Fire-breathing Dragic

Winning cures everything. So does playing like a borderline All-Star. Goran Dragic is quietly having a career season — and don’t look now, the Miami Heat are on a six-game winning streak. (The longest active streak in the league.)

The Miami Heat are 6-0 in its last six games, and a lot of that is due to Dion Waiters’ rejuvenated shot making, but it’s also due to Dragic’s steady play. Though Waiters Island appears hospitable for now, Dragic is still getting his on a nightly basis. And he’s doing it his way: ruthless drives to rim and knock-down shooting.

In the last five games, of players who register at least seven drives per contest, the expected value of one of Dragic’s drives is worth 1.36 points per shot, per NBA.com/Stats(!) — that’s higher than that of a 3-pointer’s expected value (1.074). And that’s not just good, that’s league-leading good. Life is good when you shoot 68-percent on rim runs.

Dragic isn’t just laying it at a remarkable rate, he’s also getting to the foul line — something he struggled with last year. Playing like the guy that everyone knew Dragic was, he’s racked up 72 shooting fouls in 38 games, according to basketball-reference.com. For comparison, Dragic only lured defenders into 62 shooting fouls in 2015-16, in 72 games (!).

This year, Dragic’s brutal driving technique is reminiscent of dirty, phone booth boxing — up close and personal. That is, until he separates, often getting the better of his opponent on the way out of the exchange.

But The Dragon has been excelling outside of the painted area, too. Dragic has been killing it from 3-point land, shooting 40.8-percent from deep, a career figure. (Dragic shot 40.8-percent from 3 when he was named All-NBA Third Team in 2013-14.)

Dragic isn’t just knocking down spot-up 3s either; he’s a proper modern-day point guard that is developing one of the most devastating weapons in basketball: the pull-up 3-pointer. On the season, he’s shooting 39.1 percent on pull-up 3s, per NBA.com. That’s better than league-average 35.9-percent from downtown, and most of the league’s 3-pointers are spot-ups, which are often better looks. On Miami’s current win streak (six games), Dragic has been lights out, knocking down 60-percent of his pull-up 3-pointers (!), on two attempts per game.

Last season, in 2015-16, Dragic made 20 of 69 pull up 3s on 29-percent shooting, per NBA.com. So far this season, he’s made 18 of 46 on 39.1-percent shooting — going from below league-average to head and shoulders above it in under a year.

Dragic generates a lot of those pull-up 3s by being such a driving threat in the pick-and-roll. Just the threat of him hurtling towards the rim is often enough for his opponents to go under the screen, attempting to cut off his driving lane, leaving him open for pull-up jumpers

Last year, Dragic ran six pick-and-rolls per game, according to NBA.com; this year, he’s up to 8.6, leading to more pull-up looks like the one above. Dragic’s tapered responsibility in 2015-16, largely due to Miami ex-pat Dwyane Wade’s ball-hungry style, was, perhaps, more dampening than some thought.

Dragic is a monster that feeds on weak back-peddlers and sagging defenses. In 2017, It’s safe to say that The Dragon has been unleashed.


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