When Jeremy Lin's agent, Roger Montgomery, said earlier this week that he doesn't have "assurances" from the Knicks that his client will be back with the team, perhaps Goran Dragic has something to do with that.
Lin and Dragic are viewed as the most attractive young point guards in the 2012 free-agent class -- and Dragic appears to be the clear favorite in NBA front-office circles.
ESPN New York asked six GMs which player they would choose to be their starter now and for the future, and all of them picked Dragic. Lin's and Dragic's averages were nearly identical as starters -- 18.2 points, 7.7 assists and 2.0 steals over 25 games vs. 18.2 points, 8.3 assists and 1.8 steals over 26 games -- but GMs and scouts compare Dragic a bit more to Steve Nash, especially because he grew under the tutelage of the two-time MVP in Phoenix from 2008 to '11.
While Lin is the favorite to sign with the Knicks, don't count out the Rockets' Dragic. Even his agent, Rade Filipovich, thinks the Knicks would be a "first-class organization" for his client.
To find out more about the point guards' similarities and differences, ESPN New York consulted with a veteran NBA scout from the Eastern Conference and another from the West. Their insights about the two players were nearly in agreement.
Attacking (Advantage: Lin) -- When Lin penetrates, he's able to get lower and keep his defender out of position. "[Legendary coach] Bob Hurley Sr. always used to say, 'The low man wins, whatever sport it is,'" one scout said. "Defensively, you can't get into your stance well enough. Lin, for his size and height, is pretty impressive at being able to get low to the ground and keep his balance."
Competitiveness (Even) -- One scout was impressed with Lin's game-winner in Toronto on Valentine's Day, saying, "When you have the confidence in yourself and ability to make those shots, that's big." Regarding Dragic, another scout was taken aback by a move he put on Jamaal Tinsley in Novemer 2009, saying, "For him to go right back through Tinsley's legs, after he did it to him, was impressive. It proved to me his fight and how skilled he is."
Craftiness (Advantage: Dragic) -- While Lin has a nice left-to-right crossover, Dragic is quicker and has more lethal moves: a spin, crossover, double cross, behind-the-back and even a "Dream Shake" like Hakeem Olajuwon. "Dragic will drive baseline and then fake up, get the defender in the air and then he'll come back the other way and lay the ball in with the other hand," one scout said. "You can call it the Dragic Shake."
Finishing (Advantage: Dragic) -- They have the ability to take contact near the basket and kick the ball out to a teammate or score themselves. Dragic is slightly more explosive at the rim. Also, this past sesaon the heavier minutes impacted Lin's finishing ability. "I think his stamina was down because he was basically a backup guy playing about 35, 40 minutes," one scout said. "Stamina is definitely a factor, especially when teams are trying to trap more."
Hands (Advantage: Dragic) -- Both have quick hands defensively and play passing lanes well. On offense, the lefty Dragic can finish better with his opposite hand. Also, being a southpaw gives him a slight edge. "I think when there's a sudden change, whether it be a reserve coming into the game or maybe he gets switched on to someone who doesn't normally guard him, there's that instinct you're expecting a right-handed guy," one scout said.
Pick-and-roll (Even) -- They have a bit of Chris Paul's ability to change speeds and directions utilizing screens in pick-and-roll situations. "They can walk their defender into a screen and then explode off the screen," one scout said. "They have the ability where they actually can speed up into the screen and yet still get their defender on their back. They've got a lot of good thrust coming off the screen and then the ability to sink their teeth into the defense."
Shooting (Even) -- They're not great 3-point shooters. "They're both around 33 percent from three," one scout said. "That's still good to me, but when you have guys like Steve Nash shooting usually above 40 percent from three, that kind of raised the bar. If you get a point guard that's up around 37, 38 percent, that's really impressive. The consistency in their 3-point shooting is where you want to see a little bit of an improvement."
Transition (Advantage: Dragic) -- Not only does Dragic put pressure on the halfcourt defense, but he also constantly does it full court. "The thing that struck me was his knowledge of getting the ball inbounds, getting it up the court quickly and attacking," one scout said. "He put pressure on the defense in terms of as soon as the ball went through the hoop, he got the inbounds and he was pushing it right back at you. One of the best guys at that is Steve Nash."
Overall, both scouts said ball control is the biggest reason why Dragic is the better player right now. Lin's turnover rate was a reason for concern last season.
Will Lin -- a restricted free agent and the driving force behind the Knicks' midseason resurgence -- return to New York?
"The Knicks almost can't let Lin go," one scout said. "They would piss off so many fans. Barring something really odd, I think they have to bring him back. In the Knicks' situation, I don't think Dragic would ever fly."
Now, if Lin is granted Early Bird Rights in mid-June, the Knicks would still have a mid-level exception of $5 million to spend on someone else. That could be Dragic, who would likely get the starting nod over Lin in New York. The question is: What will Dragic's asking price be? Insiders predict he'll be in higher demand than Lin.
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