In the 2013-14 NBA season, Goran Dragic lit the world on fire as the architect of the Phoenix Suns’ eighth ranked offense by Offensive Rating.1 The Slovenian finished the season with 20.3 points per game and 5.9 assists on 50.3% shooting from the floor and 40.8% from deep. These stats were enough to nab Dragic the Most Improved Player Award and an All-NBA Third Team slot, helped by a surprising Suns team that finished 48-34, just one spot outside of the playoffs.
But now, a couple of seasons later, 2013-14 looks to be the outlier, not the beginning of a trend. Maybe we should’ve expected that when a 27-year-old point guard on a team set up to inflate his stats had a good shooting season and his highest usage rate of his career.2 Dragic was a PER darling that season, finishing as the sixth-ranked guard (point or shooting) at 21.43 but was much lower in ESPN’s black box stat Real Plus Minus,4 finishing the season as the 39th ranked player, and a negative on the defensive side of the formula.
That spectacular season, I want to stress that I’m not taking anything away from the success that Dragic attained in 2013-14, led to some turmoil in 2014-15 and a trade to the Miami Heat, creating a very interesting starting five in Miami. The Heat had to give up spare parts plus two first round picks (2017 and 2021) and the trade resulted in a contract extension worth 5-years, $86 million the next off-season.
Two years after Dragic’s breakout campaign, the Miami Heat have a point guard on a contract that ranges from $14 mm/year to $19 mm/year that isn’t producing at the heights that were predicted. Dragic’s PER has fallen from the heights of 2013-14 to a slightly above average 18.8 with Miami last season and a current small sample resulting in a well below average 12.18 (208th). On the RPM side, Dragic was a negative in the stat in 2014-15, ranking 167th in the entire NBA. The 2015-16 numbers have not been released yet.
This is a very long way of saying that the results haven’t been there for Dragic the last two seasons, but the real question is why? Can we expect Dragic to get back at least near his previous highs, or will the Heat sink with the current form of The Dragon?
Dragic is shooting at an almost career low clip of 41.7% from the field this year. His career average sits at 46.8% and his last two seasons were both above 50%. The euro point guard is also a career 35.9% shooter from three-point land but is converting at a career worst 25.8% this season. Based solely on his general ability to hit shots, Dragic should see some positive regression in his field goal percentages. The rate that he usually scores isn’t the only factor of course, it highly depends on the types of shots that Dragic is getting in the flow of the offense.
As you can see above, his shot locations look very similar going back to his days in Phoenix as well as the split year with Phoenix/Miami. The season is still young, but it’s shaping up in a similar fashion, indicating that his shot selection is near what it was. The Dragon is facing closer defenders on his shots so far this year compared to the last two, but it’s not an extreme difference. Dragic is getting about 8% of his shots while wide open this year compared to about 10.5% the last two seasons. Noticeable, but not world changing. With the percentages and locations of Dragic’s shots laid out, the only thing left, offensively, is how often Dragic was getting each type of shot.
In 2013-14, Dragic averaged 10 drives per game and is at 9.5 per game so far in 2015-16. However, on these drives, Dragic has become much more of a facilitator. He’s passing on drives this season 60.9% of the time compared to 40.6% in his heyday with the Suns. The drives themselves can be explained with Dragic’s usage, but the passing decision is much different. The Heat are once again a slow team per NBA.com’s Pace stat and they’re near the bottom of the league in Assist% (96.61 possessions/48 minutes and 53.2% respectively). The decision to pass that often on drives might need to be reexamined.5
One facor to take into account is that Dragic’s usage has dropped each year since his 24.6% in 2013-14. Right now, Dragic has a usage of 18.9%. The return of Dwyane Wade on a one-year deal forestalls handing the keys to Dragic, but they’ll have to be passed on soon. Chris Bosh’s presence also matters greatly, the level of teammates that Dragic is sharing the floor with is likely much higher than in Phoenix.
Based on the numbers, Dragic is getting a bit unlucky but also is now two years removed from his career highs in most categories. While 2013-14 was a great season, I think Dragic may have fallen prey to a “breakout” tag on his season because he reached the vaunted 20 ppg mark that we hold on to as the benchmark of a good scoring season. If he had hit 18-19, Dragic might never have gotten the MiP award or the $86 million contract. I believe Dragic can settle in somewhere in the middle of his current effectiveness and the heights of 2013-14, but it might not be this season with Wade still in a Heat uniform.
Points per 100 possessions, this stat balances for pace ↩
The usage was 24.6% in 2013-14, only about 2-3 percentage points higher than his two previous seasons ↩
An average NBA player’s PER is 15 ↩
The formula is proprietary so we aren’t sure exactly what goes into the formula ↩
The Miami Heat are 9-4 of course, so no changes to the offense will likely come while the success continues ↩