Dragic Making a Point Following All-Star

Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The second half of the season is typically very kind to Suns point guard Goran Dragic.

When Dragic was a rookie in 2008-09, he barely sniffed the court in the first half of the season before coming on strong to earn a spot in the rotation during the second half of the year. Then, with Houston last season, Dragic started steadily before eventually tearing up the competition after the All-Star break.

The 2012-13 campaign appears to be no different.

“The sky is the limit for him,” Suns Head Coach Lindsey Hunter said. “I really like the way he approaches the game and how nasty he gets at times. That’s a part of who he is and what makes him great.”

With the Rockets last season, Dragic captured Western Conference Player of the Week honors after averaging 20.7 points, 8.3 assists and 2.7 steals. That offensive outburst came from April 2-8, but this season’s statistical explosion has arrived much earlier than last year’s.

At the All-Star break, Dragic and Miami’s LeBron James were the only two NBA players leading their teams in points, assists, steals and free throw attempts. Since the break, no other NBA player has recorded more assists than the 6-3 Slovenian.

In fact, the Suns’ floor leader posted at least 10 points, 10 assists and two steals in four-straight games for the first time in his career. And that was the first time a Sun has uncorked a streak of that kind since Jason Kidd did so in 1999.

His four consecutive games of double-digit assists were also a career-best for Dragic, who credited the All-Star break with giving him opportunity to recharge his batteries.

“The (All-Star) break was great for me,” he said. “More than physical, it was good for me mentally to rest.”

There was no better proof of that than in his first game after All-Star Weekend. Against Portland, Dragic scored 16 points and dished out a career-high 18 assists in a Suns road win. With that effort, he joined Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Detroit’s Jose Calderon as the only players this season to record at least 18 assists in a game.

However, Dragic is the sole player in the league to record at least 16 points and 18 assists in a game this season. Along with the Clippers’ Chris Paul, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, the Nuggets’ Ty Lawson and the Heat’s LeBron James, the Suns’ fifth-year veteran is the only other NBA player averaging better than 14.0 points, 6.0 assists and 1.5 steals.

Dragic is on pace to become only the fourth Sun in franchise history to do accomplish that feat in an entire season.

“Most of those assists are from March (center Marcin Gortat) rolling and sucking the defense in so I can find the open shooters,” Dragic said. “Or if he’s open, he’ll finish some easy layups. And I think our spacing is better than before, too”.

Since the All-Star break, Dragic is averaging 15.3 points, 10.7 assists and 2.3 steals a game, which could just be the result of so many new faces finally coming together.

“He’s someone that gets better throughout the season,” Suns swingman Jared Dudley said. “Sometimes it takes a while with guys and I think playing with a lot of new guys this year, you just start to play better at the end of the season.”

With improved chemistry among the players, Dragic now has a better feel for where his teammates will be and what they will likely do. Now he can read each situation better.

“As a former point guard, I always encourage him to be himself but learn how to get better,” Hunter said. “I’ve always felt that taking a guard’s aggressiveness away from him was never good for him.

“Goran can still learn how to facilitate out of his aggressiveness. I would never tell him not to take a shot or not to do this, I would just tell him to think about the situation.”

It’s obvious that the Suns playmaker has been listening to his coach.

“If the guy goes under on the pick-and-roll and the big guy goes with the guy, I’m going to be open and I have to take that shot,” Dragic said. “But sometimes, they double-team me and I have to pass the ball. So you just have to read it.”

Hunter, who sees a lot of the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili in Dragic, has been impressed with his point guard’s athleticism.

“He’s a lot faster and stronger than people expect him to be,” the Suns’ first-year coach said. “Not a lot of guards understand how strong he is until they match up against him. And there is still a lot of room to grow.”

Although Hunter would like to see Dragic improve in an array of areas, he believes Dragic’s game will go to another level once he develops his mid-range game more. The new Suns head coach is asking his leading scorer to be point man on the defensive end, too.

Controlling the defense is not easy when he’s already playing a career-high 33 minutes a game, but Hunter believes he’s fully capable of it.

“He has all the ability in the world to play defense,” Hunter said. “He’s more than athletic enough, and he’s longer and bigger than most point guards. He can be a terror out there on defense and that’s what I’m challenging him to be.”

The 26-year-old guard already has at least one steal in 44 of 58 games this season and has multiple steals in 28 of 58 contests, which are the most multiple-steal games by a Sun since Shawn Marion during the 2006-07 season.

To put it in perspective, Dragic is not only leading the charge defensively, but he also has more double-digit scoring games and 20-point efforts this season than any other Sun. Throw in the fact that he’s 11th-best in the league in total assists and one can understand where his future could be headed.

“If he keeps going the way that he’s going, he can reach the All-Star level,” Hunter said. “I think he’s that type of athlete and he has that type of drive in him. And he can be an All-Star point guard in this league.”