New Wiz­ard must learn fast

Bog­danovic was ready to leave Nets but will have to be a quick study

The Washington Post Sunday - - HOCKEY - BY CAN­DACE BUCK­NER can­dace.buck­ner@wash­post.com

As Bo­jan Bog­danovic ex­pe­ri­enced the mind-numb­ing drone of de­feats this sea­son while play­ing with the Brook­lyn Nets, he looked to­ward the fu­ture.

Even as Brook­lyn hit the base­ment of the East­ern Con­fer­ence standings with a thud — the Nets didn’t record their ninth win un­til late Jan­uary — Bog­danovic be­lieved that he would be play­ing mean­ing­ful bas­ket­ball in the spring. It’s why he held off from book­ing a sea­son-end­ing es­cape to an ex­otic lo­cale. Bog­danovic hoped his late-April cal­en­dar would have him oth­er­wise oc­cu­pied with the NBA play­offs — a wish granted Wed­nes­day when the Wash­ing­ton Wizards made the deal that saved Bog­danovic’s sea­son and, hope­fully, their own bench.

“I was kind of ready to go some­where,” Bog­danovic said Fri­day be­fore his Wizards de­but. “I’m happy that I’m go­ing to ex­tend my sea­son through the play­offs.”

The Wizards (34-22), who jet­ti­soned An­drew Nichol­son, Mar­cus Thorn­ton and their firstround pick in June’s draft for Bog­danovic, looked out of sorts Fri­day night in their first game with their re­con­fig­ured ros­ter. In a 120-112 loss at Philadel­phia, Bog­danovic, who av­er­aged 14 points per game as a starter in Brook­lyn, could muster only two points as the Wizards were outscored by 14 points while he was on the floor.

Some grow­ing pains were ex­pected for Bog­danovic, a 27-yearold Croa­t­ian in his third NBA sea­son, with his new team. But with only 26 games re­main­ing un­til the post­sea­son, the Wizards will need Bog­danovic, as well as re­ac­ti­vated cen­ter Ian Mahinmi, to con­trib­ute quickly to their sec­ond unit.

“We don’t have too much time,” Wizards guard John Wall said af­ter Fri­day’s loss. “In the free flow of the game, you have to fig­ure it out. I know it’s tough be­cause Bo­jan has been here for one day, ba­si­cally shoot-around and that’s it. I think he’ll do a great job of fig­ur­ing it out. He’s go­ing to be a great piece for us.”

Bog­danovic said he was “con­fused a lit­tle bit” af­ter go­ing through the Wizards’ trove of of­fen­sive sets for the first time. The team will dis­cover soon enough whether he is a quick study, but Bog­danovic has al­ready proved to be a well-rounded ath­lete. Grow­ing up in Croa­tia, Bog­danovic played soccer while also com­pet­ing in the coun­try’s sec­ond-high­est divi­sion for wa­ter polo. Had he not grown so tall, Bog­danovic could have been an Olympian in a dif­fer­ent sport. But at 15, he fo­cused on bas­ket­ball. Soon af­ter, he turned pro­fes­sional.

“We al­ways had to pre­pare for him,” said Wizards rookie To­mas Sa­toran­sky, who re­mem­bers chal­leng­ing Bog­danovic’s na­tional teams in Euro­pean tour­na­ments. “He’s a guy who can get emo­tional, like all of Croa­t­ians. Just a great player. Great scorer.”

When think­ing back to their time to­gether on the Croa­t­ian na­tional team, Philadel­phia rookie Dario Saric can’t re­call his friend and team­mate ever go­ing through a shoot­ing slump.

“He’s a shooter who has never had a bad day,” said Saric, who scored 20 points Fri­day night. “The Wash­ing­ton Wizards got a really good player . . . . I know he wanted an op­por­tu­nity to go on a win­ning team that can go to the play­offs be­cause with the Nets, it’s a bad sit­u­a­tion.”

In Wash­ing­ton, Bog­danovic has found day­light — but it comes with the re­quire­ment that he adapt in what could be­come an evolv­ing role. Dur­ing his de­but, Bog­danovic came off the bench with less than four min­utes to play in the first quar­ter to re­lieve power for­ward Marki­eff Mor­ris in a move to counter Philadel­phia’s lineup. Coach Scott Brooks en­vi­sions Bog­danovic play­ing along­side Otto Porter Jr. on other nights — some­times in the two and three spots or with Porter at the four.

That tan­dem should give Wash­ing­ton am­ple spac­ing be­cause both ex­cel be­hind the three-point arc (Bog­danovic av­er­ages 35 per­cent; Porter leads the NBA at 46.1) and are fluid switch­ing on the de­fen­sive end. Bog­danovic can also swing to the two spot, fi­nally giv­ing Bradley Beal a vet­eran backup to ease his min­utes. On Fri­day, Beal led all play­ers by log­ging 41 min­utes.

“The min­utes are there to be had,” Brooks said. “We’ve got Bo­jan com­ing in and we feel that he’s a really good player, and I’m ex­cited to have him and to keep work­ing with him, but guys got to step up. Fo­cus [was] our is­sue [Fri­day] night. It’s just dis­ap­point­ing that we didn’t have that fo­cus.

“No one’s giv­ing any­one min­utes,” Brooks con­tin­ued. “Our sec­ond unit is go­ing to have to fight for those in prac­tice and fight for those with their min­utes on the floor.”

How­ever, the Wizards saw only glimpses of what their remixed sec­ond unit could be in Philadel­phia. As the team fell into a dou­ble-digit deficit, Brooks de­pended more on the starters to work out of the hole. Mahinmi, who re­cently re­turned to the lineup af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a knee pro­ce­dure, played just seven min­utes in the first half be­fore sit­ting the rest of the game be­cause of back stiff­ness. On Saturday, Mahinmi par­tic­i­pated in prac­tice and showed no lim­i­ta­tions.

Af­ter Saturday’s prac­tice, Bog­danovic stayed on the far end of the court and drilled through the of­fen­sive sets with the younger play­ers. More than hav­ing him study past games on video, Brooks would rather Bog­danovic learn while do­ing and even threw him into plays with the starters. The reps and ex­tra work are key with so lit­tle time to pick up a new of­fense against the tick­ing clock of the sea­son.

“We want him on the court and to see the guys and build a chem­istry with the guys he’ll be play­ing with,” Brooks said.

“No­body cares — other than us. So we’ve got to fig­ure out how to do it quickly as we can while the games are be­ing played, and the games aren’t go­ing to come any eas­ier.”

MATT SLOCUM/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bo­jan Bog­danovic scored just two points and was a mi­nus-14 in his Wizards de­but Fri­day, a 120-112 loss to the 76ers in Philadel­phia.

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