LOS ANGELES — “I’m a shooter,” says Bojan Bogdanovic.
That is the identity the 27-year-old Croatian embraced in two previous seasons with the Nets and then backed up in spades as the top scorer at the 2016 Rio Olympics with a 25.3-point average.
But just as the Nets’ new regime has a plan to maximize performance for center Brook Lopez through timely rest breaks, there is a plan in place to turn a player thought to be one-dimensional into a multifaceted weapon. Although the Nets lost two straight to the Clippers and Lakers on Monday and Tuesday, it was impossible to ignore Bogdanovic’s impressive performance in both games.
Against the Clippers, he scored 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting while making only one three-pointer, and against the Lakers, he scored a season-high 29 points on 11-for-18 shooting. Bogdanovic connected on 2 of 5 three-point attempts, but instead of waiting for catch-and-shoot opportunities on the perimeter, the 6-8 swingman repeatedly drove to the basket to score on six layups, one turnaround in the paint and two rim-rattling dunks, the first with authority over 7-1, 275-pound Lakers center Timofey Mozgov.
Nets fans must have asked themselves, “Who is that guy?” It definitely caught the attention of Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who is intent on developing new skills with every player.
“We’ve really emphasized him driving because you can see his size and his athleticism,” Atkinson said. “He had another dunk at the rim. We want more of that, and limit the contested shots and the tough pull-ups. He’s a better driver than I thought, but that’s a message to our team.”
You never know what you can accomplish until you try. In truth, Bogdanovic’s frustration with a recent slump from three-point range is what drove him to start charging into the paint the past two games. He’s a career 36.6-percent three-point shooter but only is hitting 32.2 percent this season.
“I’m still struggling from the three-point line, but I’m trying to be aggressive to get more to the free-throw line, to go to the basket,” Bogdanovic said after the Lakers game. “It helps me a lot. First of all, I’m a shooter, but now, I’m struggling a lot. So I’m trying to use my athleticism and my mid-range shots.”
Nets assistant Chris Fleming flew to Europe last summer to start working with Bogdanovic on the Nets’ training regimen while he was practicing with the Croatian national team, and that work continues on almost a daily basis.
“I am working really hard with assistant coaches on both hands, left and right, finishing,” Bogdanovic said. “I just want to try to find my way to help teammates, and I am struggling from long range. So, that’s maybe the only way with rebounds and my defense to help the team.”
Defense and Bogdanovic are two words that don’t necessarily go together. But Atkinson is pleased with the energy Bogdanovic has brought to the defensive end even if the results haven’t always been there.
The key is that, by moving constantly in the Nets’ motion offense and staying active on defense, Bogdanovic is tapping skills that previously lay dormant when he was a stand-alone shooter. His scoring average is up to 14.9 points and he’s making 56.7 percent of his two-point shot attempts with an effective field-goal percentage (including points from threes) of 52.8 percent.
Although Bogdanovic agrees he’s working to become “a more complete player,” he insists the Nets aren’t trying to change his identity. Told that it sounds as if his pride in his three-point shot has been wounded recently, Bogie smiled and said, “I mean, I know I am, let’s say, good shooter. So I hope I will start to knock down those shots.”