The Atlanta Hawks are 31-10 with Bogdan Bogdanovic in the lineup since he returned from an avulsion fracture in his right knee that sidelined him for 25 games.
Bogdanovic’s return also coincides with when Nate McMillan became the team’s interim head coach. Those two changes propelled the Hawks to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference and now have Atlanta up 1-0 in a second-round series against the top-seeded team in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers.
As detailed during the first round of the playoffs, Bogdanovic has starred in his role. Against the New York Knicks, the fourth-year wing contributed 14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. In his first taste of the playoffs, Bogdanovic averaged the second-most points, rebounds and assists on the Hawks while leading the team in steals.
In the series opener against the Sixers, Bogdanovic’s 21 points tied John Collins for the second-most on the team behind Trae Young’s 35-point performance. He also doled out five assists; only Young, whose spectacular play in Game 1 included dishing out 10 dimes, generated more of Atlanta’s assists than Bogdanovic.
When Young’s off the floor, the Hawks rely heavily on Bogdanovic’s ability to facilitate the offense. When those two play together, the latter capitalizes on his capability to work effectively off the ball, a role in which he can space the floor for Young and exploit a defense’s vulnerabilities off the catch.
Bogdanovic hasn’t been as potent a three-point shooter as he was during the regular season when he shot 43.8 percent from beyond the arc while taking 7.6 threes per game. Despite those figures dropping to 35.2 percent on nine long-range attempts per contest, he’s demonstrating a knack for coming through in the clutch.
“We all work for these moments,” Bogdanovic said regarding his ability to deliver for his team in crunch time following the Hawks’ Game 1 win in Philadelphia. “When you start playing basketball and watch the highlights at the end of the game, you always dream about it. I think one of the first shots you’re taking is, ‘3, 2, 1,’ and you try to make it. You live for these moments. Now it’s reality. I’m just using every single opportunity I have.”
Shortly before the start of the playoffs, in an interview with Chris Kirschner of The Athletic, Hawks CEO Steve Koonin had the following to say about his expectations for the team entering the season:
“What I was hoping for was we would make the playoffs; I was excited about the play-in tournament because I think it gave you the chance to have more meaningful games going down the stretch, but I did not see us being tied for the fourth-best record in the East — not in my wildest dreams.”
Now, the Hawks have steamrolled their way past the Knicks, and they came into Philadelphia and took Game 1 against the top seed in the Eastern Conference. What happens next is a mystery, and if Joel Embiid, who had a game-high 39 points in the series opener, remains healthy, the Sixers will remain the favorite to advance to the conference finals. But Atlanta’s proving it’s not a pushover.
Young’s evolution is at the center of the Hawks’ postseason success. He entered the NBA as an elite shooter, passer and ball-handler. His growth is rooted in his ability to draw fouls — in the regular season, he averaged 8.7 free-throw attempts per game, tying Zion Williamson for the third-most in the league — and moving the ball faster.
The latter will make the prospect of joining forces with Young more appealing to stars looking to change teams. While superstars switching franchises typically take their talents to Los Angeles, Miami and New York, Atlanta is a sleeping giant starting to rise from its slumber. It’s a top-10 market, located in a warm climate and plenty capable of attracting the best players searching for a new team. The refinements to Young’s game have the Hawks better suited to capitalize on the inherent advantages of playing in Atlanta.
“To win, that’s the main goal,” Young said after the Hawks’ series-opening victory in Philadelphia. “All of the individual stuff is for the birds. I don’t even care about it. None of these guys care about it in this room. All we care about is wins. That’s what we’ve been doing and taking care of business. We just have to have that same mentality going forward. If we do that, we’ll be OK.”
That approach has served Young well. The same is true for the team as a collective. It might not lead to them hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season, but the team who does will have that same mindset. And it could produce the necessary growth for the Hawks to attract a star player who helps them win the second championship in franchise history. As optimistic as that may sound, the Hawks are currently laying the foundation that could turn what seems like a dream into a reality.
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