Miami Heat: Why aren’t we talking about Goran Dragic?

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 29: Goran Dragic
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 29: Goran Dragic /

As the 2017-18 NBA season gets underway, why isn’t Goran Dragic getting more love? We explore the straw that stirs the Miami Heat

There’s often a lot of hyperbole used when people talk about professional athletes. Hundreds of players every year are referred to as “the GOAT” by adoring fans, and some players are labeled “trash” by naysayers.

Neither of those are really ever accurate, but as much as we like to argue or champion for some of our favorite players, there are always going to be guys who are underrated or overrated by the masses.

Let’s take a look at four different seasons from four different guards using per-36 stats via

Player A – This player is a 12-time All-star. This is from one of those All-star seasons.

Player B – This is from a former MVP’s MVP season.

Player C – This is an All-star season from a three-time All-star.

Player D – This player has never been an All-star.

Player A: Dwyane Wade (2015-2016) – In his last season with Miami, Wade put up numbers solid enough to get him the All-star nod, though he was admittedly in his decline and could have potentially been ushered in due to his popularity.

Player B: Derrick Rose (2010-2011) – Rose ended up being the youngest player to win an MVP at this point, and became the catalyst for changes to the rookie pay scale as a result.

Player C: Kyle Lowry (2016-2017) – Lowry was one half of the Raptors’ biggest strength last year — their back court. Lowry’s play was good enough to earn him his third consecutive All-star appearance.

Player D: Goran Dragic (2016-2017) – Dragic has actually had other years where he was maybe even more productive in his career, but has yet to become an All-star. We use the most recent stat line here to simply illustrate that he may still be very underrated.

The Miami Heat started their season in unfamiliar territory in several ways. For one, the team had to adjust not only for the absence of Dwyane Wade – the former All-star who had spent the previous 13 seasons in Miami, but also for the unexpected absence of Chris Bosh.

Bosh’s health issues sadly caused him to retire from professional basketball, and those blows, as unexpected as they may have been, caused some more predictable results on the floor. The Heat began the season winning only 10 of their first 41 games.

In the first half of the 2016-17 season, Miami struggled with several things. The emergence of James Johnson and the rim protection from Hassan Whiteside kept Miami in the top of the league defensively throughout the year. However, the Heat were 25th in offensive rating and just a mediocre 16th in net rating last season before the All-star break, per

Taken from a game in November of 2016, the above photo shows Boston’s philosophy toward defending the pick-and-roll involving Dragic. This game was the beginning of a 20-game absence for Dion Waiters, who did end up being vital to this team. Waiters’ spacing and play-making abilities really helped open the floor for the Heat, and without Waiters and sans Bosh, teams like Boston would sink bigs (Jonas Jerebko – blue arrow) off of James Johnson to help with the Dragic drives (red arrow).

What became one of the bigger stories of last season though, was the sharp turnaround Miami achieved after the All-star break.

After beginning the season 25th in offensive rating and 16th in net rating, the transformed Heat squad became 2nd in net rating behind only the Warriors, and 9th in offensive rating after the All-star break, per

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From the 10-31 start until the end of the season, Dragic’s field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, field goal attempts, 3-point attempts, and points per game all went up considerably. Specifically, his 49.1% field goal percentage was in the 90th percentile for guards during that period (min. 20 games played). One of the only statistics to go down were his assists per game – perhaps not a bad thing considering the rise in percentages and the scoring aggressiveness that Dragic showed in the later half of the year.

Here are some other statistics which went up during Dragic’s post-All-star portion of last season: Usage rate, free throws attempted, offensive rebound percentage, team steal percentage, team turnover percentage (went down, which is a net positive), team blocks percentage and team’s scoring percentage.

To me, this just means that Dragic’s impact on last year’s Heat team went from very good to great. Among starting guards, Dragic’s net rating was good enough to be 19th overall in the post-All-Star break portion of last season, going from -1.9 to 5.9, which was a better rating than players like Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Demar DeRozan, Kemba Walker, and John Wall- all of whom were 2016-17 All-stars, per

Erik Spoelstra did a great job of balancing some of those lineups, and in the process, Dragic saw himself off the ball a bit more too. There was plenty of 4-out, 1-in action similar to the Dwight Howard Orlando teams, which gave Whiteside a bit more room to work and also allowed his offensive rebounding to blossom some more, going from 3.6 offensive rebounds per game to 4.3 after the All-star break.

However, the overcompensation from coach Spoelstra, Dragic, and makeshift lineups has perhaps exhausted Miami’s patience for Whiteside and his lack of shooting outside of the painted area, as Jackie MacMullan touches on here.

Nevertheless, Miami did adjust, and small modifications made a big difference on the offensive end for Dragic and the Heat. Below, we see a look that Miami tried to implement several times. The first sequence of this endeavor is to use a high pick-and-roll with Dragic and a wing shooter so that Dragic will now be defended by a slower defender, but not necessarily a center. This takes Whiteside out of the initial pick-and-roll.

Now, Dragic is defended by Stanley Johnson, who is a good wing defender, but certainly slower than Dragic.

This spacing is important for many reasons. For one, the paint is not packed in because not one Heat player is occupying the paint at this time. It’s important to have a shooter near Dragic at the top of the key to stop that additional defender from helping onto Dragic, should he choose to go to his right. Using Whiteside in a ball screen as the second part of this action is partially the reason for the mostly empty paint. This also helps Dragic because should he take the screen and get the switch, the Heat have two mismatches they should feel good about with about 15 seconds on the shot clock to work with (Johnson defending Whiteside or Drummond defending Dragic on the perimeter).

In this case, Johnson tries to seal the gap of the oncoming screen and shade Dragic to his left, probably a lapse on Johnson’s part as Dragic is left-handed.

Where Dragic shines through is his ability to beat you in a multitude of ways. In this particular example, Johnson seems unwilling to go under the screen and give up a 3 to a 41% 3-point shooter. Dragic’s efficiency extends beyond just 3-point shooting though, and his ability to drive or pull up on short mid-range jumpers could be classified as elite.

Per, Dragic shot 61% at the rim last season, which was in the 80th percentile for point guards. When Dragic decides to pull up from deep, he’s in the 81st percentile (41%), and when Dragic decided to pull up on short mid-range jumpers like the play in question, he shot in the 82nd percentile at 46%. Offensively, Dragic truly presented a “pick your poison” dilemma to defenders last season.

Perhaps underrating a player like Dragic could be understandable in some circumstances. Players like Malcolm Brogdon or Nikola Jokic burst onto the scene in small markets with relative obscurity, but Dragic has been good for some time now. In 2013-14 under eerily similar circumstances, Dragic’s Suns team outperformed expectations and Dragic averaged over 20 points, six assists, a ridiculous 50% field goal percentage, and 41% 3-point percentage over the span of the entire season. At the end of the season, Dragic was anointed the most improved player by a selecting committee of sports writers, but many casual fans continue to overlook the left-handed guard.

Dragic didn’t rest much this offseason either. During the 2017 FIBA Eurobasket tournament, Dragic averaged 22.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. This was not only enough to lead his native Slovenia to the 2017 Eurobasket title, but it also earned him MVP honors in a tournament that included Kristaps Porzingis, the Gasol Brothers, Ricky Rubio, and many other NBA players.

The All-star game won’t be split up between East and West this year, and it looks less and less likely that Goran Dragic will ever get that label. The Miami Heat might make the playoffs this season, but they won’t be contending for a title, and without LeBron James or Dwyane Wade on the team, I’m not sure they’re a regular national story. Dragic looks destined for the same treatment bestowed upon guys who came before him like Andre Miller or prime Andrei Kirilenko players who were wildly underrated and consistent for many years outside of the limelight.

Dragic is now 31 years old. In all likelihood, his elite speed and physical abilities will begin the decline and fade away with his all-star hopes. Miami knows what they have in Dragic, and the five-year, $85 million deal they signed him to in 2015 should speak to that. Should this season go terribly wrong for Miami, their plus-30 point guard could be a trade chip to keep an eye on, especially if they move away from Whiteside in favor of picks.

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Regardless of the teams he’s played for, Dragic has been relatively productive and consistent throughout his career. His crescendo could be in full swing following a red-hot 2016-17 season and Eurobasket MVP, and what a shame it would be to let it go unappreciated.