Phoenix Suns backup point guard, Goran Dragic, is off to a fantastic start to his third NBA season. Most people who watch the Suns on a regular basis have noticed and commented on how well he seems to be playing. That's coming off a pretty good year last season, including his breakout 23-point fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in the playoffs. Just a few weeks into this season, the 24-year-old point guard is simply more confident, more efficient, and more effective on the court. It's been a pleasant surprise to see how much Dragic has improved over the summer.
With the Suns roster now loaded with quality shooting guards (Jason Richardson, Josh Childress and Jared Dudley), Dragic is limited to only playing behind Steve Nash, where he's lucky to get 18 minutes a game. Goran is making the most of his opportunities to play and, statistically, has taken a leap forward that absolutely supports what we've seen with our eyes.
On a per-36-minute basis, Dragic has increased his scoring from 15.9 to 21.2. His assists are up from 6.0 to 8.4 and his field goal percentage has increased from .452 to .500. It's not all good, though, as his turnovers are up, as well, from 3.1 to 5.5 per 36 minutes, which is likely a result of him handling the ball more and is part of the Suns overall struggle in this area.
Looking at the data from Synergy Sports Tech confirms two of the most notable improvements in Dragic's game this season: he's playing the pick-and-roll better and is more effective driving to the right (he's left handed).
As the ball handler on the pick-and-roll, Dragic is generating 1.182 points per possession on passes to the roll man, which is up from 1.039 last season season. He looks more patient with the ball, waiting for help defenders and then sending precise passes to his roll man.
Dragic is certainly benefiting from Hakim Warrick being on the receiving end of his passes as opposed to Louis Amundson, but it's his clean play that puts him ahead of Steve Nash this season (1.103) in getting his roll man good looks.
Defenders knowing Dragic's preference for his left hand were able to force him right last season where he converted 15-44 (.341) attempts as opposed to 15-20 when going left. This season, in a much smaller sample size, Dragic has converted 4-6 (.667) of his right-drive attempts.
Suns assistant coach Igor Kokoskov, who worked extensively with Dragic the last two years (but less so this season), agreed that Dragic is much improved. Kokoskov thinks Goran's improvement is, in large part, due to his time and experience on the court and the confidence he has.
"After two years being around and feeling comfortable with our system, he's taking more responsibility offensively and defensively," Kokoskov said.
Igor points out how difficult it is for a young player to come in behind a legend like Steve Nash because of the drop-off the team normally suffers and the pressure that creates, "but once you get there then you are really in a special group of point guards."
The goal for Dragic his season is consistency. That's how he can prove to the coaching staff and front office that he's ready for a bigger role. For now, Goran is getting better playing behind Nash and is going to be ready when he gets the opportunity to be starter, according to his coach.
Goran Dragic spoke with SB Nation Arizona after practice on Thursday:
What did you do this offseason to improve your game?
"I didn't do much offseason. I didn't work on my game. I was with National Team, so I was just playing basketball. I was more focusing at that time for National Team to win some games and for me to play good."
Do you feel like you are playing better this year so far?
"Yeah, I feel more confident. Maybe this year's a little bit different because I don't have LB (Leandro Barbosa), so a lot of actions go through me, like I handle the ball a lot more than last year and I feel more comfortable with that. Maybe it's because of that."
Are you getting more pick-and-roll opportunities because of who you are playing with?
"Yeah, definitely. Especially with Hakim (Warrick). Me and Hakim have a great chemistry between us. I know what he's going to do, he knows when I'm going to pass and I think so that's great for our team. If he rolls, somebody has to help from our shooters, especially from Channing (Frye) or Jared Dudley, and if they don't help, we have easy layup and if they help, we have easy three-point shot."
Watching film from last year and this year, it seems you are holding the ball longer on the pick-and-roll and the timing of those passes is better.
"Yes, especially when I penetrate to the middle, it opens up everything. I just have to be patient and watch who's going to leave our man open. That's maybe why I am playing pick-and-roll better because I don't panic so much as last year. So this year, I just hold the ball and trying to read the situation."
Did you play a lot of pick-and-roll with your national team?
"No, because I was playing position 2 (shooting guard) and I was more the scoring guard there and not the point guard. Sometimes I played pick-and-roll; against Australia I played a lot of pick-and-roll, but it's a different situation because we have so many point guards there."
This year has been tough for you physically and yet it seems like you are able to play through that and managing to be effective.
"Yeah, I don't know. Maybe this year, I feel like I am more tired than last year. I had some problem with my knee and now groin, but that's, I would say, because of long summer. You have to go through that and try to be focused for every game. That's my goal this year, to try to play as hard as possible and not to miss any games."
Is it part of the learning process to learn how to play even though you might not be 100 percent physically?
"Yeah, definitely. Especially when I had problem with my knee. Nellie (Suns trainer Aaron Nelson) came to me and said, 'If you don't feel great, I don't want you to play because your head's going to be messed up.' But after that, I was just focusing about that and not about my knee and I was just trying to play as hard as possible and I did it. I think so that's huge if some player's not 100 percent ready and still he could perform good basketball. Like Steve (Nash) with the eye (referring to Nash playing with a swollen eye in the playoffs last year)."
Coach Igor Kokoskov commented on how important it is for a player to perform well despite being injured.
"It gives confidence to the coach. It's something that stays in the coach's mind, knowing what kind of personality and toughness that certain players have, like Goran has. Fighting though some days when they don't feel 100 percent and still playing and trying to perform and help the team -- it means a lot to the coach to get confidence in his game and him as a person."
How do you feel about the team in general?
"I think so we play well. We still have some crisis moments, like we play 35 minutes (of) good basketball and the rest of the time, we have blackouts. We are there; we just have to bring the little things. To not have so many turnovers, and defense and rebounding. If we're going to get better in those things, we're going to be a much better team."