Goran Dragic, a new name from the always prolific Balkans; Oleksiy Pecherov, an emigrated Ukrainian now in France searching for an opportunity; and Sun Yue, a rare Chinese specimen showcasing his talent in the very complicated environment of the American ABA.
We could presume that all three share the dream of hearing their names called in the first round of the NBA draft. Or perhaps not, since at the end of the day, the draft shouldnt be the sole aspiration of a basketball player; nor the NBA the one and only goal. Regardless, all three players mentioned here enjoy the talent level and potential that might eventually lead them there.
Introducing Goran Dragic
by Kristian Hohnjec
It certainly wouldnt be their first. Prior to an injury, eventual Denver Nuggets draftee Sani Becirovic was called the 2nd coming of Drazen Petrovic. Sasha Vujacic showed flashes of brilliance in the Italian league before being drafted in the 1st round by the Los Angeles Lakers. And Beno Udrih is probably the best 3rd string PG in the League after working his way into the 1st round via the Chicago pre-draft camp. Still, there is one new kid who might end up being significantly better player then these three. His name is Goran Dragic.
After warming the bench for most of the last season, Dragic saw good minutes in the closing stages of the Slovenian Championship and played fairly well. Going into this season, many expected him to be an integral part of Geoplins rotation, but very few projected that he would end up being one of the best playmakers in the Adriatic league.
Dragic currently averages 15.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game for overachieving Geoplin Slovan, who has a great shot of qualifying for the Final 8 despite being recognized as outsiders prior to the season. Goran has been the key to their success on both ends of the floor.
The 1986-born Dragic has very good size for a point guard at 6-4 and pretty decent athletic ability to boot. He is a quick player, with an especially impressive first step offensively and good lateral quickness on the other end. As usual for a European, he is very thin and suffers mighty with screens because of it.
Offensively, Dragic is primarily a slasher, capable of taking advantage of his athleticism and ball-handling skills. Once he gets by his defender, he can go all the way to the hoop or stop and convert from mid-range, where he shows good accuracy. Goran likes to use the glass, which is rare for perimeter players these days. His finishing around the basket could stand to improve, as his vertical leap seems to be average and he sometimes does not have the strength to finish plays in traffic.
As already mentioned, his jumpshot is pretty solid from mid-range, but it gets uglier from long distance. He mainly performs static jumpers with very little lift and a low release point which results in him hitting only 32% of his long-range attempts.
As a point guard, Dragic shows a good feel for the game and runs the team well, but his passing skills are just average for a playmaker at this point. He needs to take care of the ball better, as he commits over 3 turnovers per night.
The Slovenian is a very good offensive player, but defense is where he impresses the most. It is rare to see a young player being so aggressive challenging opposing points. Most have a hard time with him from the first second they receive the ball as Dragic attacks them on all parts of the floor. Beyond his attitude he also has good physical gifts to play defense, so unlike what NBA scouts might be accustomed to, it wont be his defensive play that keeps him out of the NBA. His body still limits him to a certain degree, but as Dragic hits the weight room and continues to mature, he should be able to add appropriate bulk to his already decent looking frame.
Goran would probably be best served to eventually move to a Euroleague club where he could test his skills against the strongest competition outside the NBA, but that is unlikely as he has a multiyear contract with Slovan and is considered a key piece in this up and coming franchise.
Based on his level of performance and potential, Dragic is a serious candidate for the first round in the future or even potentially in this draft if he decides to put his name in and can continue to put up performances like the 30 point performance he had this past weekend against Zadar. With this years NCAA PG crop being unusually weak compared with years past, Dragic could very well get some love from NBA teams. Regardless, he is a name that basketball people around the world will have to get to know sooner rather than later.
Goran Dragic is one of most improved youngsters in all the Europe and Slovenias top NBA draft prospect at the moment.
In terms of physical attributes, Dragic features good, but not spectacular athletic ability. At 6-4 he has excellent size to play the point guard position in the NBA, while his wingspan also seems to be above average giving him additional length.
One of most impressive things about Dragic is the level of play he shows at just 19 years of age. Dragic is already among the best guards in a pretty competitive Adriatic league competition and was main reason why his team is in the running for a Final8 appearance despite being recognized as outsiders prior to start of the season.
Gorans biggest strength has be his speed. Whether in half court sets, the open floor or on the defense end, Dragic impresses you with his quickness. His first step is excellent and he can get by most defenders at his current level with ease. On the defensive end his lateral quickness is also very good, allowing him to keep up with smaller guards equally well.
Offensively, Dragic uses his aforementioned speed to the fullest extent, getting into the lane on a regular basis. Once he gets there, Dragic is patient waiting for good looks to present themselves or passing the ball to an open teammate, showing good court vision. Dragic gets most of his assists in transition and from the solid drive and dish game he has, being able to beat his matchup of the dribble and therefore create shots for teammates in half court sets. When he has the chance, he executes the fast-break to perfection, either finishing it himself of by finding the open teammate. Goran also exhibits plenty of creativity finishing at the hoop with a diverse array of lay-ups. If he doesnt go all the way to the basket, Dragic can stop and nail a mid-range shot, presenting very good accuracy out to 18 feet.
He plays within the flow of the offense, not taking ill-advised jumpers or forcing penetrations, despite the fact that he is by far the most gifted scorer on his team. Goran has very good ball-handling skills and can change directions quickly to get his man off balance and create space for himself to operate. When a mismatch occurs and he is defended by a taller opponent, Dragic will react immediately to the situation and drive aggressively to the basket. He off the ball movement is reasonably good, recognizing spaces in defense and exploiting them to get some cheap points.
The Slovenian is a very aggressive defender, chasing his man all over the floor and not letting him rest even for a moment. This leads to a good number of steals, and every now and then he is even able to pick his opponents pocket while hes bringing the ball up the court. If he adds body strength without losing much of his quickness, Dragic has the potential to become a lockdown defender, as he has good size, length, athleticism and a great attitude. Goran is very tough kid, not shying away from contact and ready to sacrifice his body on both sides of the court. He is very eager to play defense and that is how he earned his role on the team in first place. Sometimes Dragic gambles for steals and loses his defensive position, but he is able to recover it quickly because of his speed.
As he showed on several occasions this season, Dragic is able to step up in the clutch and carry a team on his shoulders. Gorans basketball IQ is not the highest around, but is still above average and by the progress hes made this season you can tell he works very hard. Off the court, Dragic was never problematic and is considered to be well-liked by his older teammates.
The most obvious one is his body strength. Dragic has wiry arms, but he is a very thin player with a frame that isnt overly encouraging. Still, this should not get in the way of allowing him to put on enough weight to hold his own against NBA competition when the time is right. Right now his lack of strength affects him the most on the defensive end. He often suffers against screens, being unable to prevent his matchup from getting the space he needs to take an uncontested jumper. If he was playing in the NBA currently, Dragic would be a regular victim for point guards with post-up ability. Fortunately for him there are not many guards in Adriatic league who can exploit this option. Gorans vertical leap is average at best, and the explosiveness in which he finishes in traffic needs to improve (hopefully with added lower body strength) since he is often forced to adjust his shot, making it tougher for him to convert.
One of the easiest and most important things to do for Dragic this summer is improve his 3-point shooting. He doesnt look comfortable taking anything but open shots with his feet set from long-range. The mechanics of his release are quite fast, but he doesnt get much lift on his shot and his release point should be higher. Unless he works very hard, he could face some serious problems adjusting to the NBA three-point line, as his range is already not great.
Dragic is not floor general type point guard, and right now doesnt even handle the playmaking duties full-time due to playing alongside veteran point forward Sasha Doncic, who initiates much of Geoplins offense. Goran is not a creative passer from static positions and his decision making in half court sets can be questionable, leading to unnecessary turnovers. When is all said and done, Dragics playmaking skills surely need further development as they are pretty average right now even at the Adriatic League level. You can tell this just by looking at the stats, as hes committed more turnovers than assists this season. Overall, his aggressiveness on offense is not up to par with what he shows on defense, sometimes just standing on the wing and letting things happen without his involvement. With his quickness and touch from mid-range, he could easily be a 20+ ppg scorer on this team next year. He will need to show leadership and take more responsibilities through the whole game, not just in clutch time.
One of main the concerns for his coach Ales Pipan this season has been Dragics inability to stay out of foul trouble. He picks up a lot of fouls far from the basket because of the aggressive approach he has as an on-ball defender. If not for that, Dragic would be on the court for much longer then 30 minutes a game and his team probably would have won some more games. He fouled out on 5 out of 23 Adriatic games this season, as was one foul short of being ejected in 11 other contests.
At the current stage of the season, Dragic is averaging 14.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 30 minutes per game to go along with 2.1 steals, 3.1 turnovers a night. He is shooting 53.6 % from the field, 31.4 % from behind the arc and 70% from the charity stripe. This is a huge improvement over last season when he played 8.7 minutes a game and scored less than 2 points per contest.
Dragic was a member of the Slovenian U-20 team two years ago that won the European crown, but Goran didnt have a big role in that success, not getting on the floor in the finals and averaging less than 5 points during the competition. Last summer Dragic was the leader of the Slovenian U-20 squad that finished 10th in the European Championships, putting up 15.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assist per game, but also committing over 4 turnovers per contest and shooting 31% from downtown.
Pecherov...Romance in Paris?
by Malek Ait-Kaci
One of the biggest success stories in early 2006 in the French league is the play of Oleksiy Pecherov. The Ukrainian prospect has shown flashes of dominance, especially on the offensive end where his inside skills are complimented by a sweet shooting touch from the perimeter. He has looked very accurate from all ranges and his shot selection has shown almost no flaws. On the defensive end, he shows progress in each outing. Pecherov is very active on both sides of the court and has a good understanding of the game. His timing and athleticism enable him to get rebounds easily and always be a shot-blocking threat on the weak side.
Pecherov was loaned by BC Kiev to Paris for the remainder of the season in November and started playing with Paris in December. He chose Paris amongst other options from Eastern and Western countries in Europe, ranging from small teams to established Euroleague teams. Paris was the perfect fit when considering playing time, exposure and the level of the league.
After a summer in which he looked solid with the mediocre Ukrainian National Team, Pecherov expected to continue to improve his game with the Ukrainian champion BC Kiev. However with the signing of big man Ratko Varda, Pecherov and his coach Renato Pasquali knew his playing time would be pretty small. That fact led him to Paris and the French league which has been successful in revealing talent to the scouts: Johan Petro and Ian Mahinmi for example just last year. Pecherov came to Paris in order to play around 20 minutes per outing and develop his game next to Gordon Herbert, Paris coach who is known for his love of defense and structured play, but still always manages to make his teams overachieve and help his players make progress individually.
So far, the bet has paid off. Over the last 5 games Pecherov has averaged 14 points on 62% shooting, 7.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in just 20 minutes per game, with big outings like a 20 point, 10 rebound performance in a win against Pau-Orthez three weeks ago. There is no reason to think that he won't get more playing time as the season goes on.
Pecherov is still under contract with BC Kiev for at least another year, but a strong end of the current season could make him a target for Euroleague or even NBA teams, as he has already been scouted by some GMs.
Sun Yue, a Chinese in America
by Luis Fernández
Sun Yue is certainly not a common player. The exception is the rule for him: the 6-9 player with the skills of a point guard is a youngster from China playing in an obscure professional American league, the ABA.
Not a top prospect at this point, its still extremely interesting to watch him considering his peculiarities and the hype he enjoys in China. Its gotten to the point that several ABA games, obviously featuring Sun Yue and his team Beijing Aoshen have been broadcasted in his homeland. Yue appears to be the biggest reason that Aoshen somehow made it to the States, as his team was suspended from the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) for refusing to release him to play for the under-20 national team. Or at least thats how the legend goes.
Hyped or not hyped, Yue features rare abilities for a player listed at 6-9. He plays like a true point guard, and a talented one at that. Hes one of those extremely smooth players who evolve on the court with a certain flair, for whom the game comes naturally and just flows with the ball in his hands.
Very much left-handed, Yue is a remarkable dribbler with his good hand, while improvable with his bad one. Already an excellent passer, he takes advantage of his size to see the entire floor, while its a pleasure to see how the ball leaves his fingertips towards an open man. Displaying solid athleticism, he slashes well to the hoop, primarily looking to dish the ball or sometimes finish with an elegant finger roll. He plays under control and appears to have an excellent feel for the game, being highly unselfish, almost to a fault at times.
All in all, the game looks easy for him, particularly playing in the ABA. This third-tier competition severely lacks any kind of serious defense and intensity. Yue saw some action already with the Chinese National Team last summer and things were definitely tougher whenever the rival had a minimum level. Of course he didnt have the same leadership role that he enjoys in Aoshen, but his flaws were better exposed, like his right-handed dribbling (theres next-to-no pressure on the ball in the ABA) or his ability to penetrate, as his quicknessalbeit good for his size--is not incredible for a guard. He does move his feet fairly well on the defensive end, probably not quite being quick enough to defend guards in upper level competition, but certainly leaving some room for optimism at the small forward position considering his excellent length and decent footwork--especially once he adds some bulk to his frame.
Anywhere he plays, theres one glaring weakness screaming to get addressed: his shooting. Yue looks far from becoming an adequate shooter. He doesnt show any reliability, delivering awful jumpers from time to time, and his mechanics dont look particularly consistent. It would also be nice to see him develop more of an in-between game, having the ability to pull up sharply off the dribble for a mid-range jumper, something that is clearly not in his repertoire at the moment.
Hes rather slow with his release, so even if he improved his accuracy he still would have troubles creating his own shot, although he usually takes advantage of his size here. Its something he can do playing the point, but its not clear at all that he will be able to reproduce his current role at a top level.
Thats the biggest problem for Yue when you think about a hypothetical NBA future, his position on the court. Hes probably not quick enough for a point guard and he doesnt have the shooting touch that you look for in a wing. Besides, his physical build, although not nearly as bad as what some of his countrymen exhibit, still needs serious work.
Its hard to imagine an NBA team putting the ball in the hands of a 6-9 player exclusively and asking him to be their point guard, since were not talking about a Magic Johnson type talent. Yue would certainly be the target of intense ball-pressure from the most athletic 6-2 guards in the world, which would make even the best 6-9 ball-handlers turnover prone considering the sheer physics involved. With that said, there are many ways for a creative coach to take advantage of the talent Yue possesses passing and handling the ball, possibly in a role similar to the one Boris Diaw plays with the Suns. He will have to work on his small forward skills extensively first, particularly his outside shooting, mid-range shot, defense and adding some weight to his lanky frame.
Even if Yues future at the top level is very much still in question, his intriguing characteristics will surely make us keep an eye on him.