Dragic Takes On Former Team in Second Round

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: May 3, 2010

With all the talk of the Suns having a curse against the Spurs, usually a positive spell needs to be cast upon the afflicted to undo such a hex. Something dramatic needs to occur to reverse the tide.

Usually, it’s an uncharacteristic mistake by the dominant team that comes back to haunt them. In the case of the Suns and Spurs, that mistake may have been San Antonio trading away Suns guard Goran Dragic.

During the 2008 NBA Draft, the Suns traded the rights to their 48th overall pick, Malik Hairston, a 2009 second-round pick and cash to the Spurs for the Slovenian playmaker. Phoenix, which was the only team that Dragic worked out for, worked out a deal with San Antonio so it didn’t miss out on drafting the 6-4 guard.

“I met the people at the Phoenix Suns and I liked the weather, the city and everything,” Dragic said. “I was hoping that the Phoenix Suns would draft me. At first, when the Spurs drafter me, I wasn’t disappointed – still it’s a great honor for an NBA team to draft you – but inside I hoped I was going to come to the Phoenix Suns.”

Ironically, Dragic cemented himself as a hot prospect amongst the Suns’ scouts after they saw him defend the Spurs’ Tony Parker in 2007 European Championships. Not only did the Suns’ scouts appreciate the way Dragic attacked the rim and defended the Spurs’ star guard, but they marveled at the fact that he did it all with a broken nose.

After years of searching for a backup point guard and an heir to Steve Nash, the Suns knew they had their man and executed the draft-day deal. After a tough rookie season adjusting to the NBA, Dragic has emerged as a spark off the bench for the Suns.

In 18 minutes a game, Dragic has averaged 7.9 points, 3.0 assists and 2.1 rebounds on 39 percent shooting from downtown. He ranked 12th in the NBA in three-point field goal percentage this past season.

“I think Goran has made tremendous progress,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s done for them what George (Hill) has done for us. He’s really come a long way and has made Steve Kerr look really smart.”

Dragic, who came a year after Tim Duncan’s infamous three-pointer and the Suns’ loss to the Spurs in the 2008 playoffs, only knows of the Suns’ past postseason struggles against the Spurs by word-of-mouth. Like many of his teammates, Dragic feels as if he’s just lacing up his sneakers against another formidable foe, not a team that holds some particular power over them.

“We are much younger and we have more people coming from the bench,” the second-year man said. “We just have to be aggressive on defense and try to play as hard as possible.”

Dragic has already vexed San Antonio once in their three meetings this season. In their first matchup, Dragic poured in 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-5 from behind the arc in a Suns victory.

Unlike the past Phoenix teams that believed that its offense was the key to the series, Dragic, who’s scored as many as 32 points in a game this season, believes this team has a different perspective on how it can be successful in the future.

“Just to be engaged and to play defense like we demonstrated we could all season,” he said.

The Suns are hoping that the their acquisition of Dragic will continue to bolster a bench that has become one of the most formidable in the NBA, as well as help propel them past the Spurs. However, the one downside from the acquisition of Dragic proves how the Spurs can always make lemonade out of lemons.

While Hairston has not made anywhere near the impact of Dragic, the second-round pick the Spurs received from the Suns was used to draft All-Rookie Second-Team performer DeJuan Blair. So now only time will tell which franchise will ultimately end up with the better half of the deal...

But for now, the Suns are currently up 1-0 over the Spurs in their series.

Role Reversal

Over the years the cliché in the Suns-Spurs battles has been that the Spurs can play D when it counts and that the Suns’ offense wasn’t able to carry them in crunch time.

But this season, the Spurs' defense has been unable to slow the Suns whatsoever. The Suns erupted for 110 or more points in all three regular season meetings with the Suns this season.

Now, one would think that the Suns routinely put up those kind of numbers in the “Seven Seconds or Less Era,” but that’s actually a misnomer. And thanks to the research of Suns Basketball Communications Manager Vince Kozar, we can prove it.

From 2004-05 to 2008-09, the Suns only averaged 97.8 points a game, shot only 46.8 percent from the floor and 35.5 percent from downtown. While in 2009-10, Phoenix has averaged 112.7 points, shot 51 percent from the floor and 49 percent from three-point land.

This season’s Suns have knocked down eight three-pointers all three games, while reaching that number only three times from 2004-05 through 2008-09. In addition, the Suns only had one 110-point effort from 2004-05 through 2008-09.

Who knew?

After surrendering only two 30-point quarters from the Mavs in the first round, the Spurs already allowed one in the first quarter of the series to the Suns.

Suns Video Coordinator’s 3 Keys to the Series

Elvis Valcarcel, the Suns video coordinator, is the man who takes the advance scout’s reports and builds the video clips for the players and coaching staff. Besides researching the opposing team’s plays, he also dissects the individual tendencies of its players.

Here are some of the keys he talked about in the series against San Antonio:

1. Keep Tim Duncan at Bay: According to Valcarcel, the Spurs run 80 percent of their plays to him to begin quarters. So what do you have to do? Try to contain him. The Suns held Duncan to 20 points, 10 rebounds and three turnovers. That’s a good night for Duncan, but not the monstrous effort we’re accustomed to seeing.

“I thought we did a good job on Tim (Duncan),” Gentry said. “The one thing I think we did was those three had great games but we didn’t allow anybody else to step up and have one of those games. And when they add a fourth guy to the mix, it makes them really tough to beat.”

2. Limit the 3-Point Shot: “One of the keys is keeping to their three-point shooting to under 40 percent,” Valcarcel said. “They’re 24-4 or something like that when they shoot over 40 percent.”

In Game 1 on Monday, the Spurs only shot 21 percent from behind the arc because of solid rotations and effective close-outs on shooters.

3. Rebounding: The Suns needed to keep San Antonio off the boards and limit second-chance points. Phoenix outrebounded the Spurs by six, 44-38.

“That was one of the main focuses out there was to play sharp on the boards,” Suns forward Amar’e Stoudemire said. “Try to be aggressive and get our loose balls and definitely rebound. To contain Tim (Duncan), keep him off the boards and same with (Antonio) McDyess and (DeJuan) Blair – all three of those guys are tenacious rebounders. So we have to make sure that we collect and get the boards and tonight was a big night for us on the rebound tip.”

Nash agreed.

“I think for our team if we can keep people off the offensive glass, we really give ourselves a chance every night,” he said.

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