Trae and Bogdan Pushed Each Other Into the Playoff Picture
Story by KL Chouinard (@KLChouinard)
It feels like everyone knows that Trae Young has terrific offensive synergy with his big men, a notion evidenced by the fact that he shows up in two of the top six player-to-player assist combinations this season: 136 assists to John Collins and 130 more to Clint Capela. But it may be his newly developed chemistry with guard Bogdan Bogdanovic that determines how far the Hawks go this season.
Bogdanovic has been on a tear since April 1: 22.0 points per game while shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 49.5 percent from three. In the same span of six weeks, he leads the Eastern Conference in total threes made: 101. Improved connectivity between Trae, an unbelievable passer, and Bogdanovic, a stone-cold shooter, has been a huge factor.
If Trae now senses precisely where Bogdanovic is on the court at all times, it still may not always be a good thing. Against Portland last week, Trae fielded an outlet pass in the backcourt and intuited that Bogdanovic would cut to an open corner in the frontcourt.
"He knows I'm going to be open there, so he passed it ahead," Bogdanovic said. "He passed it like a second early. I don't mind."
Unfortunately, Bogdanovic caught his toe on the hardwood and fell. "That pass was nice, man," Bogdanovic said with a chuckle. "He hit me right in the head. I can't say nothing about it. I tripped over myself. That was a good pass."
The turnover was just about the only misstep Bogdan took in a first half that saw him score 23 points and hit seven threes.
Bogdanovic missed 25 games early in the season with an avulsion fracture in his right knee, but since returning, the on-court chemistry between him and Trae has grown exponentially. When Trae works on one side of the floor in actions with Capela or Collins, Bogdanovic lurks on the opposite site of the floor, waiting to penalize teams who try to defend the two-man game with the attention of more than two defenders. The combination of Trae's precision passing and Bogdanovic's quick release have led to a deluge of threes, and when teams sell out to prevent a shot attempt, Bogdanovic is more than capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting the Hawks into their next advantageous action.
Take this play, for instance. John Collins acts as a go-between, but the pass from Trae to get things started is absurd, and Bogdanovic's combination of shooting and playmaking has the rotating defender in a complete pickle trying to pick an appropriate defensive tactic.
This play is the sort of thing that the Hawks just do over and over again. When teams don't commit a third defender, Capela or Collins get a great look at the rim. Having a shooter like Tony Snell in the strong-side corner to keep defenses honest doesn't hurt, either.
Before this season, neither Trae nor Bogdanovic had experienced a winning season in the NBA. Together, they have guaranteed themselves of both a winning season and a playoff berth.
"The best thing about Bogi is that he is so competitive," Trae said. "That's something that I really admire about Bogi. He came from a situation where he was doing pretty well but he just wasn't winning. He was in the same boat as me: we just wanted to win. It's great to be in a backcourt with someone like that."
Bogdanovic says that opening up the line of communication has helped since he returned, and his previous experience on good teams – such as winning a Euroleague title with Fenerbahce in 2017 – has also helped him.
"What I learned in Europe when you play with good players is that you have to talk with them," he said. "You have to talk to each other. We all have our egos, our games, and we know we are really good players. So you have to put that on the side and help each other."
From time to time, two ultra-keen basketball minds may see things differently as they play out basketball chess in their heads. When that happens, the ensuing on-court conversations and gesticulations may look like two cabbies jockeying for the same spot of curbside space at an airport. Trae and Bogdanovic are more than OK with that. They just see themselves as a pair of competitive brothers.
"We know that he's the franchise player here," Bogdanovic said. "No one has a problem with it, but he has to handle it the right way – and he's handling it pretty well. You can see that. It's amazing how mature he thinks and he knows all the stuff. He is smart. Sometimes we go in a fight, but it's a good fight, a verbal fight, because we want to win."
Trae reiterated the same sentiment as he grinned his way through an anecdote.
"For example, the other day, he came up to me and said, 'I found out that I'm stubborn.' I was like, 'Alright, bro. I'm a little stubborn, too. We're kind of the same people.' There are times when he talks, and he'll say something to me, and I'll say something back, and we're just both going at each other. The other day in the game, I told him, 'Hey, you're being stubborn.' He looked up at me and laughed."
Trae said that his relationship with Bogdanovic reminded him of his AAU days playing with current Denver Nugget Michael Porter, Jr.
"Those are the little things that you get to learn about each other, and you get to joke on the court. It just brings you closer together. I had that type of relationship with Mike back in high school with MOKAN. It's kind of a MOKAN type of feel for me as far as the connection to this group."
Playing for MOKAN in 2016, Trae and Porter, Jr. won the prestigious Nike EYBL Peach Jam title and shared co-MVP honors. They remain close friends to this day and talk to each other often. Expect Trae and Bogdanovic to aim for those same sorts of goals.