Goran Dragic played 26 games after being traded to the Miami Heat last season. In those 26 games he averaged over 16 points and 5 assists, nearly identical to his average in the previous 56 games with the Phoenix Suns.
Through the first 21 games of this season, the 2014 Most Improved Player is only looking regressed and even potentially out of place.
I called the Heat-Pacers game on Friday night and many times alluded to Dragic’s inactivity as a catalyst in the Heat’s third straight loss (the Heat’s flurry of 19 turnovers didn’t help either). Dragic entered the fourth quarter of that game with just five shot attempts, and finished the game with five shot attempts (5 points, 2-5 FG). His passivity is becoming detrimental.
Dragic’s addition to this Heat roster was meant for a legitimate talent upgrade at the point guard position, meant to establish yet another elite and dynamic NBA backcourt. So far this season, Dragic is only showing stints of the old dragon, shooting under 50 percent from the field for the first time since the 2012-13 season while averaging 11 points and just nine shot attempts, his lowest shot count since his 2011-12 season with the Houston Rockets.
I see one vague element to Dragic’s struggles as the make-up of the Heat. For one, Miami isn’t laced with shooting threats — they rank in the bottom percentile in three-point makes, attempts, and percentage. Why does this affect Dragic? His best years were in the Phoenix system, with the ball in his hands, usually in the high pick-and-roll game with four-out spacing and full freedom to dictate. The Suns were in the top ten in three-point makes, attempts, and percentage in Dragic’s standout 2013-14 season. With Dragic as the only primary playmaker for that team besides Eric Bledsoe, he was tasked with the responsibility of being completely aggressive as a scorer. If he made a kick-out and there wasn’t an immediate shot, the ball would likely be making its way back to him for more creation.
Dragic’s usage percentage during that 13-14 season was 24.6. So far this season, Dragic is using 19 percent of the Heat’s possessions on offense, which is lower than Hassan Whiteside (20 percent), Gerald Green (21 percent), Chris Bosh (23 percent) and Dwyane Wade (31 percent).
Another layer to the personnel element is the fact that Dragic is now in the company of two All-Stars, veterans, and champions in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. While Dragic might naturally be inclined to take more of a backseat, there’s no question that his part-time lead role in the offense has to become more prioritized if this team wants to reach an ultimate caliber. That’s not necessarily placing blame on his teammates, Erik Spoelstra, or the Heat system. Part of the issue could just as easily lie in the very humanistic factor of confidence. As stated before, Dragic is barely shooting the ball ten times per game, he’s only shooting two free throws per game, and shooting a meager 31 percent from three (only averages two attempts from downtown).
Players like Dragic who possess natural talent can be expected to improve their play and rhythm over time. Still, the Heat should be taking steps towards encouraging the return of the old fearless, reckless, and aggressive Goran Dragic. Whether that means simply putting the ball in his hands more, giving him more personal offensive freedom, or perhaps mixing up his minutes to play more minutes without Wade and/or Bosh on the floor. The Dragic-Wade-Bosh-Whiteside core should be considered as arguably the most formidable four-man tandem in the league. What’s missing so far is Dragic getting back to his old self, which would drastically legitimize the Heat’s chances of being a contender.
Heck, maybe Dragic needs a good old 2001 Vince McMahon-to-Stone Cold speech from Erik Spoelstra, when McMahon pleaded with Austin to return to his old self and lead Team WWF against the threat of The Alliance.