Bogdanovic Finding It Harder To Hide

If he had his way, Bojan Bogdanovic would slip through the cracks of the media members who populate the Pacers' locker room and practice court as deftly as he slips through the cracks of a defense.

"Nothing changed from last night!" he said with smiling mock complaint as he walked toward the reporters who had requested conversation with him following Tuesday's practice at St. Vincent Center.

True, nothing had changed since Bogdanovic scored a team-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting in Monday's 121-94 victory over Utah, but Bogdanovic got out of the locker room after that game while the horde was focused on rookie sensation Aaron Holiday. He nearly made it out unscathed following Saturday's victory over Atlanta, but was intercepted halfway to the door by one media member.

Bogdanovic has more to talk about than ever, if he feels inclined. Seventeen games in, he's playing better than in any of his four previous NBA seasons. He's averaging career highs in points (15.1), overall field goal percentage (.533) and 3-point field goal percentage (.535). His 3-point percentage leads the NBA following Monday's game, in which he hit 3-of-4 shots.

He's playing a few tics of the clock less per game than last season and attempting nearly one less shot, displaying an efficiency level that's reflected in the more nuanced analytics. He leads the Pacers in Win Shares per 48 minutes, which estimates the number of wins a player contributes. He also has the highest "true shooting percentage" (.674) among the starters, a stat that incorporates field goal, 3-point, and free throw shooting.

Over the previous five games, four of which the Pacers won, he's averaged 19 points on 61 percent shooting, including 64 percent from the 3-point line.

"He's been much more aggressive," coach Nate McMillan said. "I just see him being very aggressive when his number is called."

Bogdanovic had a career-best season after he joined the Pacers a year ago, but further improvement has come from a greater comfort level, which has translated to more aggression in defending and attacking the basket. The comfort level comes from being more familiar with his surroundings and, lately at least, having a more prominent role in the offense. That, in turn, has come partially from playing more "four" in a smaller lineup that often enables him to go up against bigger and slower defenders.

"I'm involved in a lot of pick-and-rolls and the defense is kind of confused, they don't know what to do with me in a pick-and-roll," Bogdanovic said. "I got a couple of wide-open shots. You're right, I love to play (four)."

One of the Pacers' best lineups this season has been with Bogdanovic playing that position alongside reserves Cory Joseph, Tyreke Evans, Doug McDermott, and Domantas Sabonis. Over 47 total minutes together, that group has a net rating of +5.7, meaning the Pacers outscore opponents by that many points pro-rated over 100 possessions. The starting lineup, by contrast, has a net rating of -0.2.

Bogdanovic has been thriving with the starters as well when he gets scoring opportunities. Lately, those have come immediately. He scored on a backdoor reverse layup off a feed from Myles Turner on the Pacers' first possession against Miami and Atlanta on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and again on the second possession against Utah on Monday.

Bojan Scores

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

The play call wasn't specifically for Bogdanovic in those games, but he turned out to be the best option.

"That's good execution," McMillan said. "We're screening, delivering the ball, we're looking for each other. That play has several options. That cut that Bogey has scored off of is just one of them."

McMillan had some concern Bogdanovic would need to be rested when training camp began because of his play with his Croatian national team. McMillan sat him out of one early practice, but not at Bogdanovic's request, and never again.

Bogdanovic says fatigue is not an issue. He's been playing for his national team since he was 16 years old, 13 years ago. The most recent NBA offseason included six weeks away from team activities, four before and two after his national team's schedule. That was enough. He'll take every minute and every opportunity he can get now.

"I love to play heavy minutes, like every other single player," he said.

Bogdanovic doesn't take his current state of affairs for granted. He played his first two-plus NBA seasons with a losing team in Brooklyn. A deadline deal to Washington in his third season shifted him to a winner for the final 26 games and two playoff rounds. He then signed with the Pacers before last season because a starting position awaited him, and that team wound up exceeding expectations with 48 victories.

Now he's more established than ever with what appears to be a gelling team poised to surpass 48 victories. Brooklyn, meanwhile, is still a losing team (7-10) and Washington (5-11) is in absolute turmoil based on recent media reports.

"When you're in a bad situation, when you're losing, every day is tough," Bogdanovic said. "I know how they feel, so I'm really happy that I'm in the situation I'm in right now."

You would only know that by asking him, though. Bogdanovic is pleasant and cooperative by nature, but also introverted – especially with people he doesn't know well. He's more talkative with his teammates, although dressing next to Victor Oladipo in the St. Vincent locker room probably doesn't allow him to get in many words edgewise.

"He's awesome," said Oladipo, who was in a talkative and joking mood on Tuesday. "He says stuff when he wants to. When it's time to. He's not as quiet as people think. Maybe around you all, because he doesn't know you all. Around us, he's flamboyant...is that the right word?"

Probably not. Oladipo qualifies as flamboyant. Kyle O'Quinn is the second-most extroverted player on the Pacers roster. Bogdanovic is like the rest of his teammates, an affable professional who goes about his business.

Quietly. And, lately, efficiently.

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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.

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