Starting the offseason thinking that you were traded via Twitter isn’t the best way to kick off your free agency.
Bogdan Bogdanovic began this year believing, for good reason, that he would be sent off to the Milwaukee Bucks in a deal that was to fortify their quest to win a championship and retain Giannis Antetokounmpo. The crumbling of that transaction was well detailed in a story by Sam Amick in The Athletic where he was able to get an interview with Bogdanovic who gave his side of the story.
The restricted free agency matching period left Bogdanovic wary of the possibility of having to return back to Sacramento where hurt feelings still remained. Ultimately the Kings bypassed the opportunity to match the offer and/or gain assets in a sign-and-trade. Regardless, Bogdanovic ended up in Atlanta on a four-year, $72 million contract.
Like the beginning of his offseason, the start of the year didn’t go too well for Bogdanovic. He averaged just 10 points per game on less than 40 percent shooting from the field; often looking a bit off in his fit next to Trae Young as Lloyd Pierce searched for the right combinations after the team made a flurry of acquisitions a few weeks beforehand. Bogdanovic revealed last month that during his first practice with the team that his stamina may still have been impacted from his COVID-19 infection earlier in the year.
It was tough. I have finally felt over the last month that I have finally recovered and am back to feeling good.
I do remember that first practice I had with the Hawks, I was dead. I was really dead. When I got hurt, all I could think about was how I might not have been ready.
Before being able to fully settle in he suffered a right knee fracture and bone bruise that knocked him out for 25 games. The Hawks sputtered during that time, compiling a 10-15 record that buried them in the standings and put them in peril of missing the playoffs.
Coincidentally, Pierce was fired on March 1st which happened to be the day before Bogdanovic returned back to the court for Atlanta. Since that time the Hawks have posted a 20-9 record and have rocketed up to 5th in the Eastern Conference. Plenty of praise should be given to Nate McMillan, but the 28-year-old shooting guard deserves plenty of kudos for his ability to help lift the Hawks from a disappointing season.
The beauty of Bogdanovic is that his game is so malleable to the construction of the team. The intrigue with his fit in Atlanta was that he could provide enough size on the wing to toggle between the guard and small forward position while continuing to provide that consistent shooting from 3-point range that the organization desperately needed around Trae Young.
As a team the Hawks are shooting 37 percent from deep after only draining 33 percent of their 3-point shots last year. That figure placed them dead last in the league last season, even with the gravity and shooting acumen of Young. Bogdanovic has been the most reliable shooter on the floor this season for the team, sporting a 41.9 3-point percentage on seven attempts per game. The luxury of having a player like Trae is that it allows his other teammates open catch and shoot opportunities. Bogdan has always exceeded on these chances, but he’s bumped up his efficiency a notch by knocking down 43 percent of those looks this year.
His snug fit within the confines of the team makes him indispensable. Young puts pressure on his teammates to fit in specific ways to minimize his deficiencies. For example, his defense has often been pointed out as being borderline atrocious. His size and offensive load limits his effectiveness in coverage, where he’s generally graded out as being one of the worst guard defenders in the league. Bogdanovic gives the Hawks an adequate defender on the wing that still offers the team enough shooting to maximize the offense. He has generally slotted in at shooting guard this season after playing nearly 50 percent of his minutes at small forward last year. Positional tracking data isn’t exact, but the more important note is the lineups in which the Hawks have succeeded with Bogdanovic on the floor.
The team has played about 100 possessions with Young/Bogdanovic/Huerter/Collins/Capela on the court and have outscored teams by 12.9 points per 100 possessions. They’ve had even more success with Solomon Hill in the place of John Collins as they’ve outscored opponents by double that amount over double the possessions.
The biggest difference has been the survival of the Hawks when Young isn’t on the court. For the season, the team is +3.1 points per 100 possessions with Bogdanovic on the court and Young off. Staying afloat during those minutes has been the biggest bugaboo for Atlanta since Young arrived in 2018. The Hawks played like one of the worst teams in the NBA the past two seasons when Young sat on the bench. Bogdanovic gives the Hawks the playmaking chops and shooting to keep the defense honest.
The ceiling of the organization primarily rests on Young’s shoulders, but figuring out that potential is a lot easier to do when making the playoffs. The acquisition of Bogdanovic has allowed for not only a more capable regular season team, but a playoff nightmare for whoever gets matched up with them in the 1st round.