Is Goran Dragic the Next Star In Phoenix?
Replacing a player the caliber of Steve Nash is never easy.
Heck, just ask current Atlanta Hawks point guard Devin Harris how easy that transition was the first time, when he replaced Nash on the Dallas Mavericks. A solid point guard in his own right, Harris was never able to sufficiently fill the void Nash left and ended up being traded to the New Jersey Nets – and that was before Nash won two Most Valuable Player awards.
Both as a man and as a player, Nash’s contributions to the Phoenix Suns organization over the last eight seasons may never be duplicated.
That’s the somber truth for returning Suns point guard Goran Dragic as it’s going to be nearly impossible to replace Nash, who was not only an exceptional player but also a Phoenix fan favorite.
Luckily for the 26-year old, his teammates and coaches aren’t asking him to.
“We want him to be the best Goran Dragic he can be,” Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said. “We don’t really talk to him about replacing Steve. We could go through the whole league and they couldn’t replace Steve. Our priority is to get the team that we have playing at the highest level that they can. I think Goran understands and him and Steve have a great relationship and they still talk. We all know what Steve brought to our team but now we’re trying to get ourselves in a situation where Goran can step into a role, where he feels confident in what he’s doing and he can become the best Goran Dragic. That’s what we’re trying to get him to do, which would be pretty good.
“I think as a player he’s matured and I think just from a confidence standpoint he’s playing at an all-time high.”
Another key aspect working is Dragic’s favor is exactly what Coach Gentry mentioned above: his relationship with Nash. For nearly three of four years that Dragic has been in the league, he was Nash’s backup at the point guard position. During his first stint in Phoenix, he did his best to soak up everything he could from the former back-to-back NBA MVP. Now, with the starting spot his to lose, Dragic returns hungrier than ever.
After starting 28 games last season in an increased role with the Houston Rockets, Dragic is ready to produce in Phoenix with more minutes at his disposal.
“I learned a lot when I was with the Suns, especially from Steve, but it was hard,” Dragic told HOOPSWORLD. “You get maybe 10, 15 minutes per game and you try to get as many points as you can in those minutes. But last year with Houston, I got more minutes and I was the starter for the last 21 games. When you have 30-35 minutes per game, you’re not rushing your shot and you try to involve your teammates. Then, your shots are going to come. I learned from that experience a lot and now I’m here and trying to do the same thing.”
Gentry says that while Dragic won’t have the same full reign that Nash did in terms of running the offense, Phoenix also isn’t going to alter its system due to Dragic.
“Well, we’re still going to be basically doing the same thing that we’ve done in the past,” Gentry said. “The system that we run is practically going to be the same. I think it will be a little more controlled by me as a coach, whereas Steve basically had unlimited freedom.”
Joining Dragic in Phoenix is veteran Luis Scola, who was Dragic’s teammate in Houston over the last season-and-a-half. Dragic started for the Rockets for the better part of the last two months of the season in 2012 and responded by averaging nearly 17 points, 7.5 assists and shooting over 48 percent from the field.
“It’s very exciting,” Scola told HOOPSWORLD of playing with Dragic again. “I think he did a great job last year. We were struggling, so when he showed up in the starting lineup he gave us a spark and we started playing well, we started winning games and we went all the way to the last week of the season (in the playoff hunt)… He had a great year and I’m happy that I get to play with him again.”
Even newcomers to the Suns have been impressed with Dragic’s ability, starting from day one in training camp. While Michael Beasley says he can’t compare Dragic to Nash at this point, he does like his competitive nature and spirit as the floor general.
“Goran is a special player,” Beasley told HOOPSWORLD. “I wouldn’t compare him to Steve Nash. He does some things better than Steve Nash and some things worse, but overall he’s a good point guard and he’s got a lot of desire just like we all do. As long as he’s aggressive, his shot opens up and our shots open up. It’s easier.”
Luckily for Beasley and the rest of the Suns, aggressiveness is exactly what Dragic is known for. Quickness, speed and his ability to attack the basket are all calling cards for Dragic – something the fifth-year player plans to utilize thoroughly in Phoenix with the Suns.
“I like to play fast, really fast and so I think this is a great place for me,” Dragic told HOOPSWORLD. “We’re trying to play fast and I just want to involve all of my players, try to be dangerous for both baskets and assists. If I can do that, it’s going to be much easier for the team.”
Nash was the face of the franchise on and off the court, so Dragic may never be able to replace what Nash meant in the hearts and minds of Phoenix fans, but that’s alright. A productive season in his first year as a full-time starter will go a long way in ushering in a new era for the rebuilding Suns.
Considering the amount of talent Dragic possesses, that could be more of a likelihood than a long shot and the talent assembled in Phoenix has shot at exceeding expectations this season.