Dragic Ball

The HEAT Get A Player Who Can Change The Way They Play
Christian Petersen
by Couper Moorhead

It’s been some time since the Miami HEAT have been very active around the trade deadline, but they sure packed in a few years’ worth of transaction excitement when they acquired Goran Dragic and his brother Zoran Dragic just before Thursday’s cutoff. In exchange, Miami sent Norris Cole, Danny Granger, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton to Phoenix and New Orleans, along with two first round picks.

Your familiarity with Dragic depends upon how much of a League Pass devotee you happen to be. Through no fault of his own, Dragic hasn’t been an All-Star. He’s played on National Television, but sporadically. It’s been years since you’ve seen him in the playoffs. Even if you know his name and heard he’s good, you might not know how good. Or why.

So, how good is Goran Dragic?

The short answer is that he’s so good we can start talking about any aspect of the game at random and we’ll find a way to talk about how good Goran Dragic is at it. He’s the guy who comes to the job interview in a freshly-tailored suit and, when asked what his biggest weakness is, replies that his biggest weakness is not having a weakness to acknowledge. Sure, we could nitpick his defense and talk about how he’s only an average free-throw shooter, but that’s would be missing the point entirely.

The even shorter answer is that Dragic is so good he can transform your entire team.

It’s no secret that the HEAT haven’t played very fast this season. If you’ve watched more than a couple of games, you know that. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that they’ve rarely enjoyed a stable rotation for more than a handful of games in a row, the team is last in the league in possessions per game, using just 91.8 on average.

This is not on purpose. Erik Spoelstra wants to play fast. We know he practices fast. You can see him regularly urging his players up the floor. He wants to get back to the pace-and-space offense. It just hasn’t been in the cards this season.

It might not happen overnight, but Dragic should enable everything Spoelstra wants to get to. With Phoenix – granted, a team that will play faster than most squads every year – Dragic led groups which played at a 98 possession pace. Some of that is system, but much of that is Dragic, the one-man fast break.

Being 6-foot-3 and incredibly fast with or without the ball helps, but the reason he can take off after makes, misses or turnovers is that Dragic’s speed is more than an empty threat. If you don’t respect his speed in transition, he’ll finish at the rim as well as some of the league’s elite big men – better than Blake Griffin this season – not just well for a guard. If there’s a gap, he’ll hit it and get to the rim. If you’re in the way, he’ll initiate contact, bounce off you and get to the rim. If you try and jump with him, he’ll find an angle you can’t reach.

This may all sound somewhat hyperbolic, but if there’s a better finishing point guard in the league good luck finding him.

Such a high level of efficiency around the rim is an incredible weapon for a guard. It forces the defense to devote extra attention to transition defense, which can turn into bodies being pulled off the offensive boards. Otherwise…

Considering Miami currently ranks 27th in transition efficiency, per Synergy Sports, the sort of play shown above is an immediate upgrade. But in the half-court, where Miami has been a bit better than their below-average offensive efficiency would indicate, Dragic puts a ton of pressure on defenses. Big men know he can finish in the paint so they can’t venture too far from the middle of the floor. But what we haven’t mentioned yet is that Dragic is also a deadly shooter off the dribble or the catch.

While Dragic is still shooting well this year despite effectively being a small-forward at times in the Suns’ three-guard lineups, as a lead guard a year ago he topped 60 percent in true-shooting percentage (accounting for the value of threes and free-throws). Combined with the number of possessions he used and the shots he created for teammates, here’s the list of players who have had similar seasons over the last 30 or so years:

James Harden. Kevin Johnson. Steve Nash. Mark Price. Chauncey Billups. Manu Ginobili. Stephen Curry.

Pretty good company.

What most of these players have in common is they didn’t give defenders any easy outs. There was no easy way to scheme them without giving up something valuable in return. And these guys don’t need to be given anything in the first place. They’re takers.

We’re talking at length about how well Dragic can score because that’s a big part of his game, but he’s still a point guard. Phoenix, and Houston before, had seasons where they needed him to create for others, and he did. Last year they needed him to score, so he scored. Exactly what balance Miami will need from him is yet to be determined, but the growing process shouldn’t be a painful one.

For Dwyane Wade, Dragic can remove the pressure to constantly create – Wade, at 33 years old, was using more possessions than anyone not named Kobe or Westbrook – by getting Wade off the ball. Wade excelled at cutting baseline over the past few years, which means easier points for him and more efficient shots for the team.

For Chris Bosh -- when he can get healthy, which is far more important right now -- Dragic can be one of the best pick-and-roll guards in the league, using the aforementioned pressure he puts on defenses to give Bosh the space he often hasn’t had this year. A year ago, Dragic worked a deadly pick-and-roll with stretch-big Channing Frye, not to mention the other stretch-forwards of Phoenix, so he should be right at home with the skills of Bosh.

For Luol Deng, as with Wade, Dragic gives Deng a facilitator for off-ball movement. It’s not easy ghost cutting the defense when there is constantly a pair of eyes on you.

For Hassan Whiteside, Dragic presents his paint conundrum. The Dragic-Bosh pick-and-roll will be very strong, but defenders will be pulled in just as many directions with Whiteside setting the screen. If you’re the help defender in the paint as Dragic turns the corner, you’re trying to decide whether to slide over to the best finishing guard in the league or leave one of the best finishing big men in the league. There’s no easy answer.

For Mario Chalmers, Dragic allows him to get back to the combo-guard position of the past few seasons. Chalmers has been one of the best corner three-point shooters in the league before, and Dragic should help the team manufacture more open shooter looks.

Notice the combination of players who excel in pick-and-roll or playing off the ball? The impact Dragic has on one player with the impact he has with another.

We can go on. Dragic should make the game easier for every player he shares the court with. Yes, he’ll be turning 29 years old making the HEAT’s window much more about the now – as it should be, given the makeup of the roster – but this team was never in rebuild mode in the first place. And Dragic is joining the HEAT at a younger age than Tim Hardaway was when he joined the team or when Steve Nash joined the Phoenix Suns. Point guards in the prime of their game change everything.

Truth is, this article took about twice as long as normal to write because it’s so easy to lose track of time when watching Dragic on tape. An hour can turn into two or three or four as he surprises, shocks and enthralls you. That’s how much fun he is.

That’s how good he is.

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