Free agent fits: How Goran Dragić can help Bulls


The Chicago Bulls entered the 2022 offseason intent on adding veterans and outside shooting.

They hope that signing Goran Dragić addresses one or both needs, one way or another.

Here is a breakdown of Dragić’s fit with the Bulls, how he can help the team, and the likelihood of his best outcomes materializing:

The fit

It’s no secret that Dragić is stepping into an already-crowded guard room with the Bulls. Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine project to start in the backcourt (if Ball's health allows), with Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Coby White and recent first-round pick Dalen Terry also in the mix.

That dynamic raised some observers’ eyebrows at the time of Dragić’s signing, which filled the Bulls’ 15th roster spot. But there are elements to his skill set that fit the team’s direction.

How Dragić can help the Bulls

An optimist would point to the last full season Dragić played — 50 games for the Heat in 2020-21 — as evidence that, even at an advanced age, he can still handle, pass and shoot at a high enough level to be useful in the Bulls’ backcourt rotation.

Yes, he showed signs of decline that season after tearing the plantar fascia in his left foot during the 2020 NBA Finals. But he also averaged 13.4 points, 4.4 assists and shot 40.4 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. That’s enough to project him as veteran depth for a team that got up the fewest amount of 3-pointers per game in the league last season, and potentially a mentor figure to the Bulls’ slew of young guards. 

His signing, though, also casts an ominous shadow over the status of Ball, who missed the final three-and-a-half months of the season due to a bone bruise in his left knee complicating recovery from meniscus surgery in late January. If Ball’s health is a question mark or worse entering the season, Dragić is a steady enough hand at the controls of an offense to slide into a more outsized role — especially because, for all their guard depth, the Bulls lack a true point guard behind Ball on the depth chart.

One burning question

How much does Dragić have left in the tank?

It’s a reasonable question to ask of a just-turned-36-year-old lead guard who played 21 games in the 2021-22 season — five with the Raptors and 16 with the Nets (plus four playoff appearances).

The good news is that, other than a one-game absence due to knee soreness and a stint in health and safety protocols late in the season, Dragić hasn’t had any pressing injuries flare up of late. His short stint with Toronto was more a product of his desire to be traded than health-related concerns. He has even this summer come out of national team retirement to help Slovenia in its bid to qualify for the 2023 World Cup, averaging 19.5 points on 48.3 percent shooting in two games thus far.

The bad news? Dragić’s numbers from the 16 games he played with the Nets are not pretty. He averaged 7.3 points and 4.8 assists in that stint, shooting a paltry 37.6 percent from the field and 24.5 percent from 3-point range. Although he submitted three double-digit scoring outings and shot 56.3 percent in Brooklyn’s first-round playoff defeat at the hands of the Celtics, his play was well below his established standard.

The Bulls’ bet is that last year’s struggles were circumstantial and that he can bounce back offensively in a new environment. Defensively, the team will rely on its solid perimeter infrastructure to cover for any limitations. 

Whether that bet pays off or not, the downside is minimal given Dragić’s contract details (one year, $2.9 million) and reputation as a solid vet.

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