How Goran Dragic Has Emerged as the Heat's Undisputed Leader - Heat Nation
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How Goran Dragic Has Emerged as the Heat’s Undisputed Leader

Goran Dragic Miami Heat

Some people are just natural born leaders. Others become leaders by matter of circumstance. For point guard Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat, perhaps the latter applies best.

There’s no denying the Slovenian native has always had game; there’s just never been a more opportune time for him to step up to the plate than in 2016-17. Until this season, there’s always been a Steve Nash or a Dwyane Wade to play the leadership role. But now, for the first time in eight NBA seasons, Dragic is the best player on his team, and the unquestioned leader of the Heat.

He’s taken on the role wholeheartedly, too. He’s becoming more vocal, leading by example and even getting in the faces of his teammates. Former Heat guard and fellow Slovenian, Beno Udrih, knows Dragic better than most, and even he’s never seen “The Dragon” go that far before this year:

“If he did, he didn’t do it in public,” Udrih told the Sun Sentinel‘s Ira Winderman. “I guess it’s the different culture. Vocal? Yes. But, no, not in somebody’s face.”

As Winderman puts it, moments like that “practically define leadership,” yet he’s never been the one to take it to that level because, in the past, “there typically was either a more-talented or more-vocal teammate to rage when needed.”

Dragic, who’s averaging a 20.3 points, 6.3 assists and a career-best 3.9 rebounds per game this season, broke it down like this:

“In Slovenia, it’s a little bit easier because it’s in my language,” he said. “Last year, if I had something to say, I said it. But this year, it’s even more.”

He clarified:

“Let me put it this way, I curse, but behind closed doors. If something is not going right, something is going on inside me. Maybe I don’t show that on the outside, but maybe I don’t show that on the outside because I feel like it kind of throws me off if I’m that guy.”

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra understands that the former Phoenix Suns guard isn’t really a “ra-ra” guy at heart, but according to him, that’s not what matters:

“I love seeing his growth and him embracing getting uncomfortable to do it,” Spoelstra said. “Now, you have to develop your own voice as a leader, and he does not have to be an angry leader. He can do it in whatever passionate voice and emotion that fits him.

Spoelstra also knows that, above all else, Dragic just wants to win, and that’s always the most important thing:

“Winning means something to him. And that’s where you start with leadership, is bringing other people with you to make winning that important. And it’s uncomfortable for the majority of leaders, to take that first step. And that’s where he’s been very open to his growth. It’s not just about becoming a better offensive player. It’s not about only becoming a better two-way player, which he’s improved on both those things. By becoming a true winner in this league, you can affect it on so many different levels. And leadership is just as important as making a three or getting a defensive stop.”

The Heat’s longest-tenured player, Udonis Haslem, knows a thing or two about leadership as well. The three-time NBA champion has played alongside a few all-time greats in his day and, as far as he’s concerned, Dragic has it where it counts:

“He leads by example,” said Haslem. “He comes in, he plays through injuries, gives everything he has every day. He’s become more and more vocal.”

He then paused, and smiled:

“Understanding him is another challenge,” the 14-year veteran added jokingly. “But he’s become more and more vocal as the season’s gone on. Earlier, he wasn’t very vocal, but he always played hard and brought that energy and that effort. But now he’s becoming more vocal, and that’s what we need from him.”

Dragic agreed with his fellow team captain:

“I am more vocal now,” he said. “If I need to say something, I say it to the guys. It was kind of uncomfortable for me at first, but I think Spo and my teammates, they allowed me to grow. And I think it’s much better right now.”

After guiding his team to 14 wins in 16 games leading up to the All-Star break, Spoelstra believes that Dragic has now wholly embraced his role as a leader, as evident by his willingness to take all the necessary steps:

“When it really becomes so important to you to win,” Spoelstra said, “you’ll do things that are uncomfortable, and Goran has gotten to that point. More importantly, he understands that it’s required for this team. We need the veteran leadership.”

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