The smile that wrinkles Goran Dragic as the conversation turns fleeting can light up a room.

“Every time I pass the ball if someone scores, I’m happy,” he said. “I really mean it when I say a pass that makes two people happy.”

You see, this is where Dragić got it wrong. The way the Dimes spent their first few matches for the Bulls brought joy to many, especially his alley passes. The Dragić lobs spotlighting the dives were an early delight for Bulls fans. In a season of uncertainty, Dragić’s accurate dipping passes have blossomed into a pet game, one of Chicago’s comforts. It rivals Lonzo Ball’s wasted swiping ability and already ranks alongside DeMar DeRozan’s killer mid-range players and Zach LaVine’s killer move 3s. It is a play that requires impeccable sense, timing, precision and, as Dragic pointed out, courage.

First, you can’t be afraid to get past that,” said Dragic.

Dragić did try lobs early in his career. He was young and establishing himself. He didn’t want to increase the risk of making mistakes on a difficult pass. But when he arrived in Miami in 2015, Dragic started digging. He soon saw the benefits he’s now taking advantage of with Bulls.

“I feel like this can be a great weapon for us, especially because when you throw a ball or two, the big guys are not going to stop the ball anymore,” he said. “So it’s easier for me to get into the paint to create for others.”

Nothing about the effectiveness of Dragić as an easy pass. It just makes it seem routine. Watch him closely at the start of a pickup game – which usually results in a lob – and you might be able to get a feel for how Dragić expertly exploits defenses. He doesn’t care about his defender. He surveys the entire floor in an instant to see how the other three players who are not in the action are defending. All the while, Dragić remains patient, waiting for the perfect time, the perfect window. When they appear, a distinctive play occurs.

Dragić had a very successful connection on the alley pass with Andre Drummond in the second unit. The experience of both is displayed every time they run a two-person game. Dragić orchestrates the play, but Drummond plays an important role in setting up a solid screen for Dragić’s firing of his cannons, timing his firing and rolling perfectly, and of course, capturing the pass and ending the play. The connection materialized at the season opener in Miami, where Dragic’s onboarding skills captured attention. They checked in together late in the first quarter, and in their first offensive possession they installed a textbook throw.

Dragić froze three Heat defenders – Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and nearby Tyler Herro on the assist side defenseWith a subtle shuffle frequency. It made all the difference in opening up enough lane space for Drummond, who did the rest with authority.

“It’s Goran’s ability to hold the big one,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan explained. “She manipulates him by holding the ball, taking out the big ball where the goalkeeper is not at the back in front of Goran. He knows if he comes back to the big Goran, he will be able to go down the lane and make a throw. He is just waiting for Andre to get to his place, and once he realizes that That’s big between them, when he makes the decision.

“But he’s a phenomenal pick-and-roll manipulator. He’s as good as I’ve been around. Chris Paul is incredible as well. Russell Westbrook was great at that too. But I’ve been fortunate to be with some bouncers who can cover up and use cover-up against them. That’s really what he can do.”

Drummond also credited Dragić with in-game intelligence. The two played together in Brooklyn last season and have competed against each other since Drummond entered the league in 2012.

“He’s a very smart goalkeeper and he’s played with the best big players we can think of,” said Drummond. “So he is very capable and smart, and he knows who to play with. So it is easy to play with him.”


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It helps that Dragić is surrounded by high flyers. Drummond remains one of the most athletic players in the league. LaVine is a former two-time Slam Dunk champ. Derek Jones Jr., who has not yet reached out to Dragić for Alley, is also a former Slam Dunk Champion. And Greene, well, he just grabs any pass the base will throw.

It’s not a pass he didn’t catch, at least,” Lavigne said. “Throw it into the corner of the field. Either he will go down with it or he will try to drown it.”

If it ends up with a score, Dragić will smile a little on the inside. And you don’t even need to be cool alley.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a rebound pass, or if it’s an easy pass or a back pass,” he said. “This is something I am very proud of and put a lot of joy into. I try to innovate and make it a little easier for my buddies.”

(Photo by Goran Dragic and Alex Caruso: Camille Krzaczynski/USA Today)

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