May 11, 2018, 3:43 pm
Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a look into Bojan Bogdanovic and why the Croatian swingman had his best statistical season with the Pacers this year.
Bogdanovic is no stranger to avid basketball fans around the world as he began his pro career at just 15 years old and he was a top European prospect for years before getting drafted by the Heat in 2011. His career at the European level has been impressive and he was a member of a few of the top clubs including Real Madrid, Cibona Zagreb and Fenerbahce of Turkey. A versatile player who can score in lots of different ways, he always had a good combination of height and body frame, ideal in order to compete with NBA small forwards physically.
A member of the Croatian National team as well at all levels, he had a remarkable Olympic tournament in Rio de Janeiro back in 2016, leading all scorers with 25.3 points per game while shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 45 percent from the 3-point line.
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Smooth NBA Transition
Even though Bogdanovic was drafted back in 2011, he stayed in Europe for a few seasons before joining a loaded Nets’ squad that had high hopes for a deep playoff run in 2014. It took him a few months to become acclimated with his team, but as the season progressed, Bogey picked up the slack and won Rookie of the Month in April, averaging 14 points on 48 percent shooting while managing to be included in the second team All-Rookie squad. The swingman played very well in the Nets’ two playoff wins against the Hawks in the 2014 playoffs, as he shot 6-of-12 and 7-for-13 from the field in Game 3 and 4 respectively. He was only a deep consideration in fantasy leagues as a scoring and threes specialist but his overall percentages were remarkable (45 percent from behind the arc and 82.1 from the charity line).
He started in 93 games over the course of the next two seasons, slowly increasing his numbers and earning more trips to the free throw line where he has been automatic for his entire career.
A huge indicator for Bogdanovic’s success in the NBA has been his confidence level and even though the Nets kept losing, he solidified himself as a solid scoring option, leading the Wizards to trade for him at the end of the 2016-17 season. The hope was that by playing with a much more dynamic point guard in John Wall, the floor would open for Bogdanovic like never before and he had a few good games in the postseason before the Wizards got eliminated in a Game 7 against the Celtics.
After a 2016-2017 campaign in which he averaged a career-high 13.7 points, Bogey entered a free agent market where plenty of teams were in need of spacing in order to open up driving lanes for their ball handlers. And when Bogdanovic signed with the Pacers, it came down to a couple things: minutes and the opportunity to finally start for an NBA franchise. He made that crystal clear when he was introduced to the media. “That was the biggest key of my decision to come here,” Bogdanovic said about potentially playing big minutes for the Pacers. “We all want to play, we all want to be big-time players.”
Bojan hadn’t averaged over 30 minutes per game in his NBA career, despite starting in 121 games and his highest minutes average was 26.8 per game with the Nets in 2016. His per-36 minutes were a good indicator of a productive role as a starter since he averaged 19.2 points in 2016 and 16.1 for his career. Fantasy owners were probably hesitant to draft him, as evidenced by his ADP in Yahoo! 9-cat leagues (only 146), and his role on a revamped team was unclear, but the minutes were going to be there and the swingman was ready to capitalize on the opportunity.
The numbers didn’t lie and even though there was a short battle between him and Glenn Robinson for the starting small forward job, Bogdanovic won the gig and, as expected, he played a lot and also shot a lot as the Pacers gave him the green light and he responded with career numbers across the board. So what did the Pacers do to put him in a situation to succeed?
More Than a Stretch Option
The Pacers were written off before the first tip of the season based solely on a talent perspective as they traded away Paul George and brought in 10 new players, including three new starters in Victor Oladipo, Darren Collison, and Bogdanovic.
There was an open spot in the team’s starting lineup at the small forward position as a result of George’s departure to the Thunder and Nate McMillan declared Bogdanovic the starting small forward for this season. He responded by finishing the season ranked in the top-three for most shooting categories for the Pacers, becoming a big part of the team’s offensive game plan.
67 percent of his made shots were assisted and 71 percent of them were jump shots as Bogdanovic operated as the fallback option when Victor Oladipo drove to the basket and couldn’t finish at the rim. Look at the athletic guard penetrating a vulnerable Magic offense as Aaron Gordon jumps in the middle, forcing him to pass the ball to an open Bogdanovic for three.
The Pacers led the league taking a whopping 19.3 percent of their shots from 16-24 feet and ranked at the NBA’s bottom in 3-point attempts but they also run the ball and were third in the league in fast break points with Oladipo running the show. Bogey had the green light and found himself open very often averaging 3.3 fast break points, 13th best in the entire league.
His consistent engagement in the team’s offense boosted his confidence even more and that was clear in a few games during the course of a long season where he took over the reigns from Victor Oladipo and singlehandedly led his team to very important wins. Against the Warriors, the defending champs focused on containing Oladipo by zoning from the backline in order to clog the middle and prevent his dribble penetration (this is the same concept that Brad Stevens used against Ben Simmons in this year’s playoffs). Bogdanovic made them pay for that strategy by coming off curls for open mid-range pull-ups before delivering the knockout punch from long-range in an excellent offensive performance.
A Mindset of Defensive Development
Bogdanovic is just an average athlete by NBA standards. He lacks lateral quickness and doesn’t have the fastest feet so teams, not surprisingly, had tried to isolate him on switches in the past. One rating system even had him as the NBA’s worst defender at small forward a couple years ago. Look at Lucas Nogueira setting a great screen that forces Bogdanovic to switch to DeRozan who then goes to work against him and scores easily using some great footwork.
He is an intelligent player though, and it turns out he had three priorities when he went into free agency last summer: find a starting role with a team, a bigger salary and to get better on the defensive end.
“I improved a lot this summer on my footwork,” Bogdanovic said. “I’m being trusted by my coaching staff. I’m being put on a good offensive player. I’m just trying to be focused. Before the season I said to myself I really need to do better defensively especially because I’m a starter right now and I’m playing big-time minutes.”
This is obviously simply a statement but it appears that the swingman really did put the necessary work in the summer in order to improve defensively and the results have been impressive. The Pacers tend to fight through screens instead of switching and that has allowed Bogdanovic to stick with his man and play above average on-ball defense. Here’s Paul George in his return to Indiana being lazy with the ball as Myles Turner communicates the incoming screen, helping Bogey read the situation, attack the ball and come up with a steal that leads to an easy fast break opportunity.
The Pacers were the league’s best kept secret defensively this year, finishing second in deflections, third in steals and fourth in opponent turnover rate due to a combination of quickness, length and a tendency to disrupt the passing lanes. Bogdanovic was also a contributor even though he is not known for his defensive abilities as he averaged a career high 0.7 steals per game by staying with his man and intercepting passes. You can’t really teach effort and Bogey was nothing but focused in his defensive assignments.
A 3 and D Weapon
After an impressive postseason where Bogey scored 30 points and matched a Pacers’ franchise playoff record with seven 3-pointers while having an impressive performance against the league’s best player, forcing LeBron James to work for everything, the Pacers will surely pick up his his option for next year.
One of the most valuable commodities in the NBA today is what we call a “3-and-D” guy, a player who can stretch the defense by making 3-pointers and efficiently guard his opponent on the other end of the floor. This has become a necessity for any team intent on competing in the modern NBA and Bogdanovic has worked a lot on his game. He’s becoming more than just a scorer and he should be on your radar for next year as the Pacers will continue to rely upon him.
Thank you for reading this article and please make sure you check us back again next week and throughout the offseason as more player breakdowns are coming up. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of May 10th.