Did The Suns Trade A Future All-Star In Goran Dragic?

To the surprise of this writer, there has been quite a bit of sentiment that the Suns surrendered a future All-Star when they traded Goran Dragic. My only response to that is...what?

Apparently I didn't know what the Suns had in Goran Dragic. If you believe some of the fan and media reaction, the Suns are giving up the next Steve Nash and they'll live to regret it for the rest of their days. Blame Robert Sarver, blame Lon Babby, blame Lance Blanks - what imbeciles. Or not.

The strange thing for me is how people perceive Goran and his supposed "ceiling" - shortly after his disappointing third season concludes, Dragic will be 25 years old. Given that, when exactly is Dragic supposed to hit this ceiling?  Call me crazy but I can't remember a whole lot of 25-year-old guards exploding after showing what Dragic has shown to this point in his career. 

Just for kicks I hopped on basketball-reference to look for comparable players to Dragic. Statistically, what Dragic is right now is a backup point guard that plays nearly 18 minutes per game, averages 7.4 points a game, and dishes out 3.1 assists per game. In order to be sporting, I expanded my search to guards that for a season averaged less than 20 minutes a game, between six and eight points a game, and between two and five assists a game at the age of 24. 

Thirty players in NBA history fall into this category. You can check out the list here. If you're not into clicking links then I'll let you know what you would have found - not much. Here's some of the most statistically similar:

  • Jannero Pargo (2003-2004 Bulls/Hornets) - 6.7 ppg, 2.3 apg, 15.5 mpg
  • Damon Jones (2000-2001 Vancouver Grizzlies) - 6.5 ppg, 3.2 apg, 19.9 mpg
  • Antonio Daniels (1999-2000 San Antonio Spurs) - 6.2 ppg, 2.6 apg, 17.6 mpg
  • Jalen Rose (1996-97 Indiana Pacers) - 7.3 ppg, 2.3 apg, 18.0 mpg
  • Darrick Martin (1995-96 Vancouver/Minnesota) - 7.0 ppg, 3.7 apg, 19.5 mpg
  • Sam Cassell (1993-94 Houston Rockets) - 6.7 ppg, 2.9 apg, 17.0 mpg
  • Scott Skiles (1988-89 Indiana Pacers) - 6.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 19.6 mpg
  • John Paxson (1984-85 San Antonio Spurs) - 6.2 ppg, 2.8 apg, 16.1 mpg
  • Trent Tucker (1983-84 New York Knicks) - 7.6 ppg, 2.2 apg, 19.5 mpg
  • Rickey Green (1978-79 Detroit Pistons) - 6.6 ppg, 2.3 apg, 16.0 mpg
  • Jim King (1965-66 Los Angeles Lakers) - 7.5 ppg, 2.9 apg, 19.7 mpg

Of that entire list, only three eventually blossomed into All-Stars - Cassel in 2004 when he also made the All-NBA 2nd team, Jim King (1968 All-Star), and Rickey Green (1984 All-Star) - each of which never had a second All-Star season.

Two of those guys actually won the NBA's Most Improved Player Award - Scott Skiles and Jalen Rose and a lot of those players enjoyed solid to above average NBA careers.  But certainly none on the list are the type of players a franchise is going to kick themselves over losing a few years down the road. 

If going by service time in the NBA is your thing then we can look at players in their third NBA season who produced in such a manner. Same numbers criteria as above and you get most of the same guys as above and throw in hot prospects like:

  • Jerryd Bayless (2010-2011 Portland/Toronto) - 7.9 ppg, 3.5 apg, 18.9 mpg
  • Jordan Farmar (2008-2009 Los Angeles Lakers) - 7.3 ppg, 3.1 apg, 18.3 mpg
  • Shammond Williams (2000-2001 Seattle Supersonics) - 6.8 ppg, 2.8 apg, 17.9 mpg
  • Travis Best (1997-1998 Indiana Pacers) - 6.5 ppg, 3.4 apg, 18.9 mpg
  • Negele Knight (1992-93 Phoenix Suns) - 6.1 ppg, 2.8 apg, 17.1 mpg
  • Pearl Washington (1988-89 Miami Heat) - 7.6 ppg, 4.2 apg, 19.7 mpg

Again, nothing real special there. Personally I was ecstatic to see Negele Knight show up on the list as when I think about somewhat hyped Suns backup point guards who showed talent in flashes but who didn't accomplish that much in the NBA - I think KJ's backup.

Really you can talk about skill set and ceiling all you want - but for most players a great deal of the story is already written by the time a player is 25. And if the story isn't written then there are at least strong signs of what's to come. Only because it's an easy measure - look at all of the 2011 All-Stars. Certainly ridiculous to compare him to All-Stars, but if you read the pages of Bright Side of the Sun, the hyperbole has reached such levels. 

Of the 24 players who participated in last week's All-Star game, 20 made their first All-Star appearance when they were 24 or younger. Three more made their first appearance at 25 - Joe Johnson, Pau Gasol, and Deron Williams and Manu Ginobili was the latest arrival at 27.

Now while I hate using what tends to be a glorified popularity contest as a barometer, someone had to get in the way of the people who have Dragic slated for an All-Star future. None of this means I don't think Dragic can't be an effective NBA player some day but the expectations of what he might become have slipped a bit out of control.

Before you raise the issue yourself I already realize Steve Nash made his first All-Star game at 27 after serving as a Suns backup point guard early in his career. But just because one Suns point guard has a couple average years, goes to Texas and becomes an All-Star doesn't mean all of them will. To steal an analogy from frequent Bright Side of the Sun poster East Bay Ray -

"To say that Dragic is going to become the next Nash because the start of his career has bee somewhat similar to Nash's is sort of like saying a community organizer in Chicago is on track to be President of the United States."

Not to turn this into a Dragic v. Brooks comparison (because it's not) but a lot of people point to the production of Aaron Brooks last season occurring because he was the primary offensive option on the Rockets. Well sure he did score a bunch on a Rockets team that went 42-40 but he did help keep them in the playoff hunt most of the season despite being seemingly outgunned in every game.

Could Dragic have performed the same way with the same opportunity? Apparently the advanced stats (if that's your thing) suggest Dragic is nearly a wash for Brooks but the flaw there is that Dragic hasn't actually played the minutes. Projections are neat and all - but it's nice to see someone actually do the work. Dragic hasn't had that opportunity yet but with Kyle Lowry in front of him his chances should increase.

I think it speaks to the passion of Suns fans that there has been such an extreme reaction to the trade of Dragic. Trade threads on Bright Side of the Sun the day of the trade bore nearly 1,500 comments on the subject alone. This is for a backup point guard. 

Don't get me wrong, Dragic deserved his reputation as a fan favorite. He played an entertaining style of basketball and was a key cog in a thrilling bench unit during the 2009-2010 Western Conference Finals run. And beyond that who can forget his 23 point 4th quarter explosion to drive the Suns past San Antonio in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Honestly, if you can forget that then you might have no pulse.   

Unfortunately this year has not been last year. This year the bench has struggled under the leadership of Dragic and in a season where the team was hoping to reduce the stress on Steve Nash - Dragic's poor performance has forced Nash to continue coming into games too early.

If you're not a fan of the trade I think it's relatively easy to point to the flaws of Aaron Brooks - and they are certainly legitimate. If you're somewhat nonplused about the Suns sacrificing what's no worse than the 15th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft - then that's legit too. But it appears to me that some people have gone against this deal based on assuming Dragic is something he's not and is probably never going to be.

Perhaps I'm wrong - perhaps Dragic really is a budding All-Star who just hasn't had the opportunity or hasn't performed well enough in practice or games to earn more court time. I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again - but I'm probably not here.

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