Somewhat lost in the shuffle of what appears to be one of the best rookie classes in recent league history has been the play of Sacramento Kings 2-guard Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Although he doesn’t get the acclaim many of his young counterparts do (unless we’re counting Rising Stars Challenge MVP trophies), the first-year contributor of Serbian descent is currently seventh among all rotational rookies in nightly points (11.5), fifth in assists (3.2), fifth in three-point accuracy (40 percent) and fourth in three-point makes (1.6).
What’s more, according to both Offensive Box Plus/Minus and NBA Math’s Offensive Points Added metric, Bogdanovic trails just one other first-year player in point-creating impact this season. And that’s the freakish Donovan Mitchell.
But perhaps the most revealing piece of evidence regarding the 25-year-old guard’s importance to Sacramento this year is the fact that with him on the floor, the Kings are outpacing teams by 0.7 points per 100 possessions. May not sound like much, but when you consider that as a team, they’re being outscored by 8.4 points per 100 possessions overall on the season, it becomes clear just how much of a difference-maker Bogdanovic already is.
That’s not a new development, however.
As a member of Fenerbahce over the past two campaigns, Bogdanovic won both a Turkish League title in 2016 and, more impressively, a Euroleague championship – the most important European trophy – in 2017, just before coming over to the States. For his efforts, the Serbian sharpshooter earned All-Euroleague 1st Team distinction during the latter campaign.
It should be noted: Making a big impact is not exactly easy for young players in Europe.
And yet, Bogdanovic was able to do just that.
Over his final two seasons in Turkey, he was playing 27.8 minutes nightly while putting up 12.9 points per contest. For comparison’s sake, during 2018 NBA All-Star Goran Dragic’s final two years overseas, he was seeing the floor for merely 19.7 minutes per game and averaging a meager 6.3 points per outing.
Part of the reason for Bogdanovic’s big impact over the past few years, both in Europe and as a member of the Kings, is his ability to knock down jumpers.
After struggling with his three-point stroke over his first three years as a professional overseas, connecting on an all-too-average 35.8 percent of his chances, Bogdanovic heated up during his final campaign with Fenerbahce last season, when the young gunner knocked down an eye-popping 43 percent of his looks from deep.
The one-year betterment has proven not to be flukish thus far in the NBA, as Bogdanovic with the Kings has been a healthy 40 percent three-point shooter. Among players with at least 200 three-point attempts on the season, only 19 are deadlier from beyond the arc.
Not a bad start for the 25-year-old.
Taking a deeper dive into the young Serbian’s game, we come away all the more impressed.
Bogdanovic is scoring 1.16 points per possession (PPP) on spot-up opportunities in 2017-18, per Synergy Sports Tech. That places the rookie in the 84th percentile, ahead of well-established shooters of Eric Gordon, JJ Redick and Kyle Lowry’s ilk.
However, it would be an absolute disservice to pigeonhole Bogdanovic as just a shooter; his game is far more expansive than that.
For starters, the impressive rookie is already averaging higher assists per 100 possessions than Victor Oladipo, Bradley Beal and CJ McCollum this season. Kings head coach Dave Joeger isn’t afraid to let his young shooting guard create out of the pick-and-roll, and thus far, the results have been encouraging.
Passes included, Bogdanovic is producing 0.95 PPP as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Synergy Sports. That mark places him in the 62nd percentile (defined as “good” by Synergy), ahead of Jimmy Butler and John Wall.
Thanks to exquisitely weighted bounce passes to rim-diving bigs and the instincts to know when the defense is giving up open jumpers on the outside, Bogdanovic more often than not makes the right decision in the most common two-man play-type.
As purely a scorer out of the pick-and-roll, Bogdanovic can hurt opponents in one of two ways: with a nasty pull-up jumper or with tidy finishing near the basket.
In the former manner, Bogdanovic is among the league’s absolute elite. Only three players outpace him when pulling up into jumpers, and they’re all unquestionably superstars.
And in the latter, he places 20th among all guards (as defined by NBA.com) in accuracy when shooting from within five feet of the basket (minimum: 100 attempts) at 62.3 percent.
That’s a more precise clip than James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Obviously, defenses force the two MVP candidates to take far more contested shots once they arrive at the rim, but the point remains the same: Bogdanovic is sneakily a really good finisher.
Overall, whether choosing to pull up or slither his way to the basket, Bogdanovic can get buckets as the ball-handler out of pick-and-roll sets.
And it’s thanks to his innate scoring abilities – of knowing precisely when to make a foray into the paint as opposed to shooting a jumper over the top of a defense, or vice versa – that the Serbian rookie has been one of the best first-year offensive weapons in the entire league.
As opposed to pick-and-roll or spot-up situations, Bogdanovic has attacked in isolation opportunities with far lower frequency as a rookie. The former two play-types account for 49.2 percent of the 2-guard’s possessions that end with the ball in his hands, while the latter play-type accounts for just 5.4 percent of his scoring chances.
Going forward, perhaps even as soon as the final few weeks of this season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see his isolation frequency see a huge inflation, as Bogdanovic ranks in the 93rd percentile in one-on-one chances (passes included), according to Synergy Sports, producing an astonishing 1.18 PPP on such plays.
He’s got a quick first step, creative distribution chops and multiple ways to beat you with the ball in his hands.
Just ask reigning Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green about going one-on-one with Bogdanovic.
Bogdanovic is not close to being a star. Not yet, at least.
But considering the tools he’s got as a scorer and the instincts he possesses as a creator, coupled with his toughness, agile feet and burgeoning defensive acumen, we shouldn’t count out the possibility of the Serbian becoming the next great European wing, surpassing the likes of Nicolas Batum and Hedo Turkoglu, and more in the mold of his director of player personnel with the Kings, Peja Stojakovic.
His potential is that great.
You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.