All-Star Game Eludes Dragic Despite Career Year
Goran Dragic wanted to be an All-Star. Countless others wanted him in New Orleans as well.
Desire wasn’t enough, apparently, not even when coupled with All-Star-worthy play.
The Slovenian playmaker fell short in NBA coaches’ eyes (except Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek, who was under the league-wide restriction that prevents coaches from voting for their own players).
Never mind that Dragic is averaging career highs in points (19.9), rebounds (3.4) and shooting percentage (50.0). Forget that he and LeBron James are the only players in the league to put up at least 19 points and six assists per contest while shooting at least 50 percent from the field. Dismiss the fact that he led Phoenix past last season’s win totals at this year’s halfway point.
With all those stats in mind, the sixth-year guard knew there was a chance he could get in. He rarely let himself speak about it publicly leading up to Thursday night, and even then mostly off the record.
Instead he let everyone – and his game, of course – do the talking for him. If writers or peers tweeted his credentials, he’d retweet a few of them. Other than that, Dragic usually would respond to his All-Star possibilities with some variation of “It will be great if I get in, but if I don’t, that will be okay.”
It wasn’t as okay with everyone.
RT @kevinarnovitz: If CP & Westbrook don't play, Mike Conley should be next man up for West backcourt (DRAGIC CASE JUST AS GOOD. OR BETTER)— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 24, 2014
Mock All-Star lists showed Dragic in the conversation, if not necessarily on everyone’s list. Former Suns teammate and current NBA analyst Grant Hill had him making the Western Conference roster. So did ESPN.com’s Marc Stein.
It was hard to argue. Dragic's numbers compared favorably and showed at least one significant advantage when compared to the other guards that made the cut. He scored more and rebounded better than Parker, shot significantly better than Lillard and Harden and boasted a better team record than Curry and --his competitors for a potential injury replacement spot -- Anthony Davis or Mike Conley.
Yet the stats and comparisons weren't on Dragic's mind. It was the simpler idea of the experience itself. When asked directly about the possibility of making the midseason classic, his face would light up, but his words were about All-Star games he’d watched as a kid, not the one he’d hoped to grace as an adult.
“You see how [All-Stars] are with the fans, before the game, with each other,” Dragic said.
He had wanted to be part of that ever since seeing very non-HD versions of All-Star games at middle-of-the-night hours in Slovenia.
Dragic has come a long way since then. He carved up Portland in November, outplayed Chris Paul in December, eviscerated Indiana in January, and scored in double figures in all but two games over that three-month span.
Leandro Barbosa, who was teammates with Dragic when he was a timid, backup point guard, barely recognizes his friend on the court.
“He’s very, very different. He’s the man. It’s his team right now,” Barbosa said. “We go behind him. He’s been doing a great job controlling the team, scoring the ball, getting assists. He’s a great talent. He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s explosive, he can do everything. To be honest, we have one of the best point guards in the league.”
Dragic’s progress could have been curtailed after teammate Eric Bledsoe went down with a knee injury. Instead he’s been more efficient than ever, scoring more (21.4 points) while shooting better (51.2 percent).
“He gets them quietly, too,” Hornacek said. “All of the sudden you’ll look up and you’ll go ‘wow, he’s got 22 points.’ It’s a very consistent effort where he’s making some threes, getting to the free throw line, he’s making some layups and pull-up jumpers. He’s doing a little bit of everything. That’s probably the sign of a great player, when you don’t notice him scoring that much.”
While his points may have been quiet, Dragic’s style of play was anything but. He has gained a non-stop reputation in the league, one that had Hornacek concerned he might wear down early in the season.
He did the opposite. He wore down opponents who tried to keep up in transition. Dragic is sixth in the league in fast break points per game (5.3), trailing only James Harden LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, John Wall and Kevin Durant.
Once a young admirer of such talent, Dragic is now more than willing to pit himself against them.
“You can respect the opponent, but you can’t be afraid,” Dragic said. “Even if I play Chris Paul, against LeBron, against all those guys, I’m never afraid. What will happen will happen. The only thing I can do is to give 100 percent and try to play as hard as possible. After the game, if they are better, I’m glad to shake their hands and tell them they deserved the win.”
Dragic had hoped to shake their hands in New Orleans this month, as had Barbosa.
“He came out here with the Suns and became an All-Star player,” Barbosa said a week ago. “I’m cheering for him, for that happening.”
So were a lot of people.