The Atlanta Hawks have been having a very disappointing season, until March 2nd when their fortunes changed. On that day, Bogdan Bogdanovic returned to action after missing 25 games because of a knee injury.
What he found out upon returning was dysfunction. The Hawks were only 11th in the East, a day earlier they fired their coach, the core of the team was plagued by injuries and the locker room had palpable friction in it. So, what did the return of Bogdanovic mean to the Hawks?
Let’s break it down.
Bogdan Bogdanovic analysis: How he turned his season around
His arrival to Atlanta in the last free agency period had mixed reactions. His $72 million contract seemed like a great deal for what he offered a team but his play and the injuries he sustained made it seem like wasted money.
He was brought in as an elite shooter who was supposed to take some weight off of Trae Young, but Bogdanovic averaged only 9 points per game until the All-Star game. He shot 38% from the field while only shooting 34% from three.
Bogdan Bogdanovic last 8 games:
The Hawks have outscored opponents by 70 points when Bogi is on the floor in that span. pic.twitter.com/botRc1yACn
— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 11, 2021
His play was so disappointing that there were rumblings at the trade deadline of the Hawks being willing to move him. Luckily for them, they did not. He has finally found his rhythm propelling the Hawks to fly through the standings.
From March 2nd until the time of this piece being written, the Hawks have the 2nd best record in the league (16-6), the 8th best offence and the 12th best defence in the league. Their net rating is in the top 10 as well. Of course, Bogdanovic is not solely responsible for this dramatic shift but he is one of the key reasons for it. Despite consistently missing five to seven players in their rotation, the Hawks seemingly have a guaranteed playoff berth. So how much of that turnaround is because of Bogdanovic?
During that timespan, he is averaging 16.7 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He is shooting 48% from the field and 45% from three.
He also had numerous breakout performances such as the game against Charlotte where he scored 32 points. Against San Antonio and Milwaukee, he had 28 and then 26 against Memphis. If he plays a good games, Atlanta generally wins. When he is playing like this, the Hawks have a player they hoped he would be when they signed him.
A player generally does not turn the switch overnight and most often these dramatic shifts in performance and form are induced. For Bogdanovic, the key component was time. Time he needed to get used to the new city, the new team, the new teammates and so on.
He also needed to fully heal his knee which bothered him for a while as did consequences of coronavirus before the season.
More than a shooter
Even with all of that time, the shift in his play would not be possible without the hiring of Nate McMillan. McMillan replaced Lloyd Pierce on March 1st when the Hawks let go of their coach because of poor results.
Even though McMillan was an assistant to Pierce, he had an entirely different vision for the team and Bogdanovic in general which he showed when he took over. In Pierce’s system, which some considered anarchy of sorts with players having immense freedom, Bogdanovic simply could not thrive.
Without Trae Young, the Hawks will continue to rely on Bogdan Bogdanovic.
— Bally Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnBally) April 13, 2021
As a player coming from Europe, he was taught to play basketball within a certain system and role from a very early age. Pierce also saw him only as a shooter, some sort of a three-point specialist whose only role was to spread the court. Pierce did not understand he was using him completely wrong. He bought an expensive phone only to text. It’s legitimate, but not optimal, and won’t produce the best results.
Contrary to him, McMillan was very aware of what he had in Bogdanovic and he uses him in many different ways. The most important thing with McMillan is that he is an experienced NBA coach which allowed him to understand Bogdanovic better.
His playing days also made him realize he is much more than just a shooter. Bogdanovic has a skillset that filled several holes the Hawks had. He is a shooter, he is a secondary ball-handler, he is an iso scorer, a cutter, a good team defender and a clutch player if he needs to be. All of that makes him the ideal partner for Young in the backcourt.
His shooting ability from long-range will always be the centrepieces of his game but McMillan devised a system that places him in positions on the court where he can thrive. Immediately upon taking over, the somewhat old-school McMillan prepared several signature plays most often used for shooters.
The goal was to include him on the offence more, which should theoretically help his low confidence at the time.
It worked perfectly and as soon as Bogdanovic started hitting shots on a more consistent basis, his play improved. Today, he is a great catch and shoot player with a high percentage in spot-up shots as well. He also frequently cuts to the basket or continues his move around the court awaiting the ball in a play designed for him. He is also very good from the midrange, deadly from the corner and finishes in high percentage around the rim.
Because of his improved play the ball gets passed to him more often which was not the case at the start of the season.
It’s a wonderful circle where his confidence and performance remain high. He is their 2nd or 3rd option every night he plays and his scoring output gives the team confidence.
McMillan could have simply been content with his three-point shooting but as we said his goal was to maximize his potential. Atlanta needed a player who would confidently handle the ball besides Young and Bogdanovic does that.
Bogdanovic does not spend a lot of time in iso plays on the elbow or in the post. His game is mostly based on the pick and roll and that is what makes him more than a shooter. He is both a scorer and a playmaker.
When he plays from the pick, Bogdanovic scores 0.98 points per possession which is above average. It’s in those situations that his three-level scoring comes into play. He can punish all players with his shooting. He can also attack the basket in isolation.
Hawks injuries this year…
De'Andre Hunter – 37 games
Cam Reddish – 31 games
Bogdan Bogdanovic – 25 games
Danilo Gallinari – 18 games
Tony Snell – 17 games
John Collins – 9 games
Clint Capela – 7 games
Trae Young – 5 games
— The Hood Therapist (@OhhMar24) April 19, 2021
If there is no way to score he can always pass the ball out as he is an adept passer. His three assists per game are nothing impressive but they are the result of his playstyle within this new system. Playing next to a ball-dominant player like Young does not help as well but as long as the Hawks are winning, nobody will complain. When Young missed games, Bogdanovic was given the ball more and he had no issues.
He has great chemistry with big men, especially Capela, who is an excellent pick and roll player. What makes him crafty as a playmaker was his extensive European experience.
Playing in Partizan in a heavy pick and roll offence forced him to adapt to creating and passing which is something he did not do often as a youngster. Injuries even forced him to play point guard for half a season which helped as well.
In Fenerbahce under Zeljko Obradovic, he perfected that skill even more. When you observe his pick and roll technique you will see that it is on a high level. He has all the moves, he has the patience and he knows how to control the rhythm. His good basketball IQ is evident as well.
The key for the Hawks resurgence has been the hiring of McMillan, there is no question about it. He immediately set up a system that maximizes the potential of their players. Key among them is Bogdanovic whose game improved the most. That allowed Young a breather and gave the Hawks another legitimate scoring option. The result speaks for itself.