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Bogdan Bogdanovic is the key to the Kings’ success without De’Aaron Fox

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The Kings need Bogi now more than ever.

Kimani Okearah

In a perfect basketball world, the Kings would be some amount of games over .500 with De’Aaron Fox building his All-Star campaign and Marvin Bagley III proving the organization didn’t make a catastrophic mistake in the 2018 NBA Draft, but Kings fans don’t live in a perfect basketball world. Marvin Bagley played just one game this season before fracturing his thumb, and just as the Kings were starting to turn this season around, De’Aaron Fox suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain in practice on Monday.

The good news is that the Kings are playing some good basketball right now, and have seemingly recovered from a disappointing 0-5 start with 4 wins in their last 5 games, and the second best offense in the NBA over the last two weeks, per Cleaning The Glass.

But the road doesn’t get any easier from here. If the Kings are going to stay in the playoff hunt without two of their best young players, someone is going to have to elevate their game. Enter Bogdan Bogdanovic.

I’ve written about the Bogdan Bogdanovic story so many times already, so I’ll try and be brief here. A recap:

Bogdanovic was tremendous in his rookie season. He came into training camp with tired legs from all the international ball he played that summer, but he handled the difficult transition from Fenerbahce to the NBA exceptionally well. I thought he was the Kings’ best player in his rookie season. That’s up for debate, but there’s your context for how good I think Bogdanovic is, and how good I think he can be.

Bogi’s sophomore NBA season was a disappointing step back in his development. I would argue that the down year had more to do with back-to-back knee surgeries that cost him all of training camp and the first 10 games of the 2018-19 NBA season, but the results are what they are. He didn’t make the leap the Kings were hoping for.

This was supposed to be the season all the stars aligned for Bogdanovic. For the first time in his NBA career, Bogdan came into training camp healthy, experienced, and after an incredible run in the FIBA World Cup — confident. For the first time in his NBA career, he didn’t have to worry about his injured knee or how his game would translate going up against the best basketball players on the planet. Couple that with health, experience, and confidence with a contract year, and you have all the ingredients necessary for a breakout season.

Like most of his teammates, Bogdanovic struggled in the first five games of the 2019-20 NBA season, and like most of his teammates, he’s been on an absolute tear since.

Bogdan Bogdanovic first 5 games vs. last 5 games

Player (context) MPG PPG FG% 3P% APG TS% ORTG DRTG
Player (context) MPG PPG FG% 3P% APG TS% ORTG DRTG
Bogdan Bogdanovic (first 5 games) 24 9.2 0.278 0.267 2.4 0.388 92 115
Bogdan Bogdanovic (last 5 games) 27.2 17.4 0.483 0.5 2.8 0.673 123 109

Without De’Aaron Fox for the foreseeable future, the Kings need even more from Bogdanovic moving forward, particularly as an offensive creator.

In Fox’s absence, the Kings are losing their best distributor by a fairly wide margin. Fox assisted on 32.5% of the Kings’ buckets while he was on the court. Who has the 2nd best assist percentage on the Sacramento Kings? You guessed it, Bogdan Bogdanovic (27.1%).

We saw exactly how ugly the Kings’ offense can be without a skilled creator in the first quarter vs. Portland last night. The Kings only scored 5 points in the first 6 minutes before Bogdanovic replaced Cory Joseph.

In Joseph’s first game as the primary creator replacing Fox in the starting lineup, he posted an uninspiring 3 points and 3 assists in 37 minutes. To be clear, I thought Joseph played exceptionally hard and as Nemanja Bjelica noted in his postgame interview with Kayte Hunter, despite the lack of production his energy and effort on defense was a big reason why the Kings won. He just isn’t the offensive weapon Bogdanovic is.

Before the Kings pulled out a gutsy win vs. the Trail Blazers, I was prepared to write something this morning along the lines of Here’s Why Bogdan Bodganovic Needs To Start In De’Aaron Fox’s Absence, but winning changes the narrative and here we are.

I still feel that way despite how well everything worked out for the Kings last night, but it doesn’t seem quite as necessary to second-guess Luke Walton after one of the Kings’ better wins this year. Ultimately, if the Kings keep winning and Bogdanovic is closing out said wins, I’m a happy Kings fan, but I do think giving Bogi a chance to start and thrive in that type of leadership role would be good for all parties moving forward.

I don’t want to put too much stock into the minuscule sample size that was Tuesday nights win over the Trail Blazers, but we already witnessed how much the Joseph, Hield, Barnes, Bjelica, and Holmes starting unit needs another creator. The Kings got off to a bad start vs. Portland and were able to recover from it, but how many bad starts can the Kings withstand without Fox and Bagley? That remains to be seen.

My preferred solution is a starting unit of Joseph, Hield, Bogdanovic, Barnes, and Holmes. Bogi is an undersized forward on defense, but Barnes represents a sizable defensive upgrade over Bjelica and the hope is what Bogi might cost you on defense, he more than makes up for offensively.

I’m not against starting Bogdanovic at point guard, either, and leaving the rest of the starting unit as-is, but that’s putting a lot of faith in Point Bogi. It’d be an aggressive maneuver, and I like aggressive maneuvers — I just have my doubts that the Kings would be willing to give that much ball handling responsibility to a guy that has never had to do that in the NBA over an extended stretch.

Outside of the strategic reasons why I believe moving Bogdanovic to the starting lineup is necessary, I think the Kings would be doing a disservice to both themselves and Bogi if they don’t reward him with this opportunity, particularly when he’s earning it.

When will the Kings have another opportunity like this to see what Bogdanovic’s ceiling is as an NBA player? Bogi was nearly unstoppable as the lead man for Serbia in the FIBA World Cup this summer. He was very good as a starting guard in his rookie NBA season. He only lost that position because Buddy Hield had a breakout season of his own while Bogdan was recovering from back-to-back knee surgeries.

This is the chance to see how far Bogdanovic can take an NBA team, and selfishly, as someone who always felt that relegating Bogi to a sixth man role without giving him the opportunity to be more than that was risky, I want to see him get this shot. Now is the perfect time to do it.

And maybe Bogdanovic is who we thought he was — an excellent do-it-all bench guard that should be in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation throughout his prime. I’ll gladly accept that outcome, I just want to be absolutely certain that this is his ceiling. I have my doubts.