The Dragon emerges
Suns coach Alvin Gentry went into the Thomas & Mack Center locker room after the summer Suns' Friday night win to welcome Goran Dragic to Las Vegas.
"Alvin said to me in the locker room, 'Oh, Goran, finally you show up in Vegas,' and I said, 'Yeah,' " Dragic said Gentry told him.
The problem was Dragic had been here all week and was playing his third game Wednesday night. But it was not until Wednesday's fourth quarter that he was providing much inspiration about his offseason improvement in play and confidence. Dragic scored on a halftime buzzer-beating drive, the type of play that would have won Wednesday's game had that try not been blocked. But he still was fed up with how things were going, as shown by his technical foul to end the third quarter.
It was only the eight-man D-League Select team the Suns were facing with Dragic going up against Curtis Stinson and Walker Russell, who was part of the Suns' in-season point guard tryout last year. But Dragic was a tight game's closer. He had a series late in the game in which he penetrated three times. On the first, he got to the middle and rose to the rim for a finish. On the second, he blew by Stinson easily for a lefthanded lay-in. That set up the third, when he drove and dished to Jiri Hubalek for a layin. His pull-up jumper later helped seal the game.
"That was my best game here," Dragic said. "At first, I was struggling. I couldn't find myself with teammates. I couldn't control the ball. Today was better. I was running the team, passing the ball. Then it's much easier for me. The lane opens up and I can penetrate and make some decisions.
"We still don't play like Phoenix Suns, like running. I don't know why. If I'm going to run, it's always going to be one on three so I have to wait for my teammates."
He won't have to wait on Leandro Barbosa come October. For now, he might be playing with only two players who will be on the court with him in the fall with Alando Tucker taking the rest of the summer league off (the Suns just had him play a game so he could see how he was over last year's health issues) and Taylor Griffin going 1 for 9. But his comfort with Robin Lopez as his pick-and-roll partner has been apparent this week.
Dragic had eight assists to two turnovers Friday, connecting with Lopez on an alleyoop, splitting a double team with a pass to him for another dunk
"I told him (Lopez) I can break the defense every time I want," Dragic said. "So when I get to the lane, I know he's going to help me. I told him to be ready. I told him just be ready and I'm going to find you. I like to play pick-and-roll with Robin."
Suns summer coach Dan Majerle said Dragic has been putting too much pressure on himself.
"He's his hardest critic," Majerle said. "When he doesn't hit a few shots or doesn't play as well as he wants to, he gets down on himself. He's just got to fight through that. I was happy for him tonight because down the stretch he made some real good decisions."
The other highlights of the game came from free agents. Jiri Hubalek, a former Iowa State big man who the Suns invited to camp last year before he left for a European contract, scored 20 and showed his 3-point range while also blocking four shots. Micah Downs of Gonzaga scored 18 efficiently with 8-of-11 shooting that included 3-pointers and dunks. Although slender, Downs showed how he can defend quick guards.
First-round pick Earl Clark was not as good as his debut but hit 3 of 8 shots for eight points and seven rebounds. He still showed the versatility that attracted the Suns. In the second quarter, Clark grabbed a rebound, dribbled upcourt, went between his legs on the wing and zipped a pass to Geary Claxton under the basket for free throws. As the Suns rallied, he got his only assist by finding a cutting Hubalek for a layin.
Off the court, the staff likes the gym rat they see in Clark. He went to a local high school and a sports club on separate occasions to get in extra work.
The entertainment came from Robin Lopez. He had four fouls in the game's first 2:56 and got the 10-foul disqualification in 22 minutes, going mostly against former Suns training camp invitee Coleman Collins. He talked to his brother, Brook (sitting courtside), during the game. He chased Collins on a fastbreak, swatted his layup and had something to say to him about it.
Offensively, he missed a dunk on a nice Griffin pass. He could not finish a Dragic alleyoop when Stinson, a guard, got a piece of him. He got great position but dribbled out of it and missed a lefthanded hook. He went 4 for 8 from the field with his nicest shot coming on a step back in which he squared up and banked the shot over Collins.
Lopez fouls can be excused to a degree because there is the allowance for 10 fouls and he is trying to be an aggressive rim protector. Plus, his guards were doing him no favors by allowing so much penetration. But some fouls were just silly too, like a loose-ball collision.
"I just want him to be aggressive," Majerle said. "He gets a little excited out there and jumps all over the place and gets a few unnecessary fouls. I just want him to be hard and play aggressive and be on the help early. Be over there rather than not be over there at all. We've still got to work on it. Some of those fouls he was picking up because he was still late coming over from the weak side. But I've like his aggressiveness throughout the summer and he's getting a lot better."