Goran Dragic is looking to build on an amazing 2013-14 season, which culminated in an All-NBA third team selection, and solidify himself as one of the premiere players in the game. Despite being overwhelmingly underrated and undervalued history shows that he very well can.
People continue to doubt Goran Dragic.
As a reformed Dragic skeptic I can somewhat empathize, but last season was ample evidence to inspire my apostasy from the belief that Dragic had "hit his ceiling". I can't say with certitude that Dragic will definitely elevate his game to the next level of superstardom, but no longer will I quash the possibility.
I can admit when I'm wrong.
Some people can't... or just don't pay enough attention to realize it.
Last season Goran joined the exclusive 20/50/40 club. On the season he averaged 20.3 points per game while shooting .505 from the field and .408 from three point range. Only 12 qualified players in NBA history have accomplished the feat.
For his efforts Goran was named All-NBA third team. That means that only five other guards (Chris Paul, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard) were in his group of peers. It's a one season sample, but Dragic was one of the six best guards in the league.
Somehow SI.com managed to bumble their way through a list that saw Dragic slip precipitously all the way to 15th. Nine guards supposedly passed him by. While there are rising players that make sense, such as Russell Westbrook, there are also obvious instances of them gifting positions based on career achievement (Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade).
They actually put unsigned teammate Eric Bledsoe ahead of Dragic, too. Perhaps my favorite part of their rationalization was that Bledsoe has "slightly more to offer a wide variety of teams playing a wide variety of styles". Let me see if I understand that. Basically, instead of predicting performance based on the team/system he will actually be playing for they are basing it off of his hypothetical value to teams he doesn't play for.
Sounds like a critique written by Rich Paul.
SI.com basically put him below every single guard in the NBA that had a scintilla of a chance of outperforming Goran next season.
Then they put him below Mike Conley.
Supposedly, Dragic's ranking (35th overall) was predicated on the fact that he didn't have "gradual improvement", meaning that last season may be anomalous. Also, that he was a product of a "system completely tailored to his strengths" and an "environment that exaggerated his improvement".
I guess the true mark of a great player is succeeding in spite of a coach trying to intentionally sabotage him by implementing a system that preys on his weaknesses. Sounds about right.
The mothership's annual NBA
Putrescence Rank will be out soon with it's typical odious bias, so it seems ineluctable that Goran will get Rodney Dangerfielded again.
I'm going to be going in a different direction. While publications like these are indefatigably working on ranking players using a "fluid combination of subjective assessment and objective data", I will be basing my prediction off of something besides total bullshit.
I will preface this by acknowledging that there isn't a definite corollary between these comparisons. But hell, at least I've got something concrete.
And by concrete I mean pretty graphs (spoiler alert)!
For those of you who don't know, basketball-reference.com tracks something known as similarity scores. This metric attempts to compare the careers of players with similar quality and shape using win shares. Here is a more detailed explanation of the process.
Interestingly enough, among the top players with similar career trajectories to Goran are Steve Nash and Chauncey Billups. This is based on looking at the first six seasons of Dragic's career and comparing them to the corresponding seasons for Nash and Billups.
To be fair, Alfred "Digger" Cervi showed up on the list as well.
So there's that.
Digger never pulled off the Triple Lindy of basketball (20/50/40), though, so I'm pretty confident in my belief that Dragic won't follow in his footsteps.
Below is a graph that depicts the three guards win shares over their first six seasons.
Interesting to note that each of the guards provided more wins for their respective teams in each of their first six seasons. While SI.com astutely claimed that Goran hadn't "gradually improved" over his career I would assert that's pretty much the definition of gradual improvement. Maybe the paid geniuses over there can explain to me why continuous improvement over a long period of time doesn't qualify as gradual improvement... yeah.
Another thing to note is the relative proximity of age. Billups entered the league at 21. Nash and Dragic at 22. There isn't a huge discrepancy where one of the players was three years younger during their sixth season.
Next is a look at adjusted win shares.
There is some fluctuation for Dragic here as he had a dip in his fifth season. I would claim that had a lot to do with being on a wretched team. In their fifth seasons, Nash's Mavericks won 53 games and Billups's Timberwolves won 50. Goran didn't have the luxury of playing with Dirk Nowitzki or Kevin Garnett on his way to 25 wins with the Suns.
Here are some looks at individual aspects of the players' games.
This shows that Dragic is probably the best scorer of the three. He distances himself from both other players over his last three seasons. He also became the only one to average over 20 points per game last season.
The next graph reflects on whether Goran might flounder in a "standard system".
Nash will go down in history as one of the truest true point guards in history, but his assist numbers were fairly pedestrian through six seasons. He didn't evolve into that player until he returned to Phoenix at the age of 30. Billups was never a prolific distributor, although he did have a four year stretch later in his career where he averaged at least 6.4 assists per season.
In this case, Goran's assist numbers likely dipped last season because he was sharing the ball handling duties and being more assertive in trying to score. He was basically taking advantage of the situation as it presented itself and maximizing his effectiveness. Quizzically enough, SI.com used this as ammunition against Dragic in their evaluation...
This last graph (congratulations to those of you who made it) looks at the efficiency at which these players scored.
Last season Gragic held his own against the uber efficient Steve Nash. That's part of what makes his 20/50/40 performance so staggering - the volume efficiency. Nash went 50/40/90 four times, but could never join Goran's group because he didn't score enough. Since a team wants its most efficient players scoring the most points, what Dragic did was good.
All three guards are very efficient overall, though they didn't get off to torrid starts their first three seasons. For their careers, though, Nash (.605), Billups (.580) and Dragic (.562) all rate out favorably. Compare that to the career averages of Chris Paul (.575) or Stephen Curry (.592), or better yet Derrick Rose (.532).
Two things to note. First, I bet you didn't visualize Billups as that efficient of a scorer. Second, with Dragic entering his prime there's at least some chance his percentage will ascend.
Besides the points illustrated above, there are other interesting parallels between these players.
Billups, despite winning Finals MVP in the 2003-04 season, didn't make an All-Star or All-NBA team until the 2005-06 season. He ended up with five All-Star appearances and three All-NBA teams in his career. I guess it just took people a while to catch on.
Nash made his first All-NBA team in the 2001-02 season. He was third team. He was 28.
Dragic made his first All-NBA team last season. He was third team. He was 28.
Nash also garnered an All-Star appearance that season, an honor that Goran somewhat controversially missed. I think at worst he was the first player out.
There were better things on the horizon for Billups and Nash past their first six seasons.
Billups won an NBA championship in his seventh year in the league. In his best individual season, 2005-06, Billups averaged 18.5 points and 8.6 assists per game at the age of 29. He managed to carve himself out a pretty nice career.
Nash firmly entrenched himself in NBA lore by winning back-to-back league MVP's at the ages of 31 and 32.
So has Goran peaked? There's plenty of evidence to the contrary. Real evidence, not the kind that's equal parts contradictory and absurd.
I read someone else mention something I was mulling over that I think may shed some light on Goran's dismissal by his detractors. Maybe it's not even so much that they're trying to denigrate his talent and game. Maybe it's just that they ignore him.
Maybe it's because he's a Slovenian that speaks broken English. Maybe it's because he doesn't have electrifying, above the rim athleticism. Maybe it's because he plays in the quaint backdrop of tumbleweed town. Maybe it's because he couldn't propel his team into the playoffs last season.
A little bit of Dragon fire in the postseason might have raised some eyebrows.
I'm not going to try to rank him here. I've already subjected you to enough torture. Just assume that I'd have him higher than the 15th guard and 35th player overall.
Instead Goran will enter this season somewhat under the national radar again. ESPN will surely give him a pat on the head and rank him as low as fathomable. He will still be lacking the respect and notoriety he deserves.
But whether or not he covets that respect I think it will eventually come. Because I won't be surprised to see Goran build on last season's successes and finally gain some well deserved national attention. The SI's and ESPN's of the world can keep on doubting (haters gonna hate, right?), but I won't be surprised at all to see Dragic Thornton Melon their asses.
**All italicized portions of this article are meant to ridicule the hilarity of SI.com's "analysis". You guys suck.