Bulls Insider

Dragić shares strong, longtime bond with Dončić


There are few people who know Luka Dončić as well as Goran Dragić.

Dragić played with Luka’s Dad, Saša, on the Slovenian national team, where he first met Luka as a 5-year-old.

“He was always with a basketball,” Dragić said following Friday’s Chicago Bulls practice at the Advocate Center in advance of Saturday’s matchup with Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks.

Still, practice or not, seeming prodigy or not, Dončić’s meteoric rise could never be guaranteed.

“It is a surprise to see that 5-year-old kid become one of the best players on the planet. But when he was 12 years old, he went to Madrid (to sign with Real Madrid). And he was scoring 40, 50 (points). So he was something different,” Dragić said. “When we played together for the first time on the national team in 2017, I already knew that he was going to be good. It did surprise me that in such a short time he became such a dominant force.”

Dominant is right. Dončić, 23, is in his fifth season and authoring perhaps his best.

Entering Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, he’s averaging a career-high and league-leading 32.9 points with 8.7 assists and 8.6 rebounds while shooting a career-high 50.3 percent. He owns career averages of 26.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8 assists.

“He has really high IQ and people don’t realize how big he is,” Dragić said. “He’s smart. He can manipulate the game. He has good shot selection. He knows where the guys are on the floor so he’s making the right plays every time. He’s making the team better.

“If you want to take away his shots, he’s going to find a way to affect the game with his assists. He’s just an all-around player who is really tough to stop.”

Alex Caruso will draw the primary defensive assignment against Dončić.

“First, the IQ of reading the game. He’s incredibly cerebral,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said, when asked what first stands out to him about the All-Star guard. “I don’t know if people speak enough on his size and strength. He’s very, very powerful, strong and physical point guard in essence. He can play close to the basket. He can post up when he gets in the paint, uses his body really well. When he’s driving, he gets where he wants to get to by using his body. He understands angles. He knows how to get people on his hip.

“I don’t know him, but he comes across as very competitive. He plays the game on his terms. You don’t speed him up. He physically can hold people off and still play at a really good pace. If you try to do different things to him, he has the vision and size and skillset passing the ball to get off of it and generate shots for other guys. You can play through him in the post because of his strength.

“I don’t think putting a bigger guy on him necessarily makes a difference. I’ve seen enough film over the years where people have had very big strong and physical wing players on him. And he still can get to where he wants to get to.”

Dragić’s storied national team career has come full circle. He played with Saša and Luka Dončić. In fact, Luka made his senior national team debut at that 2017 EuroBasket tournament. And Slovenia upset Spain in the semifinals and defeated Serbia in the finals to win the first team gold medal in the country’s history.

“That was unbelievable, a highlight of our careers,” Dragić said. “The first gold medal for our country as a team sport. That was a big surprise. Nobody talked about us as the favorites. We managed to win all nine games. It was awesome.”

Dragić earned most valuable player honors at that tournament. By this year’s EuroBasket, the torch long had been passed to Dončić, although Dragić played well in helping Slovenia reach the quarterfinals.

Dragić hasn’t decided if he’ll make one final run with the national team at next summer’s FIBA World Cup, which will be staged in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.

“If I’m going to play, this summer is my last summer,” Dragić said. “I’m still deciding if I’m going to go. It depends on my health. If I’m healthy and everything is going accordingly, I would love to play.”

That would give Dragić one more opportunity to be teammates with Dončić. Some speculation centered on that happening this NBA season with Dragić perhaps joining the Mavericks. Instead, he chose the Bulls and consistently has talked about his happiness here.

On Saturday, the longtime national team teammates and friends will be opponents.

“It’s easy to play with him,” Dragić said, smiling, of Dončić. “But it’s not good to play against him.”

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.

Contact Us