FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – From when he arrived from Slovenia as a 22-year-old rookie in 2008 to now, a 27-year-old veteran with five seasons under his belt, Goran Dragic has undergone quite the transformation.
“Six-hundred percent,” Channing Frye said, trying to quantify how far his teammate has come. “I think he’s become that leader that we all knew.”
Dragic is now a leader and a husband, as well as a soon-to-be father.
It was a busy offseason for Dragic.
He was named to the all-tournament team for helping lead Slovenia to a fifth-place finish in the European Championships, which he called “one of the best experiences in my career.” He married his longtime girlfriend Maja. And now he and his new bride are expecting a baby boy, due Nov. 16.
“It’s going to be something new for me this season,” Dragic said at media day. “I’m growing as a person, as a husband and as a father now. It’s going to be something new.”
Again, quite the change from that first season in Phoenix.
“Lost kid from Europe didn’t speak English, shy,” he said looking back. “That’s the ways of life. You learn new things. I feel more comfortable. Phoenix feels like a hometown. It’s much easier now than five years ago.”
It may have taken some time — and a brief stint with the Houston Rockets — but the player the Suns envisioned when they worked to acquire him in a draft-day deal with the San Antonio Spurs has arrived.
His maturation was noticed last year, when in his first full season as a starter, Dragic averaged career highs in points (14.7), assists (7.4), steals (1.61) and minutes (33.5). He joined LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kemba Walker as the only four players to lead their team in points, assists and steals.
More will be expected of Dragic this season, especially on a roster where 13 of the 18 players have three or fewer years of NBA experience.
He’s prepared to take on a greater leadership role.
“Yes,” he said as he straightened up and puffed out his chest. “I’m more comfortable. Last year was the first season that I was (in) that role, so hopefully this season, I’m making progress in that area.”
This season also offers Dragic the new dynamic of sharing backcourt duties with another playmaking point guard, Eric Bledsoe.
“He can push the ball. He can defend. He can create for others,” Dragic said. “I talked with Coach (Jeff Hornacek), sometimes I’m going to be position two (shooting guard), he’s going to be one (point guard) or I’m going to be one and he’s going to be two. And that’s good if you have two players who can create. We can share that spot.”
Sharing the decision-making process at work is one thing, quite another back home.
When asked about potential baby names for his son, Dragic quickly responded, “I have to ask Maja’s permission first. You know how that goes.”
He learned that new role quickly.