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The Heat are fulfilling their offensive potential by unleashing Goran Dragic

The Heat are finally playing to Goran Dragic's strengths. It's no accident he looks like his old self again and their offense is thriving.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat invested heavily in point guard Goran Dragic, giving him a five-year, $85 million deal after trading away two first-round picks to acquire him at last year's trade deadline. The results thus far have been middling. Injuries derailed the Heat last season, while Dragic and backcourt mate Dwyane Wade have been an awkward pairing throughout.

But if the last three games are any indication, the Heat are finally unleashing the Dragon.

The last time we saw the best version of Dragic was in 2013-14, when he averaged 20 points and six assists while shooting nearly 51 percent overall and 41 percent from three for an up-and-coming Phoenix Suns team. It's probably no coincidence that Eric Bledsoe suffered a knee injury that limited him to about half the season, giving Dragic the keys to the offense on a full-time basis for a good chunk of the year.

While the defense suffered with Bledsoe off the floor that year, Dragic ran a well-oiled machine offensively. His numbers were off the charts when he didn't share the floor with his primary backcourt partner. It's no surprise his usage was significantly higher, but his efficiency and playmaking took off as well.

Yet Dragic wasn't as effective when the Suns added yet another ball-dominant player in Isaiah Thomas last season. That signing helped lead to the Slovenian's exit from the desert and the unraveling of the Suns' positive momentum. The problem is Dragic found yet another ball-dominant backcourt partner waiting for him in South Beach in Wade.

It's been a rocky on-court relationship. Wade's more deliberate style and his advanced age clash with Dragic's desire to run a more up-tempo attack. Plus, Wade's tendency to dominate the ball has left Dragic as an innocent bystander, which mitigates his strengths. In one fourth quarter earlier in February, Dragic did not finish a single possession over five minutes of playing time. By contrast, Wade and Chris Bosh finished nearly 75 percent of Miami's plays in the period.

Dragic, like Miami in general, has been significantly better when he's on the court without Wade compared to when the two share the floor. (Note: things are really ugly for the Heat when Wade is playing without Dragic). There actually hasn't been much change in overall pace in these situations, but this post-All-Star break surge by Dragic has perfectly coincided with a huge uptick in Miami's tempo. Without Wade and Bosh (out because of another blood-clot scare), the Heat are playing Dragic's game. (All stats via

Dragic pre-All-Star 44 32.3 12.2 5.3 3.3 46.9 33.1 19.7 95.17 102.8
Dragic post-All-Star 3 34.7 21.7 7.7 6.7 49.0 22.2 25.5 102.38 109.9

The Heat were an elite offensive team even without Wade or Bosh. It was a team effort with multiple players stepping up, but it all started with Dragic as the man directing everything.

Miami's very first basket after the break against the Atlanta Hawks was a Dragic fast-break layup following a turnover, setting the tone for the drastically different style:

Early on in Saturday's game against the Washington Wizards, Dragic made it a point to get out and run against a ragged team playing its third game in three nights:

A pull-up mid-range attempt in transition may not have been the best shot, but it was still notable that Dragic put that pressure on the defense by running off the miss and making that pass ahead to Gerald Green.

Several possessions later, Dragic turned defense into offense by recovering an Amar'e Stoudemire block and taking it coast-to-coast for an and-1:

Dragic also smoked the Wizards off the dribble in half-court settings, whether it be in pick-and-roll or isolation. Here, he hit a cutting Luol Deng after running pick-and-roll with Hassan Whiteside.

Later, Dragic found Whiteside with a pass after beating Ramon Sessions off the dribble. How did he blow by Sessions? By using a potential pick-and-roll with Deng to get Sessions leaning:

Finally, there was this simple blow-by of John Wall with an aggressive first step:

Wade returned to the lineup Monday against the Indiana Pacers, and while the Heat's offense didn't function at as high a level in part because the future Hall of Famer shot 4-of-21 from the field, Dragic played well yet again and the pace remained high.

Pushing that tempo and getting easy baskets should be imperative given Miami doesn't shoot many three-pointers and its half-court offense gets bogged down easily, especially when Wade pounds the ball into the ground and fires up the least efficient shots in the game (nearly two-thirds of his shots are from outside of the restricted area, but inside the three-point line). The Heat rank in the bottom third of the league in offensive efficiency, so clearly what they were doing earlier in the year wasn't working.

The Dragic-Wade fit may never be perfect, but they can make it work better if they play to Dragic's strengths and Wade takes a bit of a step back as he continues to decline. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra could also look to stagger minutes by giving Wade more rest and allowing Dragic to run the offense when that happens.

Bosh's health scare throws a wrench into the Heat's hopes this season, but Miami could still make some noise without him if Dragic can continue playing at his peak level. It's only been three games, but at least that's something for him and the Heat to build on as the team awaits more news on Bosh's health.

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