Goran Dragic, America’s Best Slovenian, has been a factor in the Miami Heat’s surprising run to the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference this season. With 17 points and just under five assists a game, he’s been the anchor at the point guard spot, and with Dion Waiters just having suffered what may be a season-ending injury, it’s going to be down to the Dragon’s leadership to keep the Heat in the driver’s seat as they look to continue the momentum that put them at 30-11 in the last 41 games of the 2017 season, falling short of the playoffs on the very last day of the campaign.
But really, 17 and 5 isn’t exactly great counting stat, and his field goal percentage is down, and his three-point shooting has regressed badly, and…wait a minute…
Is Goran Dragic actually any good?
Since Miami has playoff aspirations, and since Hassan Whiteside is their clear top dog, let’s frame the question this way.
If Goran Dragic is your second-best player, can you make a playoff run?
Let’s crunch the numbers.
The Counting Stats
Dragic has 17.0 points, 4.9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds in 31.9 minutes per game. He’s shooting 43.6 percent, his worst figure since the 2011 season, while his 35.8 percent mark from three is below his career average of 36.2 and a big dropoff from the 40.8 he posted in 2017.
What’s more, this is not a case of a guy whose overall FG% is artificially low because he’s shooting all his shots from long range, the common defense of the 40 percent shooters of the world with the .700+ three-point rates, guys like Kyle Korver or the Heat’s own Wayne Ellington (for whom 85 percent of his shots have come from distance.)
Dragic just seems to have lost his shot.
Meanwhile, it is a condemnation not of Dragic’s passing but of the Heat’s woeful team ball movement that the Dragon leads the team with that 4.9 per game assist count. The Heat are 23rd in the league in assists by count, but in their defense, they play at a snail-like 94.7 pace, fourth-slowest in basketball.
Still, even if you adjust for pace, 49 cents’ worth is not a lot of dimes. We’ll get to this in a minute, but it’s “don’t hate the player, hate the game” in Miami’s case.
The 4.2 rebounds are good for a guard who isn’t Russell Westbrook on a team that has Hassan Whiteside; indeed, Dragic is the top non-big-man rebounder on the squad. That’s all that needs to be said.
The Advanced Stats
Let’s look at the basics first. 16.2 PER, .082 WS/48, minus-0.2 BPM, 0.5 VORP.
When you look at the advanced numbers, the big one that screams at you is the Offensive Win Shares. This is a guy who once had 8.4 of them on a 48-win team, when the 2014 Suns rode his best season, a borderline-superstar .186 WS/48, 21.4 PER, and career-high .604 True Shooting to that 48-34 record and near-playoff appearance (man, the West used to be beast mode…)
Dragic had 5.0 OWS last year on the 41-41 Heat. He has just 1.0 this year. That’s a problem.
But as mentioned, part of this is Miami’s terrible ball movement, and that’s not the point guard’s problem. The team is 29th in assists on two-point shots but second in assists on threes as a percentage. This suggests that the team’s moving the ball around just fine, but since they miss so many (Miami is 22nd in 3PT%), they’re getting more of those twos on putbacks, negating the passing of the point guard; after all, it takes two players to create an assist, the passer and the shooter.
Plus, there’s the whole NBA Starter Mendoza Line to consider; anyone under .100 WS/48 isn’t pulling the weight of a guy who should be starting for a better-than-mediocre team.
Making matters worse, Dragic is a starter, but his on-court Net Rating of minus-2.3 and negative 4.6 on/off NetRtg split suggest a guy who just doesn’t justify his counting stats with the advanced numbers.
Dragic has always been a slightly below-average defender; nothing in the stats suggests this year is any different. It’s just a mammoth dropoff in offense that we’re looking at here.
Miami is, by point differential, about a 38-win team. And indeed, they are as good as they are on the standings sheet thanks mainly to a 9-2 record in games decided by five or less. The fact that they’re 8-9 in double-digit-margin games is far more telling.
Which comes back to the overall way the advanced stats frame this team’s performance. With the exception of Whiteside, who’s been a defensive monster and spectacular when he’s been able to stay healthy, and the emerging Bam Adebayo morphing into Whiteside Lite in the minutes he’s played in the big guy’s absence, this is a team that puts up a look that says they should be in the 35-40 win tier.
And if Dragic is their second-best player (and he might not be), they’re just not getting it done.
This team is overdue for a fall from grace, regressing hard toward that mean in close games, and that reflects badly on everyone, including Dragic.
But at the same time, it’s hard to fault the guy when he’s passing the ball to guys who miss shots; this creates all kinds of other problems when he himself gets the ball, and his looks haven’t been as good from long range.
So I won’t call it Busted. Is Dragic any good? It’s still Plausible. But he’s not getting any younger and Miami might just collapse into a hot mess when they start losing close games.