The Miami Heat gave Goran Dragic the reins and have built the team around him. As Dragic thrives, the Heat have reinvented themselves this season.
When the Miami Heat pulled off a buzzer-beater trade for Goran Dragic at the deadline in 2015, there were visions of a dynamic lineup that complemented the playmaking of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Teaming one of the league’s most impactful point guards with two Hall of Famers would turn the Heat into a direct challenger to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But Miami’s best laid plans were thwarted in the years that followed. Bosh would go down with blood clots, Wade would eventually bolt for Chicago after one last run to the Eastern Conference Semifinals with Dragic and the Heat. The 30-year old point guard quickly found himself in charge of a young team entering rebuild mode.
As it turns out, Dragic playing the role of leader is far more impressive than Dragic the complementary player and this season, along with the Heat’s unprecedented turnaround, is the biggest indicator of that.
Now, with Dion Waiters possibly lost for the rest of the regular season, Dragic’s importance to a team that’ll be without one of its leading scorers becomes vital to its immediate success.
On the surface, Dragic’s impact on the Heat’s winning ways is simply put: Just one win in nine games without their starting point guard in the lineup. A deeper dive reveals an offensive powerhouse that emerges when Dragic is in control.
The Heat are definitively better with Dragic on the floor, boasting a 107.1 offensive rating compared to 101.9 when he heads to the bench. Their effective field goal percentage also rises to 52.4% from 49.4% and in Heat wins, Dragic is responsible for an offensive rating of 123 and a true shooting percentage of 61.7%.
The offensive surge led by Dragic makes it no wonder that, coupled with the Heat’s sixth ranked defense, he leads the team in offensive win shares (4.7) along with being second on the team in overall win shares (6.7) next to Hassan Whiteside.
But maybe the most telling aspect of Dragic’s impact comes with the surge of two of the Heat’s core principles: Pace and three-point shooting.
The point guard has come to embody the teachings of Erik Spoelstra and staff, pushing the ball to the tune of a pace of 98.06 (compared to 96.5 when Dragic is off the floor) and finding open three-point shooters. Of the fifteen two-man combinations to net a positive three-point percentage, Dragic is a part of six of them. His career year from three (a team-leading 42.6%) has proved most valuable and in wins, yet again, that percentage rises to 45%.
While much of the talk during Dragic’s first season with the Heat was how he could be effective playing alongside a ball-dominant guard like Dwyane Wade, this current version seems to be most similar to the point guard’s peak seasons as a member of the Phoenix Suns.
Not only are nearly all his shooting metrics around career bests, Dragic’s usage rate is also at a career high. Erik Spoelstra is putting his point guard in a similar position that Phoenix did—with plenty of spacing and shooters on the floor to allow him to operate freely in the lane, on the fast break and behind the arc to not only score himself but also find open shooters (Dragic leads the team with a 30.1% assist rate when on the floor). And for that, the offense has flourished.
Take the below video as a textbook example of getting Dragic into space within the offense. Playing a quasi-triangle set, Dragic comes off the James Johnson screen and with a simple, aggressive jab step, freezes Draymond Green allowing Johnson to roll free to the basket.
Dragic’s pass/score threat made it impossible for Green to commit to guarding the roll man with Stephen Curry unable to fight over the screen. If Green sinks, Dragic pulls up for an elbow jumper or gets into the lane himself.
The Heat have entrusted Dragic with leading an offense that has engineered one of the most improbable turnarounds in the history of the NBA and one that could very well land the Heat in the playoffs.
While Dragic’s resurgence is certainly beneficial to the Heat’s long-term gain, if they hope to have playoff success against the potent offenses in Cleveland and Boston, Dragic will have to be at the center of it all.