Resume: 16.3 points, 3.5 rebounds (career best), 4.5 assists, 1.0 steal, 33.8 minutes, 50% FG, 35% 3PT, 77% FT … Team Record in Games Played: 41-37 (2-3 without)
Enough words have been written about how the Miami Heat are one of most intriguing teams in the league coming into the 2015-16 season, and there are plenty more words to come, so because of that I’ll do my best to spare you a lengthy introduction of that sort because in all likelihood you’ve heard it before, and if you haven’t, you’ll hear about it soon enough.
It’s not that this notion isn’t true. If you’re making a list of the most interesting teams of the 2015-16 season, Miami is certainly near the top. An interesting cast of characters are already in place and with yet another cap boom coming next summer, Miami will be a major player in free agency once again. For the time being though, you could point to a variety of players on the roster and claim that they are most interesting individual on the team; aging stars like Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh are easy choices, as is budding phenom Hassan Whiteside.
My choice would be Goran Dragic, the unheralded and largely unknown Slovenian whose name is so difficult for some to pronounce that he’s affectionately referred to as “The Dragon,” by many.
Dragic came to Miami from Phoenix in a fairly onesided deal at the trade deadline last season, and even though his presence wasn’t enough to elevate the Heat to the postseason, Dragic is perhaps the most integral member of the Heat this year. Wade is the face of the franchise, Bosh will probably carry the heaviest offensive workload throughout the season, Whiteside has the most potential to dominate on both ends of the floor and Justise Winslow is conceivably one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year. Dragic is still the one who is most responsible for determining Miami’s night to night ceiling.
For the Heat to vault into the upper-echelon of contenders, even in the slum that is the Eastern Conference, they’re going to need a few things to go their way. First and foremost, like every other team in the league, Miami needs to stay reasonably healthy to contend. There is a legitimate reason for Miami to have concerns about keeping their key contributors on the floor, though, and that’s not the case for every team. If Hassan Whiteside plateaus, or worse, regresses, the Heat’s ceiling is altered, though signs seem to point towards Whiteside continuing to improve.
Dragic’s play will either unlock a new level that the Heat can reach or hold them back from contending in the sense that the franchise is accustomed to. The Heat were a mess defensively last year when Dragic and Wade were on the floor together, and although Bosh wasn’t on the floor for a single one of those minutes, that’s an area that needs to be cleaned up, and it should. With Bosh back, another year of Whiteside, and Winslow, someone who we can assume will be an above-average perimeter defender, Miami shouldn’t be quite as bad as they were on this end last year.
I’m more concerned with how the Heat offense will look. Actually, concerned probably isn’t the right word. The Heat have the pieces to be an above-average offensive team. Erik Spoelstra is a wizard on the sideline and there are plenty of guys who can score in isolation as the clock runs down. Dragic is included in that group. Dragic and Wade collectively are probably the craftiest, most unpredictable ball-handling duo in the league, armed with a ton of herky-jerky moves, shot fakes and Eurosteps that will drive defenders.
Ideally though, the Heat offense won’t come down to iso’s. At their best in the LeBron days, the Heat pinged the ball from teammate to teammate until they got the easiest shot possible for the possession. Without LeBron, Miami’s offense obviously won’t be able to reach that level of beauty or efficiency, but building it around Dragic pick and rolls is a good place to start.
Remember, Dragic is one of the best pick and roll point guards in the league; so good that he earned a Third Team All-NBA nod two years ago when he damn near carried the Suns to the Playoffs. Dragic pushed the tempo, ran the offense and was somewhere between 50 and 60 percent responsible for Channing Frye getting a four year, $32 million offer from Orlando the following summer.
Replacing Frye with a shooter like Bosh or a destructive roll-man in Whiteside should be enough to devastate defenses. If the Heat can eek out some perimeter shooting to clear up some drive lanes or space in the paint their offense can probably max out near the top of the league. That, of course, is also a concern. Wade hasn’t been, and will never be that guy and Luol Deng is only a 33 percent shooter from long-distance for his career. If the Heat can’t find that shooting from Winslow, the newly acquired Gerald Green or anywhere else, it’s going to make life tough, even with a pick and roll savant like Dragic at the helm.
It’s easy to look at Dragic’s numbers and be alarmed that the 29 year old point guard might be slipping. It’s explainable though; while in Phoenix Dragic was sharing time and touches with two other ball-dominant point guards. It was a toxic situation that got really messy right before and immediately after the Suns shipped him to Miami. When he arrived in South Beach he was expected to integrate himself into the Heat offense immediately, share ball-handling duties with Dwyane Wade and manage to keep the Heat in the Playoff hunt without Chris Bosh. There was just too much going on for Dragic to match his career best numbers from the season before.
Dragic probably won’t hit those 2013-14 marks this coming season, but that’s not necessarily going to be an indication of poorer play. Dragic won’t need to carry the Heat in the same fashion that he carried the Suns two years ago. Instead, he’ll just need to run the show and keep things on track.