Dwyane Wade used to get the MVP chants in Miami, now Goran Dragic is hearing them

MIAMI — Entering the season, Goran Dragic kept hearing his name in trade rumors. But these days, Dragic is hearing other things.

During Wednesday’s win over the Pelicans, fans at AmericanAirlines Arena were chanting “M-V-P!” as Dragic stood at the free throw line. When asked how it felt to hear those chants, the modest Dragic did what he usually does and downplayed the whole thing.

“If I’m honest, it was only a few guys and they were saying it with an accent,” Dragic said with a laugh as he joked that the chants came from fellow Slovenians in the crowd.

Then Dragic used another joke to downplay the MVP chants.

“I looked around and I said, ‘Man, is D-Wade in the building or what?’” Dragic said.

Chicago Bulls’ Dwyane Wade, right, hugs Miami Heat’s Goran Dragic before an NBA basketball game Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, in Miami. It is Wade’s first game with the Bulls playing against his former team. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Dwyane Wade was nowhere to be found. But Dragic was definitely in the building Wednesday, as he scored 33 points on 11-of-18 shooting.

What began as a season full of trade rumors has turned into one of the best seasons of Dragic’s NBA career. The 30-year-old point guard is averaging career highs in points (20.4), rebounds (3.9) and 3-point percentage (42.7) this season.

“I’m comfortable,” Dragic said after Thursday’s practice. “I finally found a spot that I really enjoy working in, and players and coaches are good to me. I feel like I’m at home. I’m just me. I just want to play basketball.”

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And Dragic has been playing really good basketball lately. Over the Heat’s current 22-5 stretch that began on Jan. 17, Dragic is averaging 22.1 points on 52.7 percent shooting and 46.2 percent shooting from three, 4.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists.

During this 27-game stretch, Dragic is the league’s best 3-point shooter among guards who are averaging at least eight shots per game. He also leads the Heat in plus/minus over the past 27 games, as Miami is outscoring opponents by 171 points with Dragic on the court.

“I feel like he’s one of the most underrated guards in the league,” Hassan Whiteside said of Dragic. “The way he shoots the ball, he can give you the iron shoulder – that’s what we call it – and he has a 3-point shot. I don’t think any other star point guard in the league is shooting a higher percentage than him. Y’all can look up those numbers. But I feel like he’s one of the most underrated guards.”

With Wade now in Chicago, Dragic has thrived in his new role as the Heat’s primary option. Dragic averaged 14.1 points on 47.7 percent shooting with Wade by his side last year.

Dragic leads the team with a usage rate of 26.6 percent this season, compared to 21.5 percent last season when Wade (31.5 percent) and Chris Bosh (25.3) ranked ahead of him in this department.

“He really wanted to come here to see if he could push limits and become a different player, a more impactful player on both ends of the court and ultimately become a winner,” coach Erik Spoelstra said of Dragic. “He’s pushing the boundaries right now and shouldering so much responsibility on both ends of the court. Every single night you’re facing a dynamic guard that’s going to put you in 50, 60, 70 pick-and-rolls, you have to be able to defend those in our system. We put a lot of accountability on him to be able to defend at a high level. But also on the other end, to make a ton of basketball plays for us.”

Dragic’s usage rate this season is the highest of his NBA career, surpassing the 24.6 percent usage rate he posted in the 2013-14 season with the Suns. He excelled as a go-to player that season, too, averaging 20.3 points on 50.5 percent shooting and 5.9 assists.

So did Dragic benefit from Wade leaving the Heat? These numbers say, yes.

But Dragic insists his relationship with Wade helped him even if it didn’t show in the statistics, especially when Dragic was traded from Phoenix to Miami in the middle of the 2014-15 season.

“I’m always going to remember D-Wade,” Dragic said Thursday. “People were saying he and I didn’t get along. That’s not true. He helped me a lot with the transition. It’s not easy when you switch teams in the middle of the season. He was always there for me and tried to make my job easier.”

Dragic and Wade even still keep in touch. Wade texted Dragic to see how his eye injury was a few days ago, and Dragic said he will return the favor after hearing Wade will miss the rest of the regular season with a right elbow injury.

“You want him to play well,” Dragic said of Wade. “He’s really a guy who did unbelievable things in this league and he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. His jersey is going to get retired and of course you want to see him doing well. You never know, hopefully he comes back and retires here.”

For now, Dragic is drawing the MVP chants Wade used to get in Miami.

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