Heading into this offseason, the Bulls clearly needed more shooting, more big wings, and better defensive big men.
Instead, the AKME regime took a page right out of the GarPax book. Chicago signed washed up big-name veterans who don’t fulfill a current on-court positional need and avoided the luxury tax rather than addressing the actual issues plaguing the club.
That included 36-year-old Goran Dragic, despite overtures of a possible reunion with his Slovenian national team comrade Luka Doncic in Dallas. Dragic joins a booked backcourt, where he’ll fight for minutes behind Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine with Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, and possibly Coby White, if the Bulls can’t figure out a way to offload the latter this summer.
There’s also the speculation, fueled by Dragic’s own stated reasoning for signing with the Bulls, that Ball will not be healthy and Dragic is capable of filling those minutes.
But is he? How much does Dragic have left?
Dragic had an eventful 2021-22 NBA season. That summer, he was shipped out of Miami (his home since 2015) to the Toronto Raptors in the Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade. Dragic appeared in just five games with the Raptors before opting to depart the team for “personal reasons” (i.e. waiting to get bought out of his contract so he could sign with a team of his choosing). Eventually, he landed with former Suns teammate Steve Nash and the Brooklyn Nets, backing up (and occasionally playing alongside) Kyrie Irving.
Across 16 games for Brooklyn in the regular season, Dragic averaged 7.3 points on a miserable 37.6% shooting from the floor, including a paltry 24.5% from long range. He still had assists (4.8) and rebounds (3.2) at rates right in line with his career averages, but he produced far less than his 2018 All-Star season.
There’s no denying that “The Dragon” experienced a down shooting year with Brooklyn during the regular season, but “Playoff Dragic” was a thing in Miami, and that appeared to a point in the 2022 playoffs.
Dragic finally caught fire from the floor when it mattered most in the Nets’ first round series against the Boston Celtics, at least to start the series. He averaged 16 points (on 56% field goal shooting) and 4.5 rebounds during the first two games, on the road. In the first game, a tense 115-114 Boston victory, Dragic came alive. He scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the floor, pulled down five rebounds and added an assist and a steal in 26:28 of action. Dragic went 1-of-3 from long range for the series’s first game. He would go on to connect on 4-of-12 triples over the course of the series.
Consistency from deep is helpful, especially in hotly-contested playoff games with the spotlight shining at its absolute brightest. So as a corner release valve option on a DeMar DeRozan or Zach LaVine drive, I sure trust Dragic over, say, Coby White. White is statistically the better shooter, but he in this year’s playoffs Coby had exactly one good game in five, to Dragic’s three of four. For his career, Dragic has connected on 36.2% of his 3.4 three-point attempts a game. In the playoffs over his career, Dragic takes almost a whole extra three-pointer (4.2 attempts), nailing 34.5% of those looks.
Dragic’s other big advantage over Coby White is his ability to actually run an offense, including knowing when to attack and when to create for others. He can still get downhill in a hurry when he needs to:
The peak of Dragic’s postseason output was a throwback Game 2 first half, where he led a team with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in scoring, notching 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor.
He would go on to score just two points in the second half, finishing the bout with 18 on 8-of-14 field goal shooting.
After Steve Nash limited him to just 8:53 of scoreless action in a pivotal Game 3 home loss, Dragic recovered somewhat in scoring 10 points on an efficient 4-of-6 shooting during the team’s Game 4 series-ending defeat.
It remains to be seen we’ll be treated to even the 2020-21 iteration of Dragic, an adept passer with a consistent outside shooting stroke. If treated to last year’s regular-season model, we get an inconsistent deep bench role player capable of willing his body to relive past glories once the games start to matter in April.
Not a terrible signing for the veteran’s minimum. Especially if he can still pull off these finishes in the 2023 playoffs:
Dragic could be Chicago’s fourth or fifth guard on the depth chart, depending on how much Billy Donovan values his “veteran experience.” Caruso is clearly a better all-around player, and Dosunmu has plenty of promise. But Dragic’s handle could make him a helpful Coby White upgrade.
Ultimately, though, Dragic isn’t going to do the trick when it comes to curing what ails Chicago: helping the team survive a playoff round. That’s ultimately what free agency should have been about.