The NBA’s 30 Men Of Intrigue: Goran Dragic

(Editor’s Note: To kick off our coverage of the 2015-16 NBA season, we’re profiling the most intriguing player of all 30 NBA teams. What makes them intriguing? It could be their talent, quirkiness or the unknown, it doesn’t matter. Follow The NBA’s 30 Men of Intrigue series here with us at TSFJ, as our friends and family join us for another awesome basketball campaign.)

There is no other Goran Dragic. His game is unique to only him.

He’s a progressive point guard who was thrust onto a team going through a rather conservative change in philosophy. The Heat were a middling team and needed a demonstrative change in the backcourt. What they received was a Steve Nash prototype with an upgrade in the operating system. The core offensive philosophy Nash made so popular – increased pace equals increased opportunities – now lives through Dragic. But the Heat didn’t get the conductor of the 7-seconds-or-less-Suns at the trade deadline, there is no other Steve Nash. His game is unique to only him.

The biggest difference between Dragic and Nash, however, is Dragic’s pragmatic approach once he gets in the paint. Nash was an abstract idealist, probing in the painted rectangle until the right opportunity presented itself. Dragic’s approach is much more calculated, he knows what opportunities are available before he enters the paint and darts toward the rim until the defense makes the choice for him. Dragic is clearly born out of the school of Nash, but he’s made a lateral move away from Nash’s unique metaphysical approach to a more concrete way of decision making. This is what you’d like to see in a career progression. Mentorship from one of the game’s greats, adopting elements of style, then molding those elements into a game of his own.

Dragic’s growth into his current form wasn’t exactly what the Heat needed last year, but he’s perfect for what they’ll become this season. As constructed, Miami just wasn’t built for Dragic’s particular brand of basketball, and Eric Spoelstra didn’t have the time to be thoughtful about the best ways to utilize him with the personnel at his disposal. Despite the chasm separating the way Dragic played his whole career and the way the Heat were playing up until he joined the team, the pairing of the two was transformative for the franchise. Dragic stepped in and completely changed the way the Heat operated. Most transformative theorists believe that three elements must shift in any definite change in an organization. Dragic’s presence with the Heat touched on all three:

  • A change in identity: Dragic running the offense
  • A change in belief system: We must push the tempo to win
  • A change in behavior: An increased pace of about six possessions per game

The proof is in the numbers. Before the All-Star break, the Heat were empirically the slowest team in the NBA. Neither Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole had the fortitude to constantly push the ball — nor did either play on ball enough to dictate pace if they wanted to. Dragic changed this immediately, and his effect on the team was substantial: Miami’s pace moved from 88 possessions per contest to 94, a move from dead last to middle of the pack. Furthermore, Dragic didn’t necessarily reduce the percentage of possessions Dwyane Wade had per game (Wade’s usage rate remained relatively constant), but Dragic cut down on the number of possessions that Wade had to initiate the offense and handle the ball.

Not only did Dragic speed up the game, but he brought a controlled approach to the Heat on the break. He isn’t the fastest from coast-to-coast, but he may have the most control over his body at full speed than any other point guard in the league. Dragic’s presence on the break is when he’s most impressive — and it all comes back to the game that spawned out of learning under Nash. Dragic begins calculating all of his options as soon as he receives outlet passes. He’s constantly evaluating all options while recognizing where all of the nine other players are on the floor. He has the vision of a chameleon and can toss a dime into a coin slot from 25 feet away.

When not passing, Dragic has some of the best footwork in the paint — not just at his position — but league wide. His craftiness begins with his ambidexterity around the rim. Dragic is a true lefty but doesn’t have the awkwardness going right that most southpaws have. On top of that, Dragic adds impeccable timing and feel to his ability to go both ways. He has a slick up and under move from either block, can shoot over both shoulders, and a nifty floater that makes him unpredictable around the basket. His game extends to the 3-point line, where he’s just as comfortable in catch-and-shoot opportunities as he is off the dribble.

With Chris Bosh back from his scary blood clotting issue and the potential of rookie Justise Winslow, Dragic should be even tougher for opposing defenses. More important, though, is that Dragic represents the end of figuring out new beginnings for Miami. He is not the face of the Heat’s new identity, but he’s caused the most noticeable change in how this team will define itself in the 2015-16 season. After years of transforming into one of the league’s most under-appreciated point guards, he’s become the man to make a transformative change for an organization that needed it most.

There is no other Goran Dragic. And that’s exactly what Miami is counting on for this season.

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