The game is tied at 96-96 with 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The shot clock is at three seconds. Two defenders collapse on Bogdan Bogdanovic to push him back off the three-point line. He sees the clock, dribbles once to his left and releases a shot. As the shot clock buzzer goes off, the ball drains through the net.
The crowd inside Golden 1 Center erupts as he walks backward and puts three fingers in the air.
The Kings rookie likes to take big shots, so much so he tries to end every practice with a “crazy” shot like this one. He refers to such shots as the easiest because there is nothing else you can do in the situation other than shoot. Kings head coach Dave Joerger appreciates that “Bogi” likes big moments, but this isn’t the only facet of the game that Joerger and his teammates like about Bogdanovic’s game.
It is easily discovered when you listen to how they talk about him:
“We feel comfortable when he has the ball and he’s running the offense.”
“Makes the right play.”
“Defensively, he gets after it.”
“Get a guy open shots.”
“Plays with that edge.”
We’ll get to these full quotes in a bit, but these qualities as a whole aren’t necessarily what you would expect to turn up so quickly in a rookie. Bogdanovic isn’t really a rookie in the true sense though. He is 25 years old and played professional basketball for Serbia for years before arriving in the NBA, which obviously helps. The entertainment aspect of the NBA and the business side of things he saw during the trade deadline are aspects of the league that sometimes take him by surprise, but what is happening on the floor isn’t all that surprising to him. That isn’t to say that the transition into the NBA is easy, but he is sure making it look that way. Bogdanovic is averaging 11.5 points, 3.2 assists 2.7 rebounds, and 1 steal while shooting 46 percent from the field.
“The speed of the game for a guy coming from overseas – each guy takes their own amount of time,” Joerger said. “Some guys it’s two years, some guys it’s two weeks, and he’s learning.”
If you ask Bogdanovic, he says that the speed of the NBA isn’t all that difficult.
“It’s not something like unreal – I feel like I’m in that speed of the NBA, but always I think I can play better,” said Bogdanovic, who the Kings obtained the draft rights to from the Phoenix Suns when they traded Marquese Chriss, the No. 8 pick, in the 2016 NBA Draft.
“He really understands innately how to play the game. He’s just built for it mentally, whether it’s shooting the ball or understanding spatial arrangements on the court, who he’s playing with, what shot’s good, what shot’s not, how to play with his teammates. He’s really got a high basketball IQ. On top of that, he’s got good skills. He handles the ball, he passes, he shoots. He doesn’t have any fear, he’s not intimidated by the NBA and he comes right in and plays.”
Everything Popovich described are reasons why Bogdanovic, along with De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, has been selected to participate in the 2018 Mountain Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game during NBA All-Star Weekend.
Bogdanovic’s relationship with Hield is a good example of how his competitive spirit on the floor and light-hearted nature off the floor is contagious in the locker room.
During some recent banter, Bogdanovic challenged his backcourt mate about his knowledge of professional soccer (fútbol as Bogi knows it), and Hield gladly accepted the challenge by rattling off names of as many soccer players as he could think of. Bogdanovic smiled on. Coming into this season, it looked as though Hield and Bogdanovic would be battling each other for floor time. Joerger often utilizes them together, though Hield has seen his minutes tick down coming off the bench (23 minutes per game) from the end of last season (29 minutes per game).
“He’s very valuable because he’s a competitor, he’s always a guy that comes in and competes,” said Hield, who often celebrates big shots with Bogi by raising and locking their arms together.
“He boosts my confidence, I boost his confidence so it’s not that we are battling for minutes, we just are battling to be out there to compete together and we have fun doing it … Just having him out there with us is great – get a guy open shots – he makes the right play and he knows how to play.”
‘Knowing how to play’, at least together as a team, is something Joerger is trying to teach the many young players on the roster. Throughout the season, Joerger has called on the Kings to play with more life, more athleticism and a lot more “nasty.” Many times, after losses he declares that the opposing team didn’t feel the Kings on defense and they were “shooting over them.” Bogdanovic gets it, and has said that the team needs to get tougher and make smarter decisions in terms of when to help and when not to help.
Joerger stuck with Bogdanovic for 39 minutes in a matchup with the Utah Jazz in January because of his ability to make plays.
“We need playmaking. That’s why I played De’Aaron [Fox] and Bogdanovic so much,” said Joerger, who got 25 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal out of Bogi in return.
Joerger played Bogdanovic more than 30 minutes in nine games in January, and this month, he has hit that mark in the Kings last five consecutive games. Even though he played overseas last summer without much rest before coming to Sacramento this season, Bogdanovic said his body feels good. He does admit he isn’t 100 percent though due to the usual bumps and bruises of the NBA game, and he gets his fair share of those. Opposing teams have caught on to the fact that Bogi is one of the best players on the Kings roster and really go at him defensively. On the other side of the ball, he isn’t afraid to dig in on defense. After most games, his arms are covered in scratches and he is typically recovering from some major collision that occurred.
“He’s vocal, he plays with that edge, that grit,” said former King George Hill.
Fellow rookie De’Aaron Fox recognizes it as well.
“He brings the intelligence, the savvy, shooting, defensively he gets after it, he’s able to do everything for us,” Fox said.
Speaking of that shooting the Bulls recently witnessed – Bogdanovic is fifth among qualified NBA rookies from three this season at 40 percent (ninth among all qualified shooting guards), and his 46 percent from the field puts him at seventh among all qualified shooting guards in the league. The shooting isn’t what Joerger looks to him the most for though.
“I trust him with the ball, I don’t think he’s a shooter, I think he’s a playmaker who can shoot,” Joerger said.
Vince Carter, the 19-year NBA veteran, acknowledged it has been valuable to have Bogdanovic handle some of the point guard duties during the stretches when Fox is the only available point guard on the roster.
“He understands how to play the game. Very poised … he’s learning the different style, different players, but all in all, he’s very confident in his game … We feel comfortable when he has the ball and he’s running the offense,” Carter said.
Bogdanovic himself isn’t shy about how comfortable he is handling the ball and leading the team on offense. That confidence is on display every time he is on the floor as he is vocal and not afraid to direct his teammates. He also isn’t shy about expressing his displeasure in how out of sync the Kings can look on the floor sometimes. Like many players on the Kings roster over the last decade, Bogdanovic has trouble explaining the lapses on defense and offense that continuously plague the team as whole.
He’s always one of the last players out of the locker room and willing to speak to reporters. He is reflective and honest in his responses, like this comment after a recent loss to the Golden State Warriors.
“That’s what I talked with [De’Aaron] Fox and the other young guys, like look at how they play easy, how it looks easy and sometimes they make us look stupid on the court, especially me tonight, I was bad on defense,” he said, referencing the back-door cuts Steve Kerr implemented against him.
That self-awareness comes with a determination to study mistakes. He watches every game on film more than once to see how he, and the team, can improve. He hates to lose and that is the best way he knows how to get better.
Before this season, Bogdanovic was signed to a three-year deal for for $27 million. At 25 years old, this deal keeps Bogi in a Kings uniform as he enters his prime years, and given the ease in which he has transitioned into the NBA, that appears to be a good thing.
Coach Joerger certainly appreciates having him around.
“He’s very conscientious, he’s always about the team, he’s a great teammate, a great practice guy and just a really good dude as well … I really enjoy coaching him.”