New Wizard must learn fast
Bogdanovic was ready to leave Nets but will have to be a quick study
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.”
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.