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Dissecting the struggle of Goran Dragic (and what the Heat can do about it)

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The Heat's crafty starting point guard is having his most inefficient season since he became a starter in the NBA nearly five years ago. Are the Heat putting him in the best position to succeed?

Goran Dragic is shooting a lower percentage on attempts at the rim than last season
Goran Dragic is shooting a lower percentage on attempts at the rim than last season
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Stay with me here: I never liked the Goran Dragic trade.

I thought giving up multiple first round picks for the right to overpay him was too much. Considering you were going to compensate him for the second half of his career, decline could make the contract seem worse in time. 

Pat Riley and the Miami Heat have rushed their rebuild, one in which they never really tore down the foundation to begin with, but given that they had already committed to the rest of Chris Bosh's prime and imminent decline as well, I could understand why they wanted to go all-in on this, even if it seemed fiscally foolish. 

The fact is things haven't really gone as planned, and with the absolute gifts from the basketball gods that Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside have become, Dragic has become a relative role player in this Heat resurrection.

Whatever problem the Dragic contract may turn out to be, the blow is substantially relieved with the arrival of a few young cornerstones and a growing cap.

With all that said, it was fair to expect better production about a month into the season than Miami has gotten out of their 29-year-old slasher. Dragic has a True Shooting Percentage a shade under 50 percent, which would be by far the worst since he became a regular contributor in the NBA in 2011-12. 

Is Miami not using him correctly? Does he fit with this offense?

Questions like these get tossed around every game, but the truth is, Dragic kind of asked for this. The Heat were one of the teams that he reportedly was open to being traded to, along with the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. Did he not know Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant were half court players who would be sucking up a lot of possessions? Did he not consider that Miami typically likes to play at slower paces and control the game defensively? 

Miami could do more to acquiesce to Dragic, but they can't bend the entire organization around him. He is not a 'transition' player, or a 'player that needs space.' He's a basketball player with a very good skill set who can technically fit in any system. Every player in the league benefits from good spacing, and although Miami's is not optimal, his lackluster perimeter shooting is a big part of that.

It's not an ideal fit to begin with, and Miami and Dragic fell in love with each other's attractive assets without considering the potential pitfalls of their odd marriage. But now they must work it out. And to the credit of the team, they are off to a hot start, and in fairness to Dragic, he hasn't complained one bit. 

With all of that said, why is Dragic struggling this much though? 

O RIM EFFICIENCY, WHERE ART THOU

Dragic's struggles from the field have more to do with him than the Heat's system. His shot attempts are down, but that's not the reason his efficiency is. 

Gore 16

So far this season, Dragic is getting 44 percent of his offense at the rim, which isn't alarmingly far from what he did the last few seasons. But if you are looking for the primary reason why Dragic is hovering around 40 percent shooting from the field, look no further than the rim. 

Finishing at a 57 percent clip down there is pretty solid for a point guard,  but Dragic set the bar so incredibly high in prior seasons that it's a disappointment. Dragic made 65 percent of his shots at the rim last season and 64 percent in 2013-14, according to NBA.com's statistical database. 

If the counterargument is that Dragic is not being allowed to play in space in transition enough, he's still using more than 20 percent of his possessions in transition while scoring 0.94 points per possession on such attempts. He's the same player he's been. The lack of volume does not clearly explain the lack of efficiency. 

He is still going to make this happen when the opportunity arises.


The problem is this has also been happening a bit more frequently than we are used to.

PERIMETER SHOOTING

Just as disturbing as the drop in efficiency at the rim has been Dragic's struggles shooting the ball. On a team that needs shooting like the Brooklyn Nets need draft picks, Goran is a black hole right now. Dragic is shooting 27 percent from 3-point land on 2.5 attempts per game. He may have never been a 3-point shootout contestant, but Dragic is a career 36 percent shooter from behind the line -- at worst a reliable threat. 

A common notion is that Dragic is not an off-the-ball player, but he co-existed with Eric Bledsoe well in 2013-14 and looked comfortable last season, even if underused, playing next to Wade. There is no such thing as a player who can only play on the basketball. Dragic is a complete basketball player who was miscast a bit too much his last season in Phoenix, but not someone who cannot function off the ball. 

The fact is Dragic is getting the same shots.

So far in 2015-16, 13.4 percent of Dragic's attempts are catch and shoot 3-pointers. He's drilling 17.6 percent of them. 

In 2014-15, Dragic nailed 38 percent of his catch and shoot 3-point shots. In 2013-14, it was even higher, at 42 percent. Yes, Dragic is a point guard who can handle and run an offense, but he's also an off-ball shooting weapon that has not been performing as such this season. 

Dragic isn't forcing anything either. 35 percent of these attempts have come with a defender between four and six feet away, and the Dragon is converting only 31.6 of them. 

Dragic is getting good shots, and missing a ton of shots he normally makes. 

WHAT THE HEAT CAN DO

The regression to the mean on Dragic's layups and 3-point shooting should take hold at some point. He is simply not this bad, and at his age, has plenty left in the tank. 

With that said, an argument can be made that with a little more usage, perhaps his rhythm and comfort can improve.

Dwyane Wade has always been an efficient player, but with a 3-point shot that never evolved and his free throw rate diminishing, he is having the least efficient season of his career himself. He's also four years older. 

Is there a significant reason why Wade uses 31 percent of the Heat's possessions when he is on the court and Dragic only 19? Maybe a little more balance between the two can help. Wade is a polished off the ball cutter due to his growth from the years he spent learning to play off of LeBron James a lot, so it's not a big adjustment. 

Should Miami play him more with second unit lineups? I don't think Miami should do anything to force this issue. The Heat are having success, especially defensively, with the rotation as is, and accepting that a team this deep isn't the place for Dragic to score 20 points a night is just the reality of the situation. Tyler Johnson's defense and shooting would be sacrificed to appease Goran's offense need to run more. We don't want that. 

If you are the Heat, you give Dragic a slight bump in usage, bank on regression, and keep moving forward.  

It's an odd fit, but his talent has a chance to fit in on a team that desperately needs his perimeter shooting to be there. As long as the team is defending at a high level, the pressure is off for this offense to slowly figure things out and see what their ceiling will be. 

And maybe Dragic didn't make a bad choice after all, because if he does find his way, he has a great chance to play deep into the playoffs for the first time in his career.