Before he ever stepped on an NBA court, Bogdan Bogdanović became well-known in circles around the league. Hailed as a talented, versatile scorer, few 25-year-olds have a resume as impressive as Bogdanović does. Since entering the professional basketball sphere back in 2010, the 6-foot-6 Serbian star achieved almost everything up for grabs in Europe. From a EuroLeague championship to earning Finals MVP awards and All-Star berths, Bogdanović had done it all.
Now he’s facing one of his biggest challenges yet: Adjusting to the NBA.
After a sprained ankle kept the promising rookie out of the first three games of the season, Bogdanović has since been a bright spot for the disappointing Sacramento Kings. Through seven games, the talented prospect has averaged 10.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists on 48.3 percent shooting from the floor in just 24.3 minutes per contest. His size and experience have allowed the Kings to lean on Bogdanović from the get-go as they experiment with this largely young, raw roster.
Whether he’s facilitating the offense or manufacturing tough buckets with his well-developed arsenal of moves, it’s been an optimistic start for Bogdanović no matter how you slice it. However, Bogdanović knows that he still has a long way to go.
“[It’s] just different, honestly, obviously [the NBA is] a more physical game,” Bogdanović told Basketball Insiders before their loss to the Boston Celtics last week. “It’s faster, with more guys playing in the fast break a lot. Here, if opponents have some space to create a shot or to create something, they will use it — they will not wait.
“That’s what I need to adjust to [the most].”
Despite their exciting roster of athletes — a collection that includes De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and Justin Jackson, among others — the Kings hold a disappointing 2-8 record, second to last in the Western Conference. Seven of their eight losses have come to teams currently holding a playoff spot, so it’s been tough schedule thus far for the Kings and it won’t get any easier in November. With games against the Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors scheduled this month, it’s possible that things could get even worse before they get any better.
Even so, Bogdanović — who owns silver medals from the 2014 World Cup, 2016 Summer Olympics and the recent 2017 EuroBasket tournament — recognizes the immense talent in the Kings’ locker room.
“I’ve never seen so many talented players next to me and it’s unbelievable what they are capable to do,” Bogdanović said. “The [other young players] just need some time, some experience to understand the game better. I think we still have a good team and can make something, but it’s all about [getting] time.”
Although their veteran summer signings of George Hill (8.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists) and Zach Randolph (12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds) have led the way, Sacramento has quickly learned how difficult it can be to implement seven new players into the rotation. Undoubtedly, there will always be those types of bumps, particularly so for a franchise that has been in flux for years. After finally moving on from DeMarcus Cousins close to last season’s trade deadline, the Kings have been careful to feel out their next crucial steps.
Sacramento’s recent embrace of the youth movement made them an exciting sleeper pick during the offseason, a sentiment that only gained steam after Vince Carter, Hill, Randolph and Bogdanović officially climbed aboard in July. Undeterred by the slow start, Bogdanović knows that the Kings’ veterans have the pedigree and knowledge to right the ship moving forward.
“Yeah, they’re awesome. The experience they have, all of them, they played some important games in the NBA, like the conference finals,” Bogdanović said. “In their primes, they were unbelievable players — but they’re still great now.
“They are our leaders as well and they’re teaching us the right way, I think.”
Bogdanović, to his credit, exists in both the new and old groups for head coach Dave Joerger and, thanks to his extensive involvement overseas, fills the role of both a rookie and a veteran. Of course, the Serbian averaged 14.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game for Fenerbahce as they took home the club’s first-ever EuroLeague title last spring. In the process, Bogdanović even knocked down 43 percent of his three-point attempts, an achievement that earned him the label of one of Europe’s best shooters.
As a sturdy, reliable bridge between the past and the present, Joerger has found Bogdanović to be an integral part of his early season rotation. For a promising rookie like De’Aaron Fox, who has played a team-high 27 minutes a game, it might be classified as being tossed into the deep end of a swimming pool — but for Bogdanović, his experience has made him invaluable.
Already, it’s easy to see how Bogdanović could carve out a big-time role in the NBA for the foreseeable future. His basketball IQ, instincts and ability to create scoring opportunities out of very little are notably impressive, as is his 6-foot-11 wingspan. Bogdanović does not need to score to be effective and his frequent movement off the ball is a welcomed sight for the Kings. Through the first portion of the season, Bogdanović has come as advertised for Sacramento, effortlessly becoming Joerger’s de-facto small forward in no time.
As for getting the season back on track, Bogdanović is just taking things one day at a time. When asked about what the Kings needed to improve upon, Bogdanović, confident in his teammates’ abilities, responded simply:
“[We got] the first win, [now] to get the second win,” Bogdanović said.
Last night, after waiting a full 18 days, the Kings earned their first home victory of the season by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 94-86. Earning his fifth consecutive start, Bogdanović pitched in with seven points, four rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes.
His laundry list of European achievements and individual accolades are a compelling case for a major Bogdanović breakout sooner rather than later. But until then, he’ll continue to keep things simple while he adjusts. With stalwart veterans like Randolph, Hill and Carter leading on and off the court, Bogdanović and the rest of the Kings’ talented rookies are clearly in good hands. Building step-by-step, Sacramento should continue to improve.
But to quote Bogdanović himself, now all that’s left is to go get that third win.
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