Goran Dragic adjusts to life in Chicago, which could be a culture shock to the 15-year-old NBA veteran who has spent most of his NBA career in Phoenix, Miami and Houston.
“Every city is different and I was lucky to have spent most of my career in warm places,” said the Bulls ranger ahead of the last game. “So this is one of the biggest differences this season in Chicago.”
Dragic has not seen the real Chicago yet.
The temperature outside the United Center was in the 1960s when we were talking, and it wasn’t freezing on the ground yet. The unusually warm weather gave the false hope that Chicago’s terrifying winter was overrated – until midshipman Nikola Vučević assured him it was just a mirage.
“It has been amazing so far, but everyone has told me it will be worse,” Dragic said with a smile. “I like this town. It has a large Serbian community so it feels a bit like home. I have a bit more research to do, but “Vooch” and Marko (Simonović) are here and are going to give me a little tour.
“All right for now. We’ll see about winter. I still have to buy a jacket.”
You don’t have a jacket?
“Not yet,” he said.
So far, so is the response from Bulls supporters to the opening of Dragicia’s West Side season. The 36-year-old Slovene helped fill the void in quarterback injured Lonzo Balla by scoring 46.7% from 3 points, making some dazzling assists and overall strengthening the bull’s bench that had turned from weakness to strength.
The tough schedule early in the season has finally softened somewhat this week with three days off before the Bulls return to the game on Sunday as they face the Denver Nuggets at the United Center.
Chicago’s annual contract with Dragic for $ 2.9 million was signed in July. Dragić did his homework and he liked what he heard. He knew Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations, Arturas Karnisovas, from his time in Houston where Karnisovas was director of Rockets Scouting and was friends with Ivica “Duke” Dukan, Karnisovas’ special assistant and Bulls’ international scouting director. Dragic then spoke to former Bulls forward Toni Kukoč who told him only good things about the organization.
Dragic only played 21 games in Toronto and Brooklyn last year and felt he would play a minor role for the Bulls, who have returned with most of their beginners and top players on the bench. That changed with Ball’s defeat due to a left knee injury and an uncertain schedule for his return, which put Ayo Dosunmu into the opening role.
Even so, Dragic had an average of only 17 minutes of play in his first 10 games after playing EuroBasket 2022 for Slovenia in September, and didn’t have much time to rest before the Bulls camp started.
“Okay,” he said. “I think it helps me prepare for this season. I was in good mental and physical condition. I know this season is long, but I feel like the coaches and medical staff have a plan for me. “
So no load management for a 36-year-old?
“When I need it, we’ll use it,” he said. “But so far there is no such possibility.”
Coach Billy Donovan turned to Dragić more frequently in the last three games, with an average of 24 minutes and a shot of 53.3% (16 for 30). Dragic, Alex Caruso and Javonte Green provided a much needed spark from the bench for a team that started out often in the cold.
The bulls still some consistency is needed, especially in the late game. DeMar DeRozan almost single-handedly won tied matches last season, earning the title of “King Four” for his ability to take over matches, including throwing buzzers one by one with Indiana Pacers and the Washington Wizards.
Bulls 2021-22 had a “clutch record” of 25-16, defined as games with a scoring margin of five points or less and five minutes or less remaining. This 61% percent winnership finished fourth in the league behind the Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies and Wizards. But this season they are 0-6 in that category, the only team in the league without a win.
Dragić feels that it is starting to come together with more time for training and a chance to get to know each other.
“It’s really easy to fit in here,” he said. “We still have to work on some things on the floor, try to get to the same side. It’s getting easier every day. We had a lot of games one after the other and four games over the course of six nights, and we didn’t have much practice to develop that chemistry, so you’re trying to develop that in the game.
“Now we have eight days and only two games so we can work and soften up a bit.”
Dragic’s playmaking skills were one of the nicer aspects of the young season. Whether it’s a no-look pass to Vučević in the corner, a lob to Andre Drummond for a seat or a back pass to Zach LaVine, Dragic has displayed the tradition of NBA legend Pete Maravich. One of the things we’ve learned about Dragic is to expect the unexpected.
“He was on a higher level,” Dragic said about Maravich. “I’m just trying to read the game. Sometimes there is no easy pass, so you have to pass it behind your back, which is just a reading situation.
“I always try to do something for the audience, for the fans, as long as it’s not a spin.”
It’s too early in the season to really tell about the Taurus who might be 8-5 with a few extra shots at the end of matches. But they are sure they can compete in the East despite such a good start, and when Ball returns the bench will be even deeper.
Maybe they’ll start to heat up as the days get shorter and colder.
By then, Dragic should have had this jacket by now.
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