Player Review 2019: Bojan Bogdanovic

Age: 30
Years Pro: 5
Status: Free agent
Key Stats: Averaged 18 points while shooting .497 from the field and .425 from 3-point range, along with 4.1 rebounds and 2 assists in 31.8 minutes. All were career highs, for the second consecutive season.

Victor Oladipo had this funny way of responding when asked, early in the season, about Bojan Bogdanovic. In a high-pitched voice he sang out, “Bojaaaaaaaaan!” It was kind of a you-had-to-be-there moment.

As it turned out, Boganovic’s season was indeed something to sing at least a few bars about. And Oladipo happened to be the primary and unwitting reason for that, by missing 46 games and leaving Bojaaaaaaaaan as the Pacers’ go-to scoring option. It wasn’t the ideal role for him from a team perspective, but it was the only realistic option to replace Oladipo’s scoring and enabled him to inflate his stat line as he heads into free agency.

Oladipo’s team-high 16.3 shots per game had to go somewhere when he was out, and most of them, naturally, went to the starting lineup’s best shooter. Bogdanovic averaged 14.2 points when Oladipo was playing early in the season. He then averaged 19.6 points in the games following Oladipo’s first injury. He then averaged 15.1 points in the games after Oladipo returned, and finally averaged 20.5 points after Oladipo was lost in January for the rest of the season.

PHOTO GALLERY: Bojan Bogdanovic’s 2018-19 Season in Photos »

Along the way, by the way, he reaffirmed his status as the best Bogdanovic ever to be found in the NBA. Bogdan averaged 14.1 points for Sacramento, with lesser shooting percentages.
Bojan Bogdanovic has been one of the more difficult Pacers to get to know because of his introverted (but pleasant) nature. Win or lose, he liked nothing more than to execute a backdoor cut out of the locker room while reporters were talking with other players after games. His personality tended to mask a genuine toughness, of both the physical and emotional varieties, and a humble approach.

If not for being rested in the final regular season game each of the past two seasons, Bogdanovic would have missed just one game in his past two seasons as a Pacer — against Chicago in January of 2018, because of a sprained ankle. He particularly took a pounding this past season amid his enhanced role, but never backed down.

He also takes coaching.

“He’s mentally tougher than a lot of players,” Nate McMillan said during the season. “He doesn’t drop his head when you criticize him. I’ve challenged him a lot. Last year we were kind of feeling him out, this year we know him and he’s getting more and doing more, and we’re expecting more.

“That kid continues to play. He’s not one of these guys you get on him during the course of a game and you lose him. The kid believes in himself, he’s confident…he’s a man. I think he’s grown up in an environment where hard coaching doesn’t faze him.”

Bojan Bogdanovic

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images

Bogdanovic didn’t begin playing basketball in Croatia until he was 15 years old, after his father convinced him it afforded better professional opportunities than soccer. He was off playing in Spain at 16 and worked his way up the hard way, led by coaches who didn’t go easy on the new kid.

“In Europe they are all kind of hard,” Bogdanovic said. “They yell a lot, but they are trying to be honest and try to teach you how to get a work ethic and how to play the right way.

“I love when someone is honest with me and tells me right in my face what they are thinking about my game or my attitude or whatever.”

Bogdanovic will have little trouble finding employment next season. It’s just a matter of where, and for what salary. Kevin Pritchard said at his season wrap-up press conference he plans to have “extensive talks” with Bogdanovic when the free agent marketplace opens on July 1, but that doesn’t mean another team won’t offer more than what the Pacers are willing to pay, or that the Pacers won’t find a better forward.

That’s not out of the question. As much as Bogdanovic contributed last season, the advanced analytics weren’t kind. His low assist totals — he ranked eighth on the team in that category — and his meager rebounding and defense contributed to a Player Efficiency Rating that ranked eighth on the team, a plus-minus rating that ranked seventh, and a Win Share that ranked sixth when adjusted for playing time.

Bogdanovic lacks the raw athleticism to fill the role of go-to player, which shows in his struggles in the postseason and in clutch moments throughout the regular season. He had to be force-fed that role with Oladipo out, but struggled to free himself well enough to get and hit the right shot when the Pacers needed a game-tying or game-winning basket in the final seconds.

He missed a 17-foot shot with four seconds left that could have won a game in Sacramento on Dec. 1. He missed a 3-pointer with one second left that could have won a game at Toronto on Dec. 19, although a foul should have been called on that one. He missed a 16-footer with 4.3 seconds left that could have won the game with Oklahoma City on March 14, although Wesley Matthews converted the rebound on the weak side. Two nights later, he missed a step-back 3-pointer with one second left that could have won a game at Denver.

It wasn’t fair in a way, because he was intended to be a backup singer, not the star. But for any team that views him as its No. 3 scoring option, he could be a great addition. Or returning player.

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