Learn the Game: How Dragic’s Return to Form Is Changing the Narrative on Himself

Insight

Throughout the long, grueling course of an NBA season, fans and the media alike construct narratives to stir noise and conversation. Many of them become the constructs of confirmation bias in order to validate their ridiculous statements. You probably know a few of them already:

• Kobe Bryant is better all-time than LeBron James because he has the clutch gene and that ‘it’ factor.

• Dwyane Wade is washed up and injury-prone.

• Kawhi Leonard is a system player, and, therefore, isn’t really a superstar.

• Rajon Rondo is a pure point guard, unlike some of these other guys (whatever that means).

• Stephen Curry can’t be the best because he doesn’t play defense (objectively false).

We all do it. Don’t lie. Narratives fly all over the place and Goran Dragic has fallen victim to one all season long:

The Miami Heat overpaid for Goran Dragic. He isn’t worth the money and isn’t very good.

Or something like that.

Let’s dispel it, shall we?


In his first 44 games this season, before All-Star weekend, Dragic was averaging:

Goran Dragic Pre-All-Star Break

PPG: 12.2 points
APG: 5.3 assists
RPG: 3.3 rebounds
Field Goal Percentage: 46.9%
Plus-Minus: 1.8 +/-
Effective Field Goal Percentage: 51.2%
True Shooting Percentage: 53.1%
Offensive Rating: 102.8
Defensive Rating: 100
Net Rating: 2.8

Because his numbers didn’t look more align to his previous seasons, too many fans grew insufferable and indignant with Dragic and his play.

And finally, the hottest of all of the hot takes:

I am here to rail against all of you. In the words of the late, great @Spoon_r13:

LEARN THE GAME.

First of all, let me just go ahead and say that if you still think Dragic was overpaid by Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and the rest of the Heat organization this past summer, you are misinformed and ignorant on the subject matter.

The NBA’s salary cap will rise from about $70 million to anywhere between $89-$95 million this summer. Oh, and it’s expected to go up again the following offseason to a projected amount of $108 million.

This means more money can and will be given to the players, which we saw a glimpse of this past offseason with guys like Aron Baynes (three-year, $20 million) and Omer Asik (five-year, $60 million) getting paid more than you’re used to seeing for players of their caliber.

It’s been ignored more recently, but Dragic could have easily demanded his full max salary, which would have paid him roughly $110 million over five years. Without question, the Heat would have signed him to that deal since they had already invested two future first-round picks to acquire him from the Phoenix Suns in the first place.

But instead, he opted to take a moderate $25 million discount by signing for a total salary of $85 million. Very nice of him, I know. But the fact of the matter is this: All-Star caliber point guards are going to be getting much more expensive contracts than what Dragic signed to in the coming years, and the Heat went way below market value to re-sign theirs.

Yes, Dragic did spend the first couple weeks of the season off slower than fans had hoped, but it was foolish to think things couldn’t improve. He came into training camp out of shape due to his long summer in his homeland of Slovenia, where he spent most of his time catering to his wife and children – particularly newborn baby boy, Mateo.

Also, it was widely documented that he was lonely during the first few weeks of the season until his family finally moved over to the United States with him. All these things are intangible and hard to measure, but stats are not. And what the stats have shown over the last couple weeks is what many of us had predicted would happen.

Dragic has been nothing less than phenomenal as of late. Since the festivities of All-Star weekend ended, granted in just 11 games played, the 🐲 has been putting up:

Goran Dragic Since All-Star Break

PPG: 18.4 points
APG: 7.1 assists
RPG: 5.2 rebounds
Field Goal Percentage: 48.5%
Plus-Minus: 8.5 +/-
Effective Field Goal Percentage: 51.5%
True Shooting Percentage: 54.7%
Offensive Rating: 109.4
Defensive Rating: 98.3
Net Rating: 11.1

By the numbers, Dragic’s improvement has been absolutely remarkable. Also, the Heat have made a nice turnaround going 8-3 since the All-Star break.

It’s no coincidence then, that this is all happening after Dragic got exactly what he wanted: For the Heat to play a more up-tempo style.

Since the break, with the Heat committing to pushing the pace and playing small-ball (finally), they’ve ranked 15th in the NBA in pace factor at 100.01.

Before the break? They ranked second-to-last in the league at 94.7. 

The margin between the two is massive. This is the type of game speed Dragic has always thrived in.

With their recent commitment to full-time small-ball, the Heat are sticking to playing “one big” lineups, where either Hassan Whiteside or Amar’e Stoudemire share the minutes at center, and the likes of Luol Deng and Justise Winslow split time at the four. As a result, Dragic has much more space to work with without having two bigs potentially clogging up space inside.

Another factor, Dragic has finally been beginning to handle and work the offense a little more. His usage rate has gone up from 19.7 to 23.4 since the break, another sizable leap. Plus, he went from scoring 18.5 percent of Miami’s points when on the floor to 22.9 percent since the break.

Dragic is a player who excels with the ball in his hands. And ever since Chris Bosh’s indefinite absence, he has very much succeeded in a more significant role with the offense. This, along with having guys like Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng taking advantage of their own stellar cutting skills, really helps negate the lack of shooters on the team (Thank God for Joe “Jesus” Johnson).

photo illustration by @Sucks

photo illustration by @Sucks

Many fans have been clamoring for a faster (and more fun) pace since the beginning of the season, and it has worked wonders for the $85 million dollar point guard, who was All-NBA Third Team just two seasons ago.

Dragic isn’t the only one benefiting from this transition to a faster game. Besides the fact that the Heat are 8-3 since All-Star weekend (third in the league in that time span), they also boast a fantastic 7.1 net rating, good for fourth in the league, as well. This looks even better when you consider that pre-All-Star, that number was 0.8, which was 12th in the league.

Their points per game have skyrocketed from 96 (29th in the league) to 108.1 (eighth in the league), as well. But even their plus-minus went from -0.3, (14th in the league), to 6.7, (3rd in the league, only behind the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers).

Furthermore, none of this is to say that the Heat gave up on their already elite defense for this more lethal (and more watchable) brand of offense. In fact, the numbers seem to say that their defense has actually improved in two large areas:

(1) Miami’s defensive rating has gone down (a good thing) from 100.6 pre-All-Star (sixth in the league) to 100.2 post-All-Star (fifth in the league).

(2) They’ve also held their opponents to 42.6 percent on the field (second in the league) compared to 44.0 percent (seventh).

By and large, if you give Goran Dragic the ball and give him space to work with, let him run. Good things happen, and will continue to happen for your team.

The Heat have been reaping the benefits of this skilled point guard all season long, and much more so the over the past few weeks. So, get used to it, because Miami is a much better team with Dragic playing at his preferred pace.

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