In “The Spotlight Series,” I’ll be looking at a player or two (depending on the team) from each team in the league that, in my opinion, doesn’t get attention at all from casual fans, or doesn’t get enough praise for what he brings to the table.
The Miami Heat are a team in transition. The Heat won 48 games last year and pushed the Toronto Raptors to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but followed that up with the most emotionally draining offseason in franchise history.
They lost Dwyane Wade — or pushed him out of the door, whichever one you prefer.
The departure of Chris Bosh is a matter of when–not if.
The only player remaining from Miami’s Big Three Era is Udonis Haslem.
One of the few positives of Miami’s offseason is that they’re set up to play faster; that bodes well for point guard Goran Dragic. He’ll likely have the ball in his hands a lot more, so we may see the Dragon unleashed like he was in 2013-14.
Dragic had rather pedestrian numbers last season overall:
- 14.1 PPG
- 5.8 APG
- 3.8 RPG
- 1 SPG
- 2.6 3PG
- 47.7% FG
- 31.1% 3PT
His scoring average was the lowest since becoming a full-time starter for the Phoenix Suns during the 2012-13 season. His 2.3 free throw attempts per game were well below his 13-14 mark (5.5).
More than anything, you could tell that Dragic wasn’t comfortable in the offense. He had to split ball-handling duties with Wade, often leaving him in the corner as a “spacer.” Other times, he’d get the ball at the end of the shot clock, leaving him with little time to create a good luck for himself or anyone else.
It also didn’t help that the Heat were ranked 25th in pace, further taking Dragic out of his comfort zone.
There were signs that Dragic is capable of putting up All-Star caliber numbers, specifically after the All-Star break.
With Bosh shut down during the break with blood clots (again), the Heat slid Luol Deng to the 4 and played a more uptempo style. Miami ranked 29th in pace before the All-Star break but ranked 18th after the break.
Wade made a conscious decision to relinquish some of the control of the offense, and Dragic looked — and played like — himself:
- Pre-ASB (44 games): 12.2 ppg (47/33/69), 5.3 apg, 10.6 shot attempts per game, 20.2 usage
- Post-ASB (28 games): 17.3 ppg (48/28/77), 6.7 apg, 14.6 shot attempts per game, 24.6 usage
- Playoffs (14 games): 16.5 ppg (44/35/77), 3.9 apg, 14.7 shot attempts per game, 25.8 usage
Even during the 2013-14 season where Dragic was at his best, he had Eric Bledsoe getting his fair share of touches. For the first time in his career, Dragic will have full control of the offense.
Dragic is at his best when he’s in the open floor, pushing the pace and getting into the lane. Among 70 players with at least 150 transition possessions, Dragic was one of 14 players — and the only point guard — to shoot at least 60 percent from the floor in transition opportunities, via Syngery.
Even at age 30, Dragic is one of the fastest players in the league:
What separates Dragic from other great slashers at his position is his body control. His footwork, change of pace, and the way he uses his body makes him one of the NBA’s best finishers, as well as one of the toughest covers in the league once he gets a head of steam.
He can obviously finish at the rack; he converted 60.6 percent of his shots inside of six feet last season, second to Stephen Curry (62.6 percent) among point guards, and third overall among guards (Avery Bradley led the way with 68.4 percent).
Look at how Dragic uses his body to either create space or finish through contact:
Outside of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, I can’t think of too many other guys that (subtly) use their elbows to create space without getting called for fouls like Dragic does. It helps him at the rim, as well as the mid-range area to set up his step-back:
Dragic isn’t an explosive athlete, so it’s rare that you seem him breaking defenders down in isolation situations (6.2 percent of his total possessions). He did, however, rank in the 72.2 percentile as an iso scorer, showcasing an ability to take advantage of switches:
Dragic does most of his dirty work in pick-and-roll (PnR) situations, where he ranked in the 53.1 percentile as the ball-handler. When he’s in his zone, he loves to probe or loop around in Nashian fashion before taking a shot or making a pass:
Dragic also loves snaking after turning the corner, helping him set up his stepback jumper:
Though we’re in preseason play right now, we’ve already seen evidence of Dragic taking advantage of the improved spacing and extra freedom:
Defensively, Dragic is underrated. I’ll start you off with a few numbers.
- Among the 139 players that defended at least nine shots per game, He ranked fifth in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage (40.3), only behind Kevin Durant (38.5), Kawhi Leonard (39.2), Draymond Green (39.4), and Curry (40.1)
- He ranked in the 71st percentile when defending the PnR ball-handler
- Among the 75 players that defended the PnR ball-handler at least 200 times, only Evan Turner (30.9%) “allowed” a lower field goal percentage than Dragic (35%). Leonard also “allowed” 35% shooting on those plays, but defended 162 fewer possessions.
- He ranked in the 77.9 percentile defending dribble-handoffs
Dragic has obvious physical limitations (we’ll get to those shortly), but he’s smart, gives great effort, and uses his hands and body well when the situation calls for it. Dragic is one of the NBA’s stronger guards and does a solid job of fighting through screens.
If any one possession could encapsulate Dragic as a defender, it’d be this one:
Despite these highlights, he doesn’t have the foot speed to consistently hang with the NBA’s quickest guards, a big reason why he got burned in isolation last season (15th percentile). Granted, that came in a small sample size (48 possessions, 35 shot attempts defended).
The Heat were a slightly better defensive team with Dragic on the floor last season. With either Tyler Johnson or Josh Richardson (when he returns from his MCL tear), replacing Wade in the lineup, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them pick up the speedy point guard assignments instead of Dragic to help hide him, and help him conserve energy for offense.
Nobody really has a feel on what this year’s Heat team can accomplish in terms of wins. At the very least, the roster construction vibes well for Dragic. This could be quite a bounce back year for him.