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NBA PM: Dragic, Suns Somehow Emerge as Elite

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Dragic, Suns Somehow Emerge as Elite

Goran Dragic may look like someone you’d play against at your local YMCA, shrugging his shoulders after making jaw-dropping shots and smiling up and down the court, but don’t let his boyish looks fool you. This season, Dragic has shown that he’s one of the most fearless players in the NBA. He attacks every opponent and refuses to back down from any defense. He may wear a goofy grin on his face, but he’s capable of destroying your favorite team.

The 27-year-old, who just became a full-time starter last year, has quietly emerged as one of the league’s most productive players this season. He’s turning heads with the Phoenix Suns and filling the stat sheet every night. Dragic is currently averaging 20.6 points, 6.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals. He’s shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from three-point range.

Dragic ranks 13th in the NBA in efficiency rating, ahead of bigger names such as James Harden, Paul George, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Dwyane Wade and Tony Parker (all of whom were selected as All-Stars over Dragic). The only point guards with a higher PER than Dragic are Chris Paul and Stephen Curry. He’s ranked fourth in the NBA in offensive wins shares with 6.7, behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kevin Love. He’s 10th in the NBA in estimated wins added with 11.6, and sixth in the NBA in True Shooting Percentage (.614).

The numbers are incredible, but even more impressive than the statistics is how the six-year veteran has turned the Suns into the biggest surprise of the 2013-14 NBA season. Entering this year, Phoenix was expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA. They were accused of blatant tanking before playing their first game since the team stockpiled young players and draft picks, and traded away veterans such as Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat and Caron Butler.

However, Phoenix’s young roster has exceeded all expectations and Dragic’s play is a big reason for that. The Suns are 35-24, which puts them in the seventh seed in the insanely competitive Western Conference. Dragic has been the key piece in first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek’s up-tempo system and he has made all of his teammates better. The team even continued to win after losing Eric Bledsoe to knee surgery. The fact that Dragic has started alongside P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye, and turned this team into a legitimate playoff squad is simply remarkable.

Hornacek certainly deserves credit as well and he’s the frontrunner for the Coach of the Year award, but Dragic’s season has been nothing short of amazing and there’s no question that he’s in the running for the Most Improved Player award. Dragic, who was the 45th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, believes that he has been able to elevate his game because his experiences over the last several years have prepared for anything on the court.

“I’m more relaxed,” Dragic said. “I know all of the situations I’m put in and I know how the opposing teams are going to guard me. I’m just more relaxed. It feels like I’m playing basketball with my friends back home, with no pressure. I just go out there and do my job. I’ve gotten some great support from my teammates and I’m just having fun. It’s not like I’m thinking too much or anything. I’m just having fun.”

Hornacek credits Dragic for being “able to fly up and down the court,” but adds that the point guard’s success is also due to the fact that his teammates are producing at a high level as well.

“For him to be able to get some of the things that he does with his drives, it means that everybody else is playing well too,” Hornacek said of Dragic. “If they leave somebody, then they’re going to be wide open. It’s really kind of the togetherness of our team, and everybody is playing really well. Teams can’t just focus on one player because then we’ll do something else and get open shots that guys will knock down.”

Dragic was perhaps the most surprising All-Star snub this season, but he has put it behind him.

“I don’t think about that, I just want to play,” Dragic said when asked about his All-Star snub. “That’s already behind me. What happened, happened. I just try to play my best every single night.”

Opposing players have described Dragic has unstoppable in transition and he has definitely become someone that other teams have to game plan around. He has come a long way from when he was traded by the Suns back in 2011 (to the Houston Rockets), and is proof that every player develops at a different pace.

Soon, the Suns will get Bledsoe back in their lineup and return to full strength. Bledsoe recently returned to practice for Phoenix, playing in five-on-five scrimmages for the first time since his surgery. Dragic has kept the Suns afloat without Bledsoe, but it’s clear that Phoenix is at its best when they have both guards flying down the court and wreaking havoc together.

This season, Dragic and the Suns have stunned everyone, and the point guard is proud of the attitude that the team has taken on.

“We are a really hard-nosed team,” Dragic said. “It doesn’t matter if we are up or down 20 points, we are still going to battle until the end.”

Leading the way is Dragic, who seems poised to take Phoenix to the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

Chandler Unsure of Future With Knicks

The New York Knicks are currently 21-40 and this season could not have gone any worse for the team. The Knicks entered the campaign expecting to be a contender after last year’s 54-win season, but it quickly became clear that this wasn’t a playoff squad but rather a punching bag for opposing teams.

This season has been nightmare for New York, and key members of the team aren’t sure if they want to return to the franchise after this year.

Carmelo Anthony’s future has been a hot topic since he’ll become an unrestricted free agent once he exercises his early termination option this summer, but he isn’t the only one who may want to leave for greener pastures. Tyson Chandler, at 31 years old, doesn’t have time for wasted seasons like this one and may want to join a team closer to contention.

When asked about his future with the Knicks recently, Chandler told the New York Post’s Marc Berman that he isn’t sure what’s going to happen.

“That’s something I have to visit during the offseason,’’ Chandler said. “We’re all going to have a lot of decisions to make.’’

Chandler will make $14,596,887 next season and then his contract will expire. The Knicks are reportedly hoping that the summer of 2015 is when they can make a big splash in free agency and put other stars alongside Anthony (if he re-signs). It’s possible that between now and then that Chandler could be traded – or demand a trade – as he is one of the more attractive assets on the Knicks’ roster.

Regardless of what the future holds, Chandler insists that he’s going to play his hardest and finish this season strong.

“For me, it’s important regardless [to finish out strong],’’ Chandler said. “I got a lot more pride than this, coming in night in, night out losing, and not putting forth the type of effort it takes to win. At this stage of my career and what I’ve established, I refuse to let it put a blemish on it.’’

About Alex Kennedy

Alex Kennedy

Alex Kennedy is a Senior NBA Editor of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last seven seasons.

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