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Is This The Year Bogdan Bogdanovic Breaks Out?

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Bogdan Bogdanovic is finally healthy.

Italy v Serbia: Group D - FIBA World Cup 2019 Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

The 2017-18 Sacramento Kings were an odd bunch. A 36-year old Zach Randolph was the teams’ leading scorer at 14.5 PPG. Buddy Hield found his offense from the bench after struggling in the starting lineup. De’Aaron Fox showed a ton of promise, particularly in clutch moments, but wasn’t a good NBA point guard yet. Harry Giles was a healthy scratch all year.

2017-18 was the foundation for all the success the Kings had in 2018-19, we just didn’t know it at the time.

Georgios Papagiannis and Bruno Caboclo were also there.

While most of the Kings’ youth spent the 2017-18 season trying to figure out who they were going to be in this league, 25-year old Serbian rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic looked comfortable despite all the reasons why he shouldn’t. Bogdanovic entered his first season in the NBA healthy, but tired. He played a ton of basketball overseas in 2017 for both his club team, Fenerbahçe, and the Serbian national team. This didn’t stop Bogdan from playing 78 games in not only his first NBA season, but his first year living in the USA. It was an adjustment for Bogdanovic, or at least it was supposed to be, but you couldn’t tell when he was on the court.

Not bad for a rookie.

Bogdan Bogdanovic’s rookie season was a home run for everyone involved. Bogi proved that he could be a real dangerous asset for the Kings moving forward, and maybe even more importantly, Bogdanovic represented something that Vlade Divac did exceptionally right. In those early days of Divac’s tenure as Sacramento Kings GM, those moments were few and far between.

To this day you could argue that trading Marquese Chriss to the Phoenix Suns for Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis, a 2020 2nd round pick, and the rights to Bogdan Bogdanvic was Vlade Divac’s best move. That likely depends on how much of a no-brainer you thought it was to draft De’Aaron Fox in 2017, but I digress — Vlade Divac used his knowledge of the international game to land the Kings a very good player for a very good price. That’s just good General Managing.

Unfortunately for both Bogdanovic and the Sacramento Kings, going straight from international competition to 78 games of a rookie NBA season resulted in a ‘slight’ meniscus tear in Bogdan’s left knee. Bogi had his first knee surgery in April 2018.

Bogdanovic was medically cleared to play for the Serbian national team by September 2018, but he didn’t make it very far. In a FIBA World Cup qualifier vs. Estonia, Bogdanovic injured his left knee again.

There is still some debate on whether or not Bogdanovic’s second knee injury was related to his first, but regardless of the cause, the Kings determined that it was bad enough to require another surgery. The timing couldn’t have been worse for both Bogdanovic and the Kings. Bogi missed all of training camp and the first ten games of the 2018-19 NBA season.

When Bogdanovic finally returned the Kings’ lineup, it was clear he still had a lot of work to do before his conditioning and confidence caught up to the rest of the NBA, and that’s understandable. Two knee surgeries in six months will do that to you.

I don’t want to be overly critical of Bogdanovic’s sophomore NBA season because he was rarely bad, and he was easily the most important and impactful player off the Kings’ bench, but it wasn’t the breakout season anyone was hoping for after a really promising rookie year.

We did get his game-winner vs. the Lakers, though. That was fun. He had his moments.

We can make (legitimate) excuses for Bogdanovic if you’re feeling up to it. We spent plenty of time going over his back-to-back knee injuries right before the start of last season. How much of an impact did that have on his lack of noticeable improvement?

We should also talk a little bit about his role last season. Dave Joerger asked Bogdanovic to do just about everything offensively for a weak Kings bench unit that lacked both talent and experience. His best bench-mate was rookie Marvin Bagley, and don’t get me wrong, Bagley had a very promising rookie season, but his offensive contributions were pretty limited to scoring the ball. It was Bogdanovic who had to try and create something without a lot of space for possession after possession. Did Joerger put too much offensive responsibility on a recovering Bogdanovic? Is he better suited playing with a more traditional point guard so all the bench shot creation doesn’t fall on his shoulders? These are questions Luke Walton has to answer.

Bogdan Bogdanovic Year 1 vs. Year 2

Season Points Per Game FG% 3P% eFG% FT% USG%
Season Points Per Game FG% 3P% eFG% FT% USG%
2017-18 11.8 0.446 0.392 0.529 0.84 20.30%
2018-19 14.1 0.418 0.36 0.496 0.827 23.30%

Whatever the cause — whether it was the knee injures, the increased workload, or both, Bogdan Bogdanovic went from an efficient scorer in his rookie season to an inefficient-at-worst, middling-at-best scorer in his sophomore season.

Fortunately for Bogdanovic, he’s much more than a scorer. His passing and shot creation was on par, if not slightly better than it was in his rookie year.

Bogdan Bogdanovic - Passing Year 1 vs. Year 2 (via CTG)

Season AST% (percentile) AST:USG (percentile) TOV% (percentile)
Season AST% (percentile) AST:USG (percentile) TOV% (percentile)
2017-18 18.3% (87th) .90 (90th) 12.8% (31st)
2018-19 19.8% (94th) .85 (83rd) 10.9% (47th)
*Percentile based on what Cleaning The Glass categorizes as ‘wings’

Despite the decrease is scoring efficiency, Bogdanovic established himself as one of the very best wing creators in the NBA last season. If this is who Bogdan Bogdanovic is — a gifted passer with positional versatility and average scoring efficiency — he’s still a really good, really valuable NBA player, but can he be more than that? Is this the year Bogdanovic breaks out? There is reason for optimism.

  1. Bogdan Bogdanovic is going to have a much-improved bench unit next season, and that should help both his scoring efficiency and workload. Cory Joseph, in particular, should give Bogdanovic more opportunities to find some of his offense off the ball along with a nice break defensively guarding the opposing teams’ best scoring guard. If we can assume Dewayne Dedmon is starting in the frontcourt with Marvin Bagley, that means fellow Serbian and floor spacer, Nemanja Bjelica, will move with Bogdanovic to the bench. Trevor Ariza represents a major experience upgrade over Justin Jackson. Harry Giles is a year older, and you know Richaun Holmes is going to bring the energy for however many minutes Luke Walton gives him. On paper, anyway, the Kings have what appears to be a really solid and deep bench unit that can maximize what Bogdanovic does best.
  2. Bogdan Bogdanovic is healthy. He’s playing (literally as I write this) for Serbia in the FIBA World Cup with Nemanja Bjelica. He might come into training camp a bit tired, but so far, so good on the health front.
  3. He’s playing some incredible basketball for Serbia in the FIBA World Cup. In fact, through three games Bogdanovic leads all players in scoring. Will it translate to a successful 2019-20 NBA season? That’s hard to say, but it’s certainly encouraging that he’s not only playing well, but looking very healthy doing it. Considering how his summer with the Serbian national team ended last year, I’ll take this as a good sign.

Bogdan Bogdanovic - FIBA World Cup

3 24.5 24 0.615 0.652 4.3 3 2.3

Bogdan Bogdanovic is entering the final season of the 3-year, $27 million contract the Kings signed him to in 2017, so you can toss ‘contract year’ in the bag of reasons why this could be the year Bogdan breaks out. He’ll be a restricted free agent for the Kings next summer.

As someone who believes we haven’t seen the best of Bogdanovic just yet, I’m excited to see exactly what that looks like. He’s healthy, he’s in his athletic prime, he’s got a complementary bench unit — I’m optimistic. Now, let’s collectively cross our fingers so he makes it out of the FIBA World Cup in one piece.