Can Phoenix Suns Build Around Goran Dragic as Their Franchise Player?

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIIFebruary 3, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 06:  Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns looks up to the clock during the NBA game against the Dallas Mavericks at US Airways Center on December 6, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Mavericks defeated the Suns 97-94. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With one half of the regular season gone, Goran Dragic has established himself as the MVP of the Phoenix Suns.

The Suns may currently be one of the worst teams in the league, but Dragic has been a bright spot in what has otherwise been a dismal season for Phoenix. The 26-year-old Slovenian point guard was originally brought in to fill the void created by Steve Nash's departure, and he is now thriving in Phoenix, averaging 14.2 points, 6.5 assists and 1.4 steals a game. 

But as the Suns look to the future, one must question whether Dragic is a player they can actually build around. Sure, Dragic is having a nice season, but could he really ever be the leader and go-to scorer of a contending team? He leads the Suns in scoring this season, but that is partially because there are no major scoring threats to be found on the current roster.

So, just how valuable is Dragic to the Suns going forward?

First, let's focus on the positive aspects of Dragic's game. Despite the fact that the Suns do lack an elite scorer, Dragic is having a fine season. He is currently shooting 45 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range, and he's been an all-around player who shoots efficiently, runs the offense well and plays solid defense.

Dragic has been even better since Lindsey Hunter became head coach, and he is averaging 15.5 points and nine assists in his past six games while leading the Suns to a 3-3 record over that span. 

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And while Dragic is not a reliable go-to scorer, he is occasionally able to have a huge game offensively. Dragic has had eight games this season in which he has scored at least 20 points, and in those games he has needed only an average of 14 shot attempts to get there. 

Furthermore, Dragic is proving to be an extremely hardworking and determined person. He has had a few bumps and bruises along the way, but Dragic has not missed a significant amount of time this season, having been able to stay relatively healthy all season long. He always plays hard and not once has he complained about the team's losing season or done anything that would hurt the team chemistry.

Overall, Dragic does sound like the player you might want as the leader of your team. He is a great role model for those around him, and he is a pretty successful player on the court as well. 

And yet, Dragic could never be the go-to guy of a true, contending team.

There are a few reasons why.

First of all, while Dragic does have the occasional 20-point game, he is not a consistent, reliable shooter. He is just not a pure scorer, and he often hesitates to shoot even when he does have an open look. Dragic will rarely take more than 15 shots in a game, and while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it means he will never be someone who scores 20 points a game.

Being the primary scoring option isn't a necessity for a player to be the MVP of his team, but it is important that a franchise player at least be considered an offensive threat. Steve Nash never averaged more than 20 points a game, and yet he was always taken seriously by the defense because he could shoot 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range.

If a team wants to win a championship, they almost always need a great scorer. Someone who can consistently put up 20 points every single night. Very often that someone is a top-10 or top-five player in the league. Usually, the leading scorer is the MVP of the team, even if they possess secondary skills other than just scoring. 

To put that theory to the test, I took the regular season scoring numbers of every single NBA Finals MVP winner since 1985. Excluding Chauncey Billups and Joe Dumars, every other player scored at least 18 points per game for his team, and most winners were the primary scoring options on their respective squads. A franchise MVP player always needs to be able to score, even if it isn't always what he is known for. 

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This is what separates Dragic from real franchise players.

There is no part of Dragic's game that can be considered elite. His free-throw shooting is subpar, his shooting in general is fairly average and his ability to finish at the rim is nothing special. Nor is he a terrific athlete.

Throw in his average defense and passing and you have a standard all-around starting point guard. 

Dragic might be above-average, but he certainly isn't an All-Star or superstar. And if the Suns want to contend, an average player simply isn't going to cut it. 

Another reason Dragic will never be a franchise player is the fact that he has struggled so much in the clutch. Dragic has no signature moves that he can use at the end of close games. The Suns have lost eight games by fewer than five points this season, and a huge reason for that has been the absence of a clutch scorer in the final moments of the game.

Dragic did have a game-winning shot against the Memphis Grizzlies, but other than that, he has been pretty terrible in late-game situations. Dragic is shooting 33-for-82 from the field in the fourth quarter this season, which is just 40 percent from the field. Even worse is his awful 6-for-31 shooting from behind the arc. With numbers like those, you might think you were looking at Michael Beasley's shooting numbers, not Dragic's. 

In a league run by superstars, depth is no longer the way to win championships. Sure, occasionally a team will win without any top five players, but that is becoming a truly rare sight in the NBA today. If the Suns want to build a contending team, they can't be relying on average players like Dragic to come through in the clutch or deliver extraordinary performances on a nightly basis. 

By all means, Dragic is certainly a great asset to this team. He has proven to be a valuable player, and he most likely will be the starting point guard of the Phoenix Suns for several years. On a contending team, he might make a great No. 3 scoring option. But as I said earlier, his average defense, passing and scoring will not be enough to lead this team to the playoffs, let alone the NBA Finals.

Ultimately, above-average players and borderline All-Stars such as Goran Dragic, Rudy Gay and Josh Smith will never win a ring as long as they are the best player on their roster. It might take a while, but superstar talent is the only way to bring the Suns back to title contention again. 

Now, should that superstar come through the draft or via free agency? Well, that's just a debate for another time. 

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