Goran Dragić: “I Really Think We Have a Shot This Year”
The Dragon discusses his play in the clutch, the Bucks, his growth as a leader and more
Photo Credit: Garrett Ellwood
As one of the HEAT’s elder statesmen, Goran Dragić has pretty much seen it all throughout his 12-year career.
Not only has that manifested itself into him being a team captain multiple times, but also one of Miami’s leaders both on and off the court.
To that end, Dragić has adapted to his role change on the fly and thrived as a starter after coming off the bench for all but one game before the NBA restart.
Despite the shift, the Slovenian has still shown the ability to score with the best of them and manufacture offense for the HEAT down the stretch. In fact, Dragić leads Miami with 38 points in the fourth quarter during the playoffs.
And while Jimmy Butler is closing in on him thanks to his 15-point final period against the Bucks on Monday, Dragić kept Miami on Milwaukee’s heels with 27 points through the first three quarters (19 in the first half).
“Goran’s won at a very high level before. He’s a proven winner. He’s a leader of this team, and we need him to play like that,” Butler said after the game. “He understands that, but I think I follow his lead, Bam follows his lead. We have a team full of leaders, so any given night, it could be anybody. But one thing that he always does, he plays hard every single possession, he never gives up on plays, and we follow suit in that.”
After a recent practice, Dragić chatted with HEAT.com over the phone to discuss his recent play, the Bucks, his growth as a leader and much more.
Note: some of this interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
You’ve been great in the clutch all year long. You lead the team in total points in the fourth quarter and overtime period combined. I know that that’s just simply winning time, but what is it about the clutch that has you block out everything and just perform at your best?
I love those moments. When you have Dwyane Wade on your team, we know that the ball is going to go in his hands. And now, Erik Spoelstra really trusts me, even my teammates. And we know it’s going to go to Jimmy’s hands or my hands, so I’m just feeling comfortable. I don’t feel the pressure. When you know your team is standing behind you, it’s a little bit easier to play in those crucial moments. And I love it.
Is that something that you and D. Wade had conversations about while you were teammates, stuff about performing in the clutch, or was that just something you had in your DNA?
I did that quite a bit for my national team, so it was nothing new for me. Of course, if you have D. Wade on your team, he’s the best closer in the history of this sport, so the ball needs to go in his hands, but I was always ready. I was always ready. I remember every time he would play pick-and-roll, he said, ‘G, just be ready. Maybe you’re going to be open. I need to hit you.’ I remember the playoff game in Toronto, he hit me. I got a corner three.
So, you just need to read what the defense gives you, and he was the best at that.
Speaking of reading the defense, Milwaukee gives up a ton of non-corner threes by design. How hard is it for you to manage the line between taking those shots and attacking the basket to try to loosen up their defense and keep them honest?
It’s not tough because our priority is to stay with what we know and how we like to play. So basically, that’s attacking. We need to get the ball inside the paint. And if you look, the Milwaukee Bucks are number one in protecting the paint. So, that doesn’t mean that we’re going to get inside the paint and try to finish it, no. We just need to get inside the paint, move the ball from there to outside and then try to find the open three-point shooters. And then, when the game is going on, you just read the situation. Maybe then they’re going to close out, maybe second situation you put the ball on the floor and then you have those layups, so it’s just a reading situation for us.
I know you and Jimmy are very, very close and his work ethic is unparalleled. Has he done anything crazy in the bubble behind the scenes that really shows how much he wants to win?
Not really here in the bubble. Everybody is such in great shape. We need to take care of our bodies. The one thing was when he came back against Indiana in Game 4. He had a shoulder injury, and basically, he played the whole second half with a right hand. We all appreciate Jimmy because even if he doesn’t score, he gives us that presence on the floor that everybody else feels confident enough. And that’s why I like Jimmy. He’s a hard-working guy. At the beginning of his career, he was not the first option, the second option, but everything he achieved, he achieved with hard work. And you can see that he has that desire to win, and we’re happy to have him on our team.
Right, and he drew that charge on Myles Turner in the third quarter. To put his body on the line like that, it’s crazy.
Coach Spo referred to you as a steward of the culture thanks to everything you’ve learned from D. Wade, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem. I know you’ve touched on this a bit, but what’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from those guys about being a leader?
Probably the best advice that I got was to make yourself uncomfortable because I’m not from this country, and English is not my first language. With my accent, sometimes I was a little bit in the back. I was shy. And that was something that I didn’t feel comfortable to speak out and to talk to the guys. But now, they told me, ‘It doesn’t matter. They’re going to tease you anyway because of your accent [laughing]. You just need to be here for the team, for the young players.’ For me, I was already that with my national team, bringing up some young talent and guiding them. But this year, I feel even more comfortable because I can see everybody respects me. And I just want to give a lot of confidence to those young players, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Chris Silva, KZ Okpala, because I know when I was in their spot, a lot of veteran guys were there for me. So, I just want to be an example. And I’m still learning from UD. He’s a great captain, our leader. Even if he’s not playing anymore, he’s still here not for himself, but for somebody else. And that’s how I want to be in the end of my career, exactly like UD to give back to the young players and to teach them.
Is there any one guy in particular you’ve taken under your wing or is it all of the young guys as a whole?
All of them. Maybe in the last few games, a little bit more Tyler because he’s playing more minutes. And I even talked to K. Nunn. I told him, ‘I know that it’s hard for you. You’re not playing, but trust me, we’re going to need you for something. Even a play. If nothing this series versus Indiana, the next one.’ And I just want to be there for those guys. For me, that was Steve Nash when I came to the league. And then after that, like I mentioned, all those three guys when I came to the Miami HEAT Culture was D. Wade, CB and UD. UD is still that guy even now.
How close do you think this particular team is to winning a championship either right now or in the near future, and what do you think it’ll take?
I think we’re close. We have our team spirit. Our connection is really strong. We really enjoy playing together, and I think that translates on the court. It’s a great lesson for those young guys who are playing in their first playoffs, especially for Tyler, K. Nunn. And I really think we have a shot this year. If that’s not going to happen, then you have a great base already set up for the next year or next couple of years. And we all know with Pat Riley, he’s always bringing some great players to make the team even better.
A lot of fans have talked about your legacy and where you rank among some of the best players in franchise history. What does it mean to be brought up in the same sentence as a guy like Tim Hardaway?
That’s something amazing. I would not even put myself up there. If we win championships, then yes. But I’m a humble guy. I’m just doing my job, and I’m living in the present right now. Not in the future, not in the past. I’m really enjoying right now, and wherever this takes my legacy, I’m going to be fine either way because I know that I give 100 percent to my craft. And in the end, we’ll see.
You first joined the team in 2015, and it seems like your time what the HEAT has gone by very quickly.
Yeah, too fast.
You kind of touched on this a little bit, but how would describe this journey in total from that day in February of 2015 to right now?
There were ups and downs. There were tough moments, especially at the beginning when I came to the HEAT. We really had high expectations, and suddenly CB went down. And that was one guy that I really looked forward to playing with because I felt like his game would help my game so much. And we never really had a chance to play together. Then we did make the playoffs, got to the second round versus Toronto and then injuries again. Hassan Whiteside got injured, and it changed really our playoff series with Toronto. So, it’s been tough. Then D. Wade leaves, and we have a lot of new guys. It was a shaky season. We won 11 games in the first part of the season, then we won 30 games. It’s been a roller coaster, but I’ve always said I’m happy to be here. It’s a great organization, a great fan base, and you get challenged every day. And that’s something that I really like, not like in other organizations.
I have one last one: what’s been your favorite moment thus far as a member of the HEAT?
My favorite moment? Ooo. Definitely all the playoff games.
That 2016 run, like you said, the injuries were tough, but a lot of fans talk about that run as being a fun one.
Yeah, that was fun. With Charlotte, to play seven games and see the purple shirt guy and D. Wade get into it. And then Toronto. It’s been a blessing to be part of those games. For me, definitely, to make the All-Star team, that’s something that I’m always going to remember. But as a team, just every day to be next to my brothers because, like I said, sometime in the near future, basketball is going to be over for us. And I’m going to cherish all these moments. I can say that I have friends all over the world, so that’s something that’s really special.