Goran “Magic” Dragic (doesn’t quite rhyme, even though it looks like it should)

With news that Chris Bosh – who seems like an eminently good guy – might be dealing with a serious health issue, I don’t want to belabor the point that he’s not nearly as a good a player as is generally accepted. That’s not a statement about his character or whether he deserves to live a happy, healthy life. And that he’s making a shit-ton of money – well, good for him. He just happens to have a skill-set – he takes a lot of shots, so he scores a good number of points – that is overvalued among the big time sports talking heads.

I mention Bosh, though, because his team, the Miami Heat, acquired point guard Goran Dragic yesterday from the Phoenix Suns. Dragic is a good player. He had a terrific year last year, though that was likely an outlier. The Heat have had some injuries this year, notably to Dwyane Wade (shock!). So far, two thirds of the way through the season, they are 22-30, good for eighth place in the very weak Eastern Conference. They’ve been outscored by about four points per game and their record, up to now, seems a pretty good reflection of their true collective ability. When Wade has played, he’s been just OK, the cumulative toll of the many injuries he’s sustained having robbed him of his former greatness. At age 33, he’s not getting younger or better.

But to hear almost every pundit on ESPN tell it, the Dragic deal is transformative. The Heat now sport, so the popular thinking goes, perhaps the best starting five in the East. They are “scary.” No one will want to play them. And so forth.

This is fascinating. They’ve been a solidly below average team for nearly four months. Actually, their record is only as good as it is because the heretofore unheralded Hassan Whiteside has suddenly become an utterly unstoppable force. Whether he can keep up this level of play is hard to say, but probably not something to bet on. And this team – with one guy playing at an elite level (Whiteside) – was, because it added an above average point guard, going to be Magic-ally transformed into a contender to make it to the NBA finals.

This is an evaluation almost entirely untethered from the reality of how the Heat have played so far. It is based on a combination of focusing almost solely on names and reputations, with a patina of statistical grounding (mostly in the form of overrating certain players on the roster because they’re capable of the occasional 30-point night).

You can make fun of Charles Barkley all you want for his bull-in-a-china-shop criticisms of “analytics,” but it’s not like anyone else in his world is making a whole lot more sense these days.


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