Bojan Bogdanovic: Can he make the leap?

Bojan Bogdanovic (AP)
Bojan Bogdanovic (AP)

Today, The Brooklyn Game kicks off a season preview series looking at the team’s biggest questions for each player.

Is there a year-2 leap in Bojan Bogdanovic?

In a video message to fans, Nets majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov cited his “high expectations” for Bojan Bogdanovic, adding that he “showed a real flash of brilliance in his first year on the Nets.” General manager Billy King added that Bogdanovic was among the team’s “emerging young core of players.”

Make no mistake: they have faith in the 26-year-old. He has two legit NBA offensive skills: he can shoot, and he can cut. Bogdanovic has a keen sense of when to slip behind the defense for an easy bucket, and when to lurk outside and wait for an open three-pointer. The Nets lack rotation guards that can do both of these things: Joe Johnson & Wayne Ellington aren’t moving targets off the ball, while Sergey Karasev & Markel Brown haven’t shown the outside touch just yet.

His shot chart reflects that methodology. Most of Bogdanovic’s shot attempts last season came at the rim or beyond the arc:


And many of his baskets near the rim looked something like this: zigging when the defense zags.

Bogdanovic got off to a rough start last season, losing his starting spot to the little-used Karasev within 20 games. By the All-Star Break, his rookie year projected out as an unsuccessful one.

But things changed — and fast.

The adjustment: is it real?

“The biggest adjustment was the ball, which was completely different than Europe,” Bogdanovic told The Brooklyn Game back in March. “Also, (the) three-point line isn’t the same.”

His former teammate Mirza Teletovic, who hailed from the same city of Mostar, said the same in an interview with Avaz (translated below):

It is important for the shooter to “rate” the ball, especially since I played with the national team qualifying for Eurobasket, the European balls are different from those in the NBA.

The American team that played at the World Championships in Spain shot poorly until they got accustomed to new ball.

Bogdanovic’s numbers seem to bear that out. He finished the season on a tear from the field, hitting 51.3% of his shots from the field and 42.9% from deep after the All-Star Break, both noticeable upticks from his first half. That led to him winning April’s Rookie of the Month Award.

Some of that is due to Bogdanovic’s comfort shooting at Barclays Center — he shot far better at home than on the road — but it’s impossible to discount how much better he played following the break. That would suggest Bogdanovic has a point about adjusting to the ball and new line.

But how significant is that adjustment? Does it really exist? There’s not a lot of data, but here’s one broad look at it.

There are 27 players in NBA history who developed their career overseas, shot more than 100 threes in their rookie season, and played as a rotation player again in the NBA. Collectively, their three-point percentage was 35.7%, almost identical to Bogdanovic’s 35.5%.

Of the 27, 25 of them played the next season — Jonas Jerebko and Ersan Ilyasova both left the NBA for a couple of years — and the collective three-point percentage of those 25 was… a nearly identical 35.5%.

That evidence suggests that there’s not much of an adjustment period that one year magically fixes. But dig a little deeper and you might find good news.

12 of the 25 players took more three-pointers in Year 2 — i.e. picked up a bigger perimeter role. Of those 12, nine of them improved their three-point percentage, and two of the ones that didn’t were centers over 30 years old (Pero Antic, Arvydas Sabonis).

If anyone is the poster boy for success, it’s Teletovic himself. Freed by Jason Kidd’s offense and granted an eternal Fearza-colored light, Teletovic took more than three times as many three-pointers in his sophomore season, improving his shooting percentage from 34.3 percent to 39 percent.

So while there’s not a lot that suggests just any player can build from Year 1 to Year 2, there’s some to suggest that the right player can. Is Bogdanovic one of those? The team seems to think so, and his scoring pedigree overseas makes it all the more likely.


Building on Year 1

After last season ended, Bogdanovic wrote a post on his official Facebook page about his expectations for this season.

“I expect a whole new role,” Bogdanovic wrote, “however not concerning the minutes spent on the court, but regarding ball allocation. I expect to have the ball more often in my possession, and thus a better season than the previous one.”

That could be more than just catch-and-shoot opportunities. With Deron Williams gone, Bogdanovic will likely have more opportunities to create with the ball in his hands, something he rarely did last year. 74.3 percent of his made baskets were assisted on (per; among Nets, only Teletovic and Karasev had fewer un-assisted buckets, both of whom sat out for significant time.

At the NBA level, that requires both the ability to score and create for others, and Bogdanovic struggled to do that last season: he shot just 37% from the field in pick-and-roll situations and turned the ball over 30.4% of the time, per Bogdanovic doesn’t make great reads when drawing double-teams, which accounts for a ton of those turnovers; it was an issue for him prior to coming to the NBA, and it could be an issue if they need him to create more this season.

Williams gone also means the team loses its primary pick-and-roll creator, which could limit Bogdanovic’s catch-and-shoot opportunities: if Jarrett Jack is pulling up for mid-range jumpers instead of finding teammates for three-pointers, Bogdanovic will be the first guy to lose touches.

But Bogdanovic may have earned more time with the ball in his hands, given how he ended the regular season. Even with two perfect-shooting games under his belt — an 8-for-8 performance from the field on March 21st, and a 6-for-6 game from deep on April 10th — he closed the season on his highest note: a career-high 28 points against the Orlando Magic, leading the Nets from a double-digit third-quarter deficit to a decisive victory. If they lose that game, they miss the playoffs. Bogdanovic’s big night extended their season by six full games.

HIGHLIGHTS: Bojan Bogdanovic saves his best game for last

Given the way he ended the season, plus the expectations both from the team and himself, there’s a good chance he takes a good step forward. If he does, the Nets could have a valuable, sneaky scorer on their hands. But with the team’s primary creator gone, it won’t be a seamless transition.