NBA Free Agency Report: Brooklyn Nets Bring In Veteran Scoring Guard Goran Dragic
Veteran scoring point guard joins the Nets
Still fresh from their blockbuster acquisition of All-Star point forward Ben Simmons, veteran big man Andre Drummond, and sweet-shooting combo guard Seth Curry, the Brooklyn Nets are now bringing in another veteran presence to their roster. As per multiple media outlets, the Nets have inked veteran scoring point guard Goran Dragic to a contract this season, an excellent move to shore up their backcourt depth especially with the game-to-game availability of superstar point guard Kyrie Irving still up in the air. Due to the New York City mandate that does not allow unvaccinated athlete to suit up in their team’s home games, Irving, who has still not taken the vaccine up to this point, is still yet to play a single home game for the Nets this season.
This makes the Dragic acquisition a very wise move for the Nets, especially since it is an affordable signing considering that they nabbed the scoring point guard via the buyout market. Dragic, who is a one-time All-Star point guard, suited up for the Toronto Raptors this season but he was not able to see eye-to-eye with the organization and that disagreement resulted in an early termination of their short-lived partnership. Dragic and the Raptors then agreed to a buyout route, which allowed the veteran scoring point guard to enter unrestricted free agency and ink a contract with the Nets. It remains to be seen as to what version of Dragic will we see in a Nets uniform, but there is no doubt that he can contribute in a valuable role off the bench, and bring in a scoring boost and veteran experience in the team’s second unit.
Dragic, who will be turning 36 years of age this month of May, was the 45th overall pick during the 2008 NBA Draft. He was an overlooked prospects in a draft class that includes very talented players such as Derrick Rose of the New York Knicks, Russell Westbrook and DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Danilo Gallinari of the Atlanta Hawks, Eric Gordon and D.J. Augustin of the Houston Rockets, Brook Lopez, George Hill, and Serge Ibaka of the Milwaukee Bucks, Robin Lopez of the Orlando Magic, JaVale McGee of the Phoenix Suns, and Nicolas Batum of the Los Angeles Clippers. Among the other notable players in that draft class include Anthony Morrow, Timofey Mozgov, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Jerryd Bayless, Brandon Rush, Anthony Randolph, Marreese Speights, Roy Hibbert, J.J. Hickson, Ryan Anderson, Courtney Lee, Kosta Koufos, Darrell Arthur, Nikola Pekovic, Mario Chalmers, Omer Asik, Henry Walker, Sonny Weams, and Luc Mbah a Moute.
The arrival of Dragic will not only add another seasoned presence to the Nets’ locker room, but it will also help them mitigate the absence of Irving during their home games, especially come playoff time. Dragic’s shot-making could also help fill the void of the loss of superstar shooting guard and former Most Valuable Player James Harden, who was shipped to the Philadelphia 76ers in that same deal that netted them Simmons, Curry, and Drummond. As per a column written by Dan Devine for The Ringer, Harden was an important piece in the Nets’ success but now that he’s gone, the team has to find new answers.
Five games into the season, Harden has yet to score more than 20 points; the last time it took him this long to top that mark was a decade ago, when he was coming off the bench for the Thunder. A lot of teams would kill to have a starting point guard who averages 16.6 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds per game. But given Harden’s résumé and the Nets’ galactic need for firepower sans Irving, that sort of production isn’t just an issue. It’s a disaster. Many, including Nets head coach Steve Nash, have pointed to the NBA’s latest adjustment to officiating as a contributing factor in Harden’s slow start. Heading into the 2021-22 season, the league instituted “an interpretive change in the officiating of overt, abrupt or abnormal non-basketball moves by offensive players with the ball in an effort to draw fouls.” One of the specific kinds of moves on which refs were told not to reward the offensive player with free throws?
When he uses his off arm to initiate contact with a defender, long a Harden specialty. Adjusting to that new set of standards appears to be taking Harden some time: He’s attempted just 15 free throws on the season, his lowest total over any five-game stretch in more than 10 years. Harden’s far from the only player affected by the new “no abnormal non-basketball moves” rule change. NBA teams are on pace to average the lowest number of free throws in NBA history, a drop of about two per game this season from 2020-21, and three fewer than in 2019-20. Harden’s the most notable, though, for the same reason he’s been the league’s premier call-hunting villain for years: Nobody makes it more visible. On more than a few occasions this season, Harden has gone about his typical business: initiating contact with a defender, locking arms, and snapping his head back. Yet the whistle doesn’t come, and the play ultimately breaks down.
Dragic, who is an excellent shot creator and an above average playmaker, is a one-time NBA All-Star. He also won the Most Improved Player of the Year award in 2014 while playing for the Phoenix Suns, which is also the same year when he made it to the All-NBA Third Team. Dragic has also accomplished a lot of individual accolades throughout his NBA and international career, including winning the Slovenian League Rookie of the Year in 2005, the FIBA Stankovic Cup Most Valuable Player award in 2010, the Euroscar Player of the Year and Slovenian Sportsman of the Year awards in 2017, and the FIBA EuroBasket Most Valuable Player plum in 2017.
Aside from the Suns, Raptors, and the Nets, Dragic has also suited up for the Houston Rockets and the Miami Heat. He has never won a championship in the NBA, but he did go on a trip to the 2020 NBA Finals when he joined forces with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Kendrick Nunn, and head coach Erik Spoelstra to help the Heat defeat the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics on their way to becoming the champions of the Eastern Conference. Dragic may be already past the peak years of his career, but it is without a doubt that he could still contribute at a significant level for any team who is in the hunt for the Larry O’Brien trophy this season.
But of course, this Nets team is much more than what Dragic can offer on the offensive end of the floor. They may have lost the elite services of Harden, but they got Simmons in exchange, who is a star on both ends of the floor. Simmons has not played a single game this season so it remains to be seen just how much he can bring to the table. As per a column written by Kevin O’Connor for The Ringer, he pointed out that Simmons’ desire to get out of the Sixers camp is more on growing as a player, and not about the dysfunction of his relationship with the Sixers organization.
The question is whether a team built around Simmons would be any good. Though Simmons is tall, fast, and powerful like Giannis, he doesn’t score like him. Giannis is one of the most dominant interior scorers in league history. Last season, Antetokounmpo shot 63.5 percent on drives to the rim, according to Second Spectrum. Simmons shot only 53.4 percent on drives, and in lineups without a center, he shot only 46.4 percent. Believers in Simmons see it differently. Sure, Simmons can’t finish like Giannis, but he’s a better passer who can already pick apart defenses in the open floor. If Simmons were paired with a pick-and-roll playmaker at the guard position—like Giannis has with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, or Draymond Green has with Steph Curry—it could unlock dimensions of his game as a screener while he handles the ball with four shooters. In a new situation, Klutch would hope plays are designed for him to attack the basket in creative ways. And who knows, maybe he could develop a competent shot.
Not much has changed on offense for Simmons since he was a rookie, but people in his circle remember the highs. In April 2018, the morning after Simmons had a 27/15/13 performance in a win sans Embiid over LeBron James and the Cavs, I texted about the game with someone from Klutch. They responded that he’s “going to be the face of the league in 4-5 years.” Three years later, Simmons hasn’t met those expectations. But their belief in his potential has not wavered. The question is where he could reach that potential. And when.
As for the Nets team as a whole, they are currently sporting a record of 31 wins against 29 defeats, which is quite disappointing for them considering that they were one of the favorites to win the title this year. They have lost their last assignment against Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Derrick White, Robert Williams III and the Boston Celtics, but they will have plenty of chances to bounce back when they go up against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Charlotte Hornets, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks, and the Orlando Magic in their next set of games.