Before the NBA playoffs, only true international basketball geeks had heard of Goran Dragic. During the regular season, he was an unassuming backup to Steve Nash, averaging around eight points per game and three dimes.
This all changed during the playoffs. Dragic's incredible foot speed and shooting, allowed him to have great success. He dropped 26 on the Spurs in a huge Game Three comeback in San Antonio where the Suns trailed by eighteen in the second quarter. He burned Tony Parker for five three pointers, revealing a new kind of Euro guard, who can hit the three, play help defense, and blow by his man.
Because he's young, Goran Dragic can seem bipolar on the court. For example, in the series vs. the Lakers, he was invisible, picking up four fouls in a close Game Five and only breaking double digits once. But tonight was one of Dragic's good days.
In the first half, Dragic was tentatively playing behind Steve Nash. He showed great energy in driving by Ron Artest and finishing a tough play in the paint. Playing behind a two time MVP is tough, but Dragic always scores in bursts when he gets minutes.
By the time the 4th quarter rolled around, Phoenix was up a creek without a paddle and getting murdered by Ron Artest's nascent three point shooting ability. Once again, Alvin Gentry stuck with his bench, and the Suns almost made a miracle comeback.
Dragic was a one man wrecking crew, playing like a poor man's Rajon Rondo, with his ability to penetrate to the rim and finish against bigger defenders. An elbow thrown by Slovenian teammate and long time rival Sasha Vujacic fired up the young point guard even more.
In a thirty second span, Dragic scored more points than he had the entire game. He knocked down a contested jumper, made two free throws, and blew by Vujacic for an easy finger roll. He made another layup, putting the game back into single digits and forced Phil Jackson to put Kobe back in.
Dragic was also a great playmaker, flipping the ball to Stoudemire in the paint for a poster slam over Gasol. Derek Fisher and Bryant made some contested twos, but Dragic was playing his part in Phoenix's help man system.
Gentry decided to put Grant Hill back in, to defend Kobe, instead of leaving Dragic out there. Hill has been in the league for 16 seasons and has great foot work, but he's definitely lost a step. Dragic brings energy on both offense and defense and is also an extra shooter when Steve Nash gets in trouble.
After Dragic was benched, the Suns basicly turned into a two man team of Nash and Stoudamire with no shooters to kick out to and take some pressure of them. Kobe definitely hit some "What the @#%@" shots, even with Hill's intense man defense, but Dragic's trip to the pine hindered the Suns in the long run and was a deciding factor in the game.
But Suns' fans should be happy. After Ol' Stevie hangs up his sneakers, Phoenix's offense should be in good hands with this fiery Slovenian blur at the helm.