By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: July 19, 2012
When Goran Dragic was a Suns rookie in 2008, it was widely believed that he would be the franchise’s next great point guard.
After taking an indirect path that took him through Houston, Dragic will assume that responsibility once again after signing with the Suns as an unrestricted free agent. At a press conference at US Airways Center on Thursday, the Suns officially announced their signing of Dragic to a four-year deal, making him the floor general and a central piece in the organization’s present and future.
“When we thought about the beginning of a new era of Phoenix Suns basketball, we thought about who we wanted to be our pilot and who we wanted to give the keys to moving forward,” Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said. “And all roads led back to Goran, who had a familiarity with our organization and our culture. He’s comfortable here and he was the perfect choice.”
When Dragic was acquired on a draft-day deal from the Spurs in 2008, the Suns' previous front office rated him the No. 2 point guard in the draft behind the Bulls’ Derrick Rose. After shadowing Steve Nash for two-and-a-half seasons and flourishing as a starter for the Rockets this past season, the Suns current front office made him its No. 1 point guard target in free agency.
Coming off a career-year in 2011-12, the 6-3 playmaker posted averages of 11.7 points, 5.3 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.29 steals, while appearing in all 66 games. However, as a starter in 28 for Houston, he averaged 18.0 points, 8.4 assists and 1.82 steals a game.
In addition, he shot 49 percent from the field, 38 percent from three-point range and 84 percent from the free throw line. Those numbers were only eclipsed at the point guard position by First Team All-NBA point guard Chris Paul.
Although much of his confidence was derived from being a starter, Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry points to concrete improvements in his game, as well.
“He’s a much better all-around player than when he left here,” Gentry said. “He’s shooting the ball better, he’s a better free throw shooter and he’s getting to the basket and getting fouled better I see that he’s made a big jump from being here and doing what he has done in that year and a half in Houston.”
Dragic’s value transcended the gaudy statistics he displayed as a starter. His importance also manifested itself in the win-loss column. When the Rockets lost leading scorers Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry to injury, the team was already on the decline. In the five games prior to Dragic taking over the reins, Houston had lost five straight.
But a Dragic-fueled offense righted the ship, leading the Rockets to a 13-13 finish. At one point, Dragic and Co. posted a 8-3 stretch in which “Gogi” was named Western Conference Player of the Week for the week of April 2-8.
His totals in that span were 20.7 points, 8.3 assists, 2.67 steals a game. That is a far cry from a young Slovenian point guard that was buried on former Suns Head Coach Terry Porter’s bench.
However, Dragic worked fervently every day after practice with current Suns assistant coaches Dan Majerle and Igor Kokoskov, eagerly awaiting his opportunity to prove himself. And when Porter was dismissed as head coach, Gentry recognized the point guard’s efforts by allotting him some playing time.
Given an inch, Dragic took a mile, eventually working himself into the rotation.
“With young players you have to give them an opportunity and he took advantage of it,” Gentry said. “I always told him that I didn’t give him a chance, he earned the chance. And once he received the chance, he took advantage of it.”
For his part, Gentry was always encouraging of Dragic. The Suns Head Coach didn’t threaten to bench him for making a mistake, but would bench him only if he looked over his shoulder at the coaches after making a mistake.
However, there will be none of that as “The Return of the Dragon” takes place in Phoenix this upcoming season. The Dragic that departed has returned playing the best ball of his career.
It’s a new beginning and a new role, which will even be reflected on Dragic’s uniform. The No. 2 jersey that he once donned as a Sun has been traded in for a new No. 1 jersey.
“I’m a new guy now,” the fifth-year guard said. “I’m a different player, a different person than when I was here, and I want to have a fresh start here and that’s why I took a new number. And I think that’s a great number for me.”
It’s also a great number to symbolize his transformation. When he left, he was the No. 2 point guard in Phoenix.
Now there’s no more discussion. Everyone knows who is No. 1.
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