he's done just that, relishing in the defensive aspects of the game, getting into people's faces, using his body to get an offensive foul called, waiting for the careless passes and disrupting the flow of the game or juts poking the ball away (usually from opposing point guards) and sprinting to the rim on the other end. If you've watched the Unicaja video (who am I kidding, of course you have), Zoran actually likes playing defense, he actively enjoys shutting down opposing stars, frustrating them and keeping them below their average effectiveness. Be it fighting over screens or getting into someone's face on iso plays, Zoran does it all. Just ask James Harden, who was scoreless for the entire first half of the Slovenia:USA game when Zoran was guarding him. James Harden, scoreless. Let that sink in.
All that being said, Zoran is not a perfect player and there are a few aspects of his game that will need work so let's look at those next.
Cons (sort of)
Shooting stroke and the NBA three
I mentioned this previously, but Zoran's shooting stroke was truly awful just a few years ago because of his coaches insisting that he drive to the rim every chance he gets. But he's been hard at work with a shooting coach for the last few years and although his numbers are nowhere near stellar (45% 2FG, 35% 3FG, 70% FT in a little over 22 minutes of play on average in the 2013/2014 season in Euroleague) his percentages are slowly climbing and as I also mentioned previously, Jeff Hornacek is just the man for the job. As for the NBA three, Zoran is not afraid to shoot from well behind the line in Europe so I don't think it will be a big transition for him. If he can master the corner three (his favorite spot for three is at about 45 degrees from the baseline) to start with, there is great potential for him as he has a quick release and a high release point, making it difficult to get a hand onto the ball if you are guarding him.
Driving to his right and body type
Typical of a natural lefty, Zoran drives to his left most of the time, even when he could finish easily with his right hand. The trouble is, he's not nearly as efficient with the latter, something he'll definitely have to work on in order to become an even better finisher. Basically what Goran did last year to become a player that hits over 67% at the rim.
Also, while Zoran is hard as a rock on court, that was Europe and in order to be effective in the NBA both on defense and offense, he will need to add some extra muscle to his frame. But I'd advise caution with over-doing it, because this will surely slow him down, not something we want to happen. Hit the weights, young man just, you know, use your head too.
Emotion and decision making
Similar to his brother, Zoran is very emotional on the court, giving his all on the court every time he gets a chance to play, which can get him into trouble. He will often get frustrated with himself over a missed lay-up and will try everything to redeem himself for it, something that sometimes results in a great steal and dunk, but more often to a quick foul and a seat on the bench. I believe this will improve with playing time and with better technique when handling the ball. He's by no means sloppy with the ball (averaging a little over 1 turnover per game in last year's Euroleague competition) but he does try to make that extra, showy move, which can lead to a turnover and an easy bucket on the other end. I'm betting he'd love to have an older, third-NBA guard on the team to learn from. Oh wait...
World Cup Performance
Even before summer started Zoran Dragić was confirming he would represent Slovenia in the World Cup tournament. Since this would be his first World Cup with the National team he would have a chance to show what he can do on a bigger stage. Coming into training camp, coach Zdovc said he had a lot of problems with Zoran. Zoki, who had just recuperated from a hernia surgery, had a 4 weeks' supply of energy that needed an outlet. Adding that up with his already vibrant nature and I have an image of Zoki bouncing on his heels while the coach is giving out instructions. That excessive energy probably contributed to his awful 3ptFG% (22) and turnover average of almost 2 per game during the warm-ups. His 2ptFG% was at 64% though, and he averaged 1.5 steal a game while adding 3 rebounds, almost 2 assists and 12.7 points through 13 games.
When Goran joined and the whole team had settled down a bit more, Zoran became more concentrated and reliable. In the actual tournament he managed to lower his turnovers to 0.7 per game and increase his rebounds to 4 per game. He kept the 50% overall FG% intact, shooting slightly worse from below the arc then in the warm-ups, but raising his 3ptFG% to a proud 43.3%. He also added 1.4 steals and 1.3 assists. He was Slovenia's second best scorer at 12.9 points per game. His best performance was a perfect game against Mexico. In 22 minutes of playing time he got just as many points on perfect 8/8 shooting (4/4 on 3, 2/2FT). He added 3 steals and 2 assists, one of which was this lovely Alley-Oop to Omić.
In the end coach Zdovc commended Zoki on his great performance in the cup. In some of his latest statements it is obvious Zdovc is sure that Zoran will be successful in the NBA. Saying his energy, commitment and hard work is an example for every young player who wants success. And that those same traits will be what convinces the coach he deserves minutes.
Zoran is a high energy player that will not doze off on court, and will not shy away from guarding the best guards the NBA has to offer. He fights for every loose ball, jumps at every rebound and sprints down the other end whenever he gets the chance. His performance in the World Cup helped him gain the attention of many NBA team, including the Phoenix Suns. If he continues to work on his shot (which he is) and slows down enough for his coaches and players to be able to teach him something, while adding bulk and some extra moves on offense, he will be a good player in the NBA.
And what does Zoran expect?
Of course he is very happy about signing with the Suns and realizes having his big bro looking out for him will be a big help. But also knows there is some added pressure and expectations are higher because of Goran's success. In this video he gives some of his very first statements after the reveal. Since it's all in Slovene, here is the translation:
I'm very happy I signed with an NBA team. My dreams have (sort of) come true. But I'm not going to stop dreaming. I just signed a 2 year contract, now everything starts anew, from zero and I hope I'll prove myself as much as possible, that I can get certain minutes.
On playing with Goran
I definitely want to (play with his bro), we had a great time on the national team, we know each other well and now this will be something new - playing in the same club. I'm looking forward to that.
It will probably be easier to adjust to life (in Phoenix because of big bro), but regarding playing, it's basically all on me. I have to maximally prove myself and show what I'm capable of, so I will get minutes.
On whether there's a "minutes per game clause" in his contract
No, I haven't talked to the coach yet. I talked to the GM of the Suns. I know what kind of players are on this team, a lot of them play my position. Like I said, first 2 years it will be very hard. Have to prove myself and fight for minutes.
We deliberately did not go on about the fact that having Zoran in Phoenix is likely to add some serious leverage to the Suns FO when it comes to signing Goran to a much bigger deal next year but yeah, can't hurt.