‘Godsend’ Bogdanovic helps young Pistons get to lesson-rich winning time

The Bojan Bogdanovic trade made sense on so many levels for the Pistons, there isn’t a single correct answer to the question of why they consummated the deal.

If you said they made the deal because the value it represented was too good to ignore, you would be irrefutably right. If you answered the Pistons had a glut of centers and a dearth of wings – especially ones who take and make 3-pointers at the volume Bogdanovic historically has – and the September trade with Utah addressed that imbalance, you again would be unassailably correct.

But if you said because Bogdanovic gives a young roster the means to be competitive and increase significantly the number of nights they’ll find themselves playing a meaningful final five minutes, where outcomes hang in the balance and winning habits are forged by trial and error, by failure as much as by success, then you’ve come closest to identifying the essence for the trade’s motivation.

Put another way, the best way to speed the maturation of Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart, Jalen Duren and Isaiah Livers and the rest of the 24-and-under crowd that numbers two fistfuls is to play a bunch of games that come down to the final few dozen critical possessions. A pro’s pro like Bojan Bogdanovic – eight full seasons in the NBA, eight playoff runs – accommodates that mission.

“A godsend,” Dwane Casey calls him.

“He’s very knowledgeable about the game and he shares his knowledge,” Cunningham said after he scored 26 to go with Bogdanovic’s 33 in Wednesday’s 118-113 loss to Atlanta. “He doesn’t hold it to himself. He makes sure all of us are on the same page. He talks to us a lot. It’s fun to play with a guy like that who has such a high IQ and cares about winning so much.”

There’s a reason a host of legitimate NBA contenders were said to be in pursuit of Bogdanovic once Utah, via previous trades of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, made clear its intent to rebuild. Over the past four seasons, starting 285 games, Bogdanovic averaged 18.3 points and shot 40.3 percent from the 3-point arc on 6.2 attempts a game with true shooting percentages that straddled 60 percent each year.

“I think he’s even better now,” said Cory Joseph, Bogdanovic’s teammate from 2017-19 in Indiana and now again in Detroit. “He’s worked on his game and gotten better every year. We know how well he can shoot it, but he puts it on the ground a lot better. He’s really shooting the lights out of the ball and getting to his spots and knocking ’em down. That’s what he does – he puts that thing in the bucket.”

The value of a player like that for young guards like Cunningham, Ivey and Killian Hayes – not just to young guards, but to guards of all ages, shapes and sizes – is incalculable. When you’ve got a player who brings to life the plays a coach draws up on his whiteboard – who finishes what the guards are charged to start – how can that not spur a young playmaker’s development? To those who’d question the trade because Bogdanovic, 33, doesn’t “fit the timeline” of the Pistons, would it be better to let Cunningham, Ivey and Hayes flail in choppy waters without the lifejacket that Bogdanovic proves to be amid plays run aground?

For that matter, how won’t the young wings Weaver has put in the Pistons pipeline – Bey, Livers, Hamidou Diallo, Kevin Knox – benefit from having an example like Bogdanovic around?

Casey got to the heart of it when he talked about Bogdanovic’s scoring keeping the Pistons in the game and how it lifts everyone’s competitive level.

“They made some tough shots. At the other end, you’ve got to keep the scoreboard moving and that’s what Bogey does. He gives our defense a chance to really lock in. If you don’t keep the scoreboard moving on the other end, it’s tough.”

If Bogdanovic wasn’t helping the Pistons keep pace with Atlanta, what developed into a hotly contested game with pressure-filled possessions – the best learning environment possible – might well have turned into the type of one-sided loss that in volume can demoralize a roster as young as Casey and Weaver’s. All those playoff runs Bogdanovic has experienced on top of all his European pro league and Croatian national team credentials have hardened his will. His young teammates see that already.

“It goes back to his want to win,” Cunningham said of Bogdanovic picking up a technical foul when he felt the whistle favored Atlanta in Wednesday’s first quarter. “That’s all he wants is just to win games. He’s played a lot of high-level basketball and knows a lot about the game. He definitely has that edge to him.”

“Whenever I step on the court, I want to win the game. That’s the case even here,” Bogdanovic said. “I know we are a young team that is not in the same situation like I had all my career, but I still want to win the game.”

And that’s really what the trade was about. Winning games. Winning where they can now so that eventually they’ll be in position to winning at the highest level and completing Weaver’s “restoration” process. Maybe Bojan Bogdanovic will be here for all of that. Maybe it will be merely his legacy that remains on some fuzzy date in the future when Cunningham and his tenderfoot teammates are all grown up and cradling the Lawrence O’Brien trophy.

“You can learn a lot from him,” Joseph said. “He’s been a consistent player, a consistent scorer in the NBA for a while now. He just knows how – on every given night – to get it done. He knows how to put that ball in the bucket. That’s his talent and we’re going to need him.”