Very few NBA players had a more eventful 2020-21 season than Bogdan BogdanoviÄ. The 28-year-old wing was widely considered one of the top free agents available during the 2020 offseason, and the Milwaukee Bucks apparently wanted BogdanoviÄ so badly that they negotiated a sign-and-trade agreement to acquire him from his former team, the Sacramento Kings, before league rules permitted them to do so. The only problem with that was that BogdanoviÄ himself never actually agreed to sign with Milwaukee (though he may have told Giannis Antetokounmpo that he wanted to), and so the deal fell apart when BogdanoviÄ instead elected to hit the market.docked a second-round pick for attempting to circumvent league rules.">1
That decision resulted in BogdanoviÄ landing a four-year, $72 million offer sheet from the Atlanta Hawks, who added him to their much-ballyhooed free-agent class that also included Danilo Gallinari,sign-and-trade.">2 Rajon Rondotraded to the L.A. Clippers at the deadline in a deal that brought Lou Williams to the Hawks. ">3 and Kris Dunn.ankle injury. ">4 A 6-foot-6 sniper who hit 37.4 percent of his threes with Sacramento and proved himself a capable second-side playmaker, BogdanoviÄ made for a perfect conceptual fit with a team that centers its offense on a heavy dosage of Trae Young pick and rolls.5
But while BogdanoviÄ’s fit with the Hawks seemed perfect, his start to the year was much less so. Former Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce had BogdanoviÄ primarily coming off the bench early in the season, and the sharpshooter just looked lost. He averaged just 9.9 points in 23.7 minutes a night during the first nine games while shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from three. Making matters worse, he suffered an avulsion fracture in his right knee during that ninth game — an injury that ultimately sidelined him for nearly two months.
BogdanoviÄ’s first game back on the floor coincided with Nate McMillan’s ascension to the head coach’s chair.fired Pierce after slumping to a 14-20 record amid injuries to BogdanoviÄ, Gallinari, Rondo, Dunn, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and 2020 first-round pick Onyeka Okongwu.">6 McMillan, like Pierce, had BogdanoviÄ coming off the bench early in his tenure. And while Atlanta won each of the first eight games with McMillan at the helm, BogdanoviÄ remained ice cold. In 22.4 minutes per game, he averaged just 9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 38.9 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from deep.
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After Atlanta lost back to back games to the Clippers and Kings early in an eight-game road swing, McMillan flipped BogdanoviÄ and Kevin Huerter in the lineup. That’s when both the Hawks and BogdanoviÄ himself took off.
|Team stats||Before starting||Since starting|
|BogdanoviÄ stats||Before starting||Since starting|
|Games w/ 3+ threes||6||21|
|Games w/ 5+ threes||3||11|
There was not a hotter shooter in the league over that latter portion of the season than BogdanoviÄ. According to Second Spectrum, BogdanoviÄ outperformed his expected effective field-goal percentage by 10.23 percentage points from March 26 through the end of the season. (Second Spectrum estimates expected conversion rates based on the distance of the shot and the closest defender, and the identity of the shooter, among other factors.) In terms of outperforming shooting expectations, the efficiency gap between BogdanoviÄ and the next-closest player (Hornets forward Miles Bridges at 7.25 percentage points) was equal to the distance between Bridges and Stephen Curry in 14th place in the same list.7
The key to BogdanoviÄ’s success is that while he’s a fantastic standstill shooter (he knocked down 45.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes this season, per NBA Advanced Stats), he’s not merely a standstill shooter. He never stops moving, and he’s one of the best movement shooters in the NBA. No NBA player used more off-ball screens than BogdanoviÄ from the time he entered the starting lineup through the end of the season, according to Second Spectrum, and among the 65 players who used at least 200 of them during that stretch, the 1.228 points per possession BogdanoviÄ generated when he either shot or passed to a teammate who did ranked third-best.
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BogdanoviÄ is a wonderfully patient player, and he knows how to leverage every asset in his arsenal to create openings for both himself and his teammates. The Hawks use him in floppy action, staggered double screens, screen-for-screener plays and as the third man in Spain pick and rolls. He’s an expert at moving without the ball and at reading the defense as he comes around a screen.
If he has enough space, he can step right into a shot. If he doesn’t, he can curl around to drive the lane or step out and transition right into a pick and roll. If he beats his own man off the screen and a big man steps out on him, he’ll use change-of-pace dribbles, shoulder-nudges or step-backs to create space for his shot. If he catches his man top-siding or trying to shoot the gap, he’ll often either reject the screen and head back door or flare out to the corner. He routinely takes advantage of on-the-move defenders with his combination of quick decision-making and exceptional balance, and he knows when to hunt his own shot (off the catch or off the dribble) and when to leverage the attention defenses pay him to get the ball to an open teammate.
Much of his value, though, is derived from the fact that putting an ace shooter on the floor alongside Young at times seems unfair. Young’s long-range shooting and foul-drawing capabilities capture a lot of attention, but passing is his single-best skill.second in assists per game this season to Russell Westbrook.">8 He’s a puppet-master manipulating defenders to and fro, then whipping the ball to the open man with a flick of the wrist.
BogdanoviÄ’s ability to shoot off the catch from any angle, with or without space, makes for a perfect match. Young assisted BogdanoviÄ on 60 baskets from the time BogdanoviÄ entered the starting lineup through the end of the season, the third-most assists from one teammate to another among all teammate pairings in the league during that stretch.
The few times the New York Knicks sent weak-side help at Young’s pick-and-roll drives in Game 1 of their first-round series, Young made the right pass, and BogdanoviÄ (among others) made the Knicks pay, just as he’s made defenses pay all season.
As the series moves forward, the Knicks seem at least somewhat likely to send more help Young’s way than they did in that first game. His 23 direct drives yielded 34 points in Game 1, according to Second Spectrum. That’s tied for the 11th-most points any player’s drives have created in a playoff game during the player-tracking era. New York’s strategy of baiting him into floaters and runners backfired spectacularly, with their big men struggling to split the difference and contest Young’s shots while not giving him open passing lanes.
Tom Thibodeau isn’t going to allow his defense to be torn apart the same way over and over all series long, and given that Young also tore the Knicks apart in the teams’ final regular-season meeting before he left with injury, a change in strategy might be in order. If and when the Knicks send that help, the success or failure of the Hawks offense will become much more dependent on their shooters. If recent history is any indication, BogdanoviÄ will be up to the challenge.
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