I’ll admit, I was not a fan of the Goran Dragic signing this summer. A 36-year-old. A fourth point guard. Another defensive question mark and shaky shooter.
More than happy to eat crow on that one.
“He’s really, really smart,” Billy Donovan said after the Bulls win over the Pacers. “I liken it to Chris Paul being with him in Oklahoma City. The level of basketball conversations, I love it.”
Through five games, Dragic’s impact has been unquestionable. It’s an imperfect stat, but fitting: The Bulls are +7 on the young season. Dragic is +37.
Dragic is the continuity-accentuating piece. He has spearheaded the Bulls fun and gun bench mob that routinely expands leads when the starters go out of the game. Having played three seasons with Derrick Jones Jr. in Miami, and the back half of last season with Andre Drummond in Brooklyn, he has good familiarity with two players on the second unit.
His playmaking has unlocked that bench group to where they are not just holding leads, but expanding them. All because of his ability to make basketball easier for the four guys playing next to him.
“He’s a guy that makes it a lot easier for screeners, when guys screen for him, he can find them and make things happen,” Donovan said.
Dragic is throwing lobs all over the place to Drummond. Normally I’d give my best breakdown, but I’ll let Donovan take it on this play:
“It’s Goran’s ability to hold the other big,” Donovan explained. “It’s his manipulation of holding onto the ball, stringing out the big, where the guard is not quite back in front of Goran. And he knows if you run back to the big, Goran’s going to be able to go down the lane and take a layup. He just waits for Andre to kind of get to his spot and once he realizes that big is in between, that’s when he makes the decision.”
Dragic is a pick-and-roll maestro, something the Bulls have not really had at the point guard position in some time. And it’s something I absolutely overlooked when the Bulls signed him — the value of an orchestrator who can position the chess pieces and create easy scoring opportunities each time down the floor.
“He’s a tremendous manipulator of pick-and-roll,” Donovan said. “I’ve been fortunate to be around some point guards that take coverages and kind of use coverages against [defenses].”
The bench units have been great, in large part due to the fact that they have multiple shot creators who can get downhill. So when playing alongside Zach LaVine, Coby White, or in this example, Alex Caruso, he is able to make plays with his passing while playing off the ball, just by attacking closeouts.
“He’s done a great job for us, just giving us different perspective that maybe me and Coby don’t see,” Caruso said during preseason. “Talking to us about different actions off of different stuff he’s done with players he’s played with in the past. He’s added a great dynamic to the team and his voice has been good for this group too.”
Here, he again starts off the ball and in the corner. He quickly slips out of a screen for Caruso, gets the ball with the defender on his hip, and into pick-and-roll with Jones, who gets fouled after receiving a showy pass from Dragic.
The creativity in this play works because Dragic plays with extreme tempo. And with Jones or Drummond as the roll man, the Bulls create a fourth dimension in their offense, something they can’t do with Nikola Vucevic on the floor.
And how could I go so long without mentioning his contributions to the fast break game:
At 36 years of age, Dragic is still productive, but perhaps his best value to the team could be elevating Williams, something he said he is actively working to do.
“We talk,” Dragic said during preseason. “I didn’t play a lot with him. But we talk. And he’s so athletically gifted that he can really take advantage. Especially setting the pick-and-rolls and dive. The low pocket pass is there, so he can finish over guys. We just need to get on the same page, how to set the screen, where to roll, when to pop. It’s just a reading situations. It’s going to take some time but we’re actively working on it.”
We see it every night with the bench group, and that’s why I’ve been anxious to see Patrick Williams play alongside Dragic in second units.
“It’s been really good to work with him,” Williams said of Dragic. “I told him during the game, “bro, the things you’re telling me, I haven’t heard or really thought of. So when we’re in practice, we gotta work on it.” I think that could be lethal.”
Williams didn’t go spend his summer in Los Angeles with DeRozan working on corner spot up shooting. He is going to need to have the ball in his hands, and operating as a screener for Dragic in the second unit might be the best place for him to do that.
Hopefully some of that Dragic magic rubs off on Williams as the season wears on. But until then, we’ll enjoy watching Dragic pick apart opposing second units and make the likes of Jones Jr, Caruso and Drummond look a hell of a lot better while they’re doing it.