Like most rookies, Bojan Bogdanovic had an extremely up-and-down first season in the NBA. Things started off promising as he was named the Nets starter to begin the year. After starting the first 19 games of the season and playing 30 minutes a game Bojan was demoted to the bench. He spent the next 16 games coming off the pine and only playing 11.5 minutes a game, a low point in the season for the neophyte. His rotation spot solidified after that, his minutes increasing to 20-25 a game, though mostly coming off the bench unless injuries gave him a rare start.
Bogdanovic ended the season on a high note, coming through as the Nets made their playoff push. In 28 MPG over nine regular season games in April, he averaged 14.4 PPG, his best monthly rate by a wide margin of 25.6 points per 100 possessions. Bojan shot a staggering 48.8% from three over this stretch, indicating he may have been more lucky than good.
Bojan had some interesting statistical splits on the season. Most noticeably, he shot way better at home than on the road. He shot better from the field, 48.3% vs. 41.2%, better from the free throw line, 86.3% vs. 78.2% and from 3-point range, 38.3% vs. 31.4%. It’s often easy, and many times wise to brush game splits off as more chance than anything, but in this case it seems like the difference might not just be variance. Bojan’s number of attempts was almost exactly equal in all three areas, but his effectiveness was drastically different. As a rookie adjusting to the NBA, Bogdanovic probably felt more comfortable at home, making his future slightly brighter considering he should, in theory, be able to improve in opposing arenas.
In the playoffs Bojan’s role shifted; after game 1 he was inserted into the starting lineup for the remainder of the series. He played great in the Nets two wins, shooting 46% from three and scoring 19 and 15 points in those games. Things were not so rosy the rest of the series. In losses Bojan shot 25% from three, and was worse in almost every single statistical category. Bojan’s playoff performance was still a positive on the whole. He started in a series against a good Hawks team and held his own on the court, earning the minutes he got.
Looking back on Bojan’s season we see an interesting player. His role on the team was essentially that of a spot-up shooter, and he wasn’t asked to create for himself. These 3-and-D players can be very valuable in today’s NBA, but Bojan struggled to be consistently impactful as one in his first season.
Any single one number metric obviously has its flaws, but if all available metrics paint the same picture it’s likely to be close to the truth. In Bojan’s case he was below-average to very bad in just about every all encompassing metric. Bojan was bad in terms of RPM, PER, WS/48, and BPM. Bojan was a rookie so expecting him to have been a very positive player would’ve been unrealistic, but it still would be nice to see him perform better. One cause for optimism is that his play did tick up towards the end of the season. He was more confident taking and making shots from both inside and outside the arc.
Bojan isn’t and was not a bad offensive player, he just isn’t a good one either. Yet. Bojan doesn’t have the athleticism or ball-handling to really be a creator for himself or others, but at times he can make things happen. The biggest and most obvious thing for Bojan is his shooting. On the year he shot a solid 35.5% from three, but if he wants to really draw defensive attention to himself he’s going to need to improve to a 38-40% clip. Bojan has a high and quick release that is hard to stop when he shoots it with confidence, and going forward he shouldn’t be afraid to shoot the ball whenever he has the opportunity.
The other area in which Bojan is already very successful is as a cutter. Bojan has great timing and instincts as a cutter and was first among all non-front court Nets in points off cuts according to synergy. Even without strong creation skills the combination of good shooting and almost elite cutting can make for a very useful offensive player. Bojan isn’t great at it yet, but as he continues to improve attacking closeouts he will only become more effective. Becoming a more consistent and efficient shooter will be important for his career, but the real questions lie on the defensive end.
By all accounts Bojan was a poor defensive player this year. Despite his great instincts cutting on offense he was really poor for most of the year at keeping track of players off the ball. In isolation situations Bojan often played on his heels, and against high-level wing scorers he was torn apart. Bojan was also poor closing out on shooters as he doesn’t have great length to contest shots and also possesses poor quickness recovering. Across the board Bojan lacks positives on the defensive end. He does a decent job navigating on-ball screens, but he’s subpar to bad in almost every other area.
The numbers back this up. According to synergy, Bojan gave up the second-most points of any Nets player in isolation, ranking in the 27th percentile on a per possession basis. Bojan’s defensive rating of 107.9 was the worst of any Nets rotation player. There is a lot of noise to DRTG, but Bojan being worst among the Nets is a pretty obvious sign he was hurting the Nets on the defensive end. Bojan can improve on the defensive end. He’s got a big frame that if he adds strength to will help him even more in screen-and-roll situations and help him in isolation. He also will just naturally get better with time. Picking up the speed and rotations of NBA basketball isn’t easy, and though Bojan might never be even average on the defensive end, he will almost certainly improve.
Bojan is one of the few young Nets, meaning he is likely to be a part of the team’s future. As he gets more comfortable at the NBA level he will inevitably improve on both ends of the court. If he can become a more consistent threat from 3-point range and bump up his defense he can be a valuable rotation piece for Brooklyn. It was fun watching him gain confidence over the course of the year, and he might be able to add to the little bit of off-the-bounce creation he flashed towards the end of the season. Until next year, Prince William Bogdanovic.