Zoran Dragic finally ended all the speculation and completed his multiyear deal with the Phoenix Suns, making the signing official earlier this week. His former club Unicaja Malaga swiftly found a suitable replacement in talented Icelandic guard Jon Stefansson, a player that has reasonably similar attributes to the recently departed Dragic brother, and will fit in to the Malaga system right away.
For Dragic, being in Phoenix with his brother Goran will help him adjust to the NBA much quicker than most Europeans, the problem will stem from what kind of playing minutes Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek will give Zoran and whether he will play both Dragics together so that the new Suns acquisition can settle to the style quicker before he can try out different line-ups?
Having a pre-season schedule that begins on October 8 at home to Brazilian side Flamengo and concludes on Friday, October 24 against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City will help ease the “other” Dragic into the system before the season opener in Los Angeles against the Lakers on October 29.
But was the real reason because the Suns wanted to keep Goran with the team for the long term?
“That is part of why Zoran is here,” AZCentral’s Paul Coro writes. “Goran is naturally a big part of it, with his ability to opt out of his contract next season and be an unrestricted free agent when Zoran will still have one more guaranteed season with the Suns.”
It’s a clever move if true, but Zoran is a great prospect and is more deserving of a place not just with Phoenix but also in the NBA itself, rather than being used as a pawn to get the more NBA-experienced Goran to stay in the desert.
Dragic arrives in Phoenix with bags of European and international experience. The 25-year-old played in Spain and before that, his native Slovenia, in a professional career that already spans 10 years. He is mature beyond his years and his solid outing at Eurobasket 2013 in his home country solidified his NBA-ready status. Alongside brother Goran, the two Dragics complemented each other and the two played in sync, en route to the hosts reaching the quarter-finals before losing to eventual champions France.
“Zoran’s will to win and intensity stand out every time he steps on to the court,” said Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough in the press release. “He has been a very productive player in Euroleague, ACB and FIBA competitions. He excels defensively and in transition and I think our fans will quickly recognize his passion for the game.”
And that statement is true. Most quotes that feature European or international players are positive, and they have to be. I mean, why else did they sign the player? But with Zoran, he can really make an impact in Phoenix, if he is used in the correct way as mentioned.
Comparing the two brothers, Zoran is considered the better defender, where Goran poses more of a scoring threat. However, this has changed drastically over the last year, maybe two as Zoran, under Joan Plaza at Unicaja Malaga was given a lot more freedom to attack the basket and made the most of his minutes in the Liga Endesa. He also excelled with the Slovenian national side at both Eurobasket last year and at the recent FIBA World Cup, where they were knocked out by the eventual winners, USA.
Zoran averaged 12.9 points in Spain, an increase of the 10 points he averaged in the Euros last year and he has developed his long-range jumper in that time as well. The release is a lot smoother and it looks like he has more control of his shot and release than he did last year.
Defensively, while Goran is a stellar defender – Zoran is more physical – and will get under an opposing player’s skin. There might be times where Zoran will be used for defensive assignments, something that he won’t mind. Bottom line: Phoenix will have plans for him. Sending him to the D-League or giving him minimal court time will simply be a waste of a great and always improving talent.
Goran is happy, so if the American media’s predictions of Phoenix “using” brother Zoran to lure the other Dragic into staying with them are correct, they’ve succeeded. I just find that hard to believe it’s 100 percent true.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, an awesome feeling that we’re going to spend a year together and hopefully do some damage to other teams,” Goran said of Zoran’s arrival.
I guess time will tell. But the Dragon brothers are in the desert for now.