Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic, the man they call “The Dragon,” was a man on a mission throughout the 2017 EuroBasket tournament. In what could be his final appearance in Europe’s biggest basketball tournament, Dragic saved his best performance for last as he led Slovenia to its first ever title in the European Basketball Championship, and earned MVP honors in the process.
What made Slovenia’s climb to the pinnacle of EuroBasket more impressive was the fact that Goran Dragic was the lone active NBA player they have on their roster. Dragic poured in a tournament-high 35 points to spearhead Slovenia’s 93-85 title-clinching victory over powerhouse team Serbia. Dragic also grabbed seven rebounds and handed out three assists in an all-around performance that overshadowed the loss Luka Doncic to an ankle injury.
According to the Sun-Sentinel, Dragic’s 35-point outburst was the most scored by a Slovenian player in international competitions. Throughout the EuroBasket 2017, Dragic averaged 22.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists in almost 28 minutes per game. Dragic finished fourth in scoring and 13th in assists as he led Slovenia to complete the tournament unbeaten, going 9-0.
The Slovenian National Team racked up wins against France, Greece, Finland, Iceland, and Poland during the preliminary round. Dragic led the EuroBasket 2017 in scoring during the group stage games, averaging 24.4 points per game on 50.7 percent shooting from the field, 35 percent beyond the arc, and 86.7 percent from the three-point line. Dragic struggled against Ukraine in the round of 16 but bounced back with a 26-point, 8-assist performance against the Kristapps Porzingis-led Latvia in the Quarter-Finals.
The Slovenians were the underdog when they went up against Spain in the EuroBasket 2017 Semi-Final. With brothers Pau and Marc Gasol manning the middle, Spain would be a tough nut to crack for any team participating in the tournament. Both Slovenia and Spain entered the Semi-Final match with an undefeated record but it was Slovenia’s quickness that prevailed. Dragic delivered another masterful performance, scoring 15 points, handing out five assists, and grabbing seven rebounds to help Slovenia defeat the fancied Spanish team.
While Dragic had been fantastic throughout the tournament, he had plenty of help from his teammates. NBA prospect Luka Doncic, 18, showed that he can thrive under pressure and emerged as the future star of Slovenia. Former NBA journeyman Anthony Randolph was a force at both ends of the floor and could earn another shot at playing in the NBA with his terrific performances at the EuroBasket 2017. Klemen Prepelic, 24, also showed that he has what it takes to compete against the best guards in Europe.
Bleacher Report ranked Dragic’s performance in the EuroBasket 2017 Finals as the best in the tournament. Dragic scored 26 points in the first half to help the Slovenians build a comfortable lead. And while his second half wasn’t as efficient as the first half, Dragic still made his presence felt.
From being the heir-apparent to Steve Nash during their Phoenix Suns days to leading a young and resilient Miami Heat team, Goran Dragic has come a long way since being selected 45th overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2008 NBA draft. He now joins the rank of EuroBasket MVPs that include future Hall of Famers the likes of Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, and Tony Parker.
Dragic will have one week to rest before he plunges back into action, this time for his NBA ball club, the Miami Heat. The Heat will open their training camp with the traditional media day at the American Airlines Arena on September 25. Now that NBA fans have seen a glimpse of what an unleashed Dragic could to competition, and with Miami seemingly lacking backup point guards, perhaps the time for the Dragon to be fully turned loose in the NBA is ripe.
After all, success only breeds success, and there’s no higher accomplishment for a basketball player than to bring home a gold medal for his country. The MVP trophy is just an added bonus especially since Dragic already has one of those for his performance in the 2010 Stankovic Cup. The only question remaining it seems is this: will the 31-year-old Dragic have enough left in the tank to lead the Heat to the promised land? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure, the Miami Heat fans should have a lot of reasons to be optimistic this season, and chief among them is Dragic’s recent play in the EuroBasket 2017 that had him in Dracarys mode.
[Featured Image by Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Images]