Bogdan Bogdanovic Finds His Groove in Second Season

The savvy Kings guard sparked the second unit with his playmaking, and finished his sophomore season on a strong note.
by Alex Kramers
Writer, Kings.com

At 26, Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic has the cool, laid-back vibe of a longstanding veteran who’s seen and done it all, gliding to his spots on the floor, taking control of a game in critical junctures and rarely making costly mistakes.

A professional basketball player since age 18, starter on the Serbian National Team in the Olympics and EuroLeague champion, he understands, as well as anyone, the importance of cohesion, trust and confidence for a winning team.

So, while many around the NBA were surprised when the Kings remained in the Playoff hunt into late March and exceeded their preseason expectation by a League-best 14 wins, Bogdanovic wasn’t one of them.

The seeds were planted, he says, months earlier, while the team was beginning to find its footing and forging its current high-octane playing style.

“(Last season), we just started bad, and it was all about the start, I think,” he said. “From January or February, we started playing (well) and from that moment, we were making the small steps.”

"Bogi” wasn’t on the court for the first 10 games of the 2018-19 campaign while recovering from a surgical procedure on his knee, but once he returned, he settled into a crucial role as the first player off the bench in place of either point guard De’Aaron Fox or shooting guard Buddy Hield.

Bogdanovic, an All-Rookie Second Team selection last year, thrived while typically employed as the primary ball-handler and focal point in the second unit.

“I love it,” he said. “I think I can create a lot of open shots for others and for (myself).”

In nearly identical minutes as his first season (27.8 per game), he averaged more points (14.1), assists (3.8) and rebounds (3.5), and despite an uptick in usage (22.3 percent compared to 19.6), was even better at taking care of the ball. Among all wings, Bogdanovic ranked in the 94th percentile in assist rate, with a hand in 19.8 percent of his teammates’ shots, as well as in the 80th percentile in turnover rate (13.0), according to Cleaning the Glass.

Bogdanovic continued to be one of Sacramento’s biggest threats in the pick-and-roll (0.83 points per possession, via Synergy Sports), and with opponents forced to respect his perimeter jumper, drove to the rim more frequently (2.9 attempts inside five feet, versus 1.9 last season). His reliable mid-range shot was still a major part of his offense, but he reduced his attempts from that zone by nearly a quarter in favor of more threes and layups.

Bogdanovic, however, is the first to acknowledge that his sophomore season wasn’t flawless, and even a player as poised and experienced isn’t immune to periodic mishaps.

“It was a good season; a nice season, with a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “A lot of stuff to learn and do better.”

Those ups for No. 8?

Chief among them was his favorite moment of the season, the night he drilled a fadeaway three-pointer over Lakers center Tyson Chandler as the final buzzer sounded at Golden 1 Center on Dec. 27, 2018. The unforgettable shot, in a game he previously deemed a “must win,” lifted the Kings over their division rival in thrilling fashion, as his teammates mobbed him near the bench and the crowd exploded in jubilation.

Two nights later, he dropped 21 points in Los Angeles – his third outing with 20 or more in four games – capping off a terrific two-month stretch during which the Kings outscored opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions when the multifaceted reserve ran the offense without a traditional point guard on the court, according to NBA.com.

As the team’s most versatile weapon and highly effective floor-spacer, he thrived with or without the ball in different lineup combinations; a three-guard unit with Bogdanovic joining Fox and Hield generated a superb plus-12.7 net rating over his first 24 appearances.

But soon after, the heavier workload and a fluctuating role began to take their toll on the second-year standout.
While Bogdanovic averaged 15.4 points on 44.1 percent from the field and 37 percent from behind the arc through the end of December, his production dipped to 13.4 points on 38.8 from the floor and 31.5 percent from distance over the subsequent two months.

Looking back, he might’ve put too much pressure on himself, Bogdanovic acknowledges, while trying to build chemistry on the fly with newly-acquired teammates and shifting in and out of the starting lineup – all while simultaneously trying to rediscover his own missing rhythm and comfort zone.

“I had so many different roles at one time,” he said. “I was just trying to help the team.”

But shooters, as the saying goes, shoot. So Bogdanovic didn’t fidget with a routine he’s kept consistent throughout his career or become apprehensive about his trusty mechanics.

He replayed stretches of ineffective play in his head and poured through hours of game film to find a way to rectify the problem.

When the shot clock ticked toward zero, he noticed, the ball would often wind up in his hands, with no alternative but to hoist up a prayer while draped by his defender. Other times, he was uncharacteristically rushing plays, especially in transition, where his points per possession declined from 1.26 as a rookie to 0.96 this year.

"It was, sometimes, bad (shot) selection,” he said. “You get frustrated, which is normal. You want to score and then you take a bad shot. That’s another experience (to learn from).”

A player who’s fueled by confidence in his shot-making, Bogdanovic, naturally, broke out of the slump, posting his customarily efficient splits (47.4/49.1/81.0) over the final 10 games of the season. Among 51 players with at least 50 three-point attempts during that segment, only five were more accurate.

One of Sacramento’s best post-All-Star break units came once Bogdanovic returned to the bench and shared the floor with fellow reserves Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles, Corey Brewer and Yogi Ferrell. That five-man combination outscored opponents by 14 points in 30 minutes of playing time, while dishing 21 assists compared to only four turnovers.

His second season may not have come with as steep of a learning curve as his first, when he debuted in the fast-paced, physical NBA after spending six years in a European game that emphasized setting up the half-court offense and methodically moving the ball. But the challenges he encountered and found a way to overcome may prove to be even more impactful in the long run.

With his polished skill set and ability to influence the game in a multitude of ways – combined with that calm and composed demeanor – it’s easy to envision Bogdanovic blossoming into one of the most dynamic playmakers in the League.

“I’m ready to be even better,” he said. “(I’m) getting into my prime in my third season and (I’m going to) continue to play at the highest level.”

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