Amid a myriad of injuries, the Hawks have benefited from a stabilizing force in the backcourt.
Much was made of the Atlanta Hawks’ 2020 offseason. Travis Schlenk and the front office spent significant funds to fix their chronic depth issue, acquiring veterans Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and Rajon Rondo — who eventually became Lou Williams and two second-round picks — to go along with Tony Snell and Solomon Hill to bolster their roster from top to bottom. For much of the 14-20 stretch Atlanta suffered through at the beginning of the season, however, the Hawks struggled to integrate all of these pieces.
Injury was the biggest factor in Atlanta’s inability to mesh their promising young core with their cast of mercenary veterans early in the season. In those first 34 games that spanned from late December to early March, doubling as the last 34 games Lloyd Pierce would coach the Hawks, almost every single new addition to the roster, including the No. 6 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Onyeka Okongwu, would miss significant time. No one missed more time than Bogdanovic, however. Bogdanovic was obviously supposed to be the biggest immediate addition to the roster (outside of Clint Capela, who was already on the roster but just hadn’t played for Atlanta yet until this season) after signing a four-year, $72 million contract with the Hawks in restricted free agency in November.
Both injury and a lack of chemistry seemed to hamper Bogdanovic’s ability to produce in his first nine-game stint with the team. In that first stretch, he averaged just 9.9 points per game in 23.7 minutes per. He shot just 38.5% from the floor and 36.2% from 3PT. His numbers were down across the board, and he wound up missing 25 games with an avulsion fracture and bone bruise in his right knee.
Coincidentally, Bogdanovic made his return to the lineup on March 2, which was Nate McMillan’s first game as interim head coach following the firing of Pierce. He played just 15 minutes, which this season is often the standard for the Hawks when their players return from a long absence due to injury. He was in a period of conditioning and figuring out how to fit in with the team when he returned. A coaching change, and never really getting acclimated with the group before going out in the first place left the wing sharpshooter in the position of trying to figure out what his role was on the team nearly halfway through the season, and that led to rumors swirling that he could have been traded before the trade deadline in late March.
In the week leading up to that March 25 deadline, Bogdanovic began to click. He had 23 points (9-for-14 from the floor) and six rebounds in a home win vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 20, then 20 points in a close loss vs. his former team, the Sacramento Kings, on March 24. After that loss in Sacramento, the wing commented on his grind of getting to form and trying to fit in with a new team.
“I’ve been working hard every single day, I know I haven’t found my rhythm of consecutive games.” said Bogdanovic. “I’m looking myself in the mirror every single morning, I know maybe I didn’t play the way everyone expected. I know I can do it better. I’m going to keep working and I’ll do it better.”
No lies detected.
Since March 30, Bogdanovic has averaged 21.9 PTS (63% TS, 48.7% FG, 48.6% 3PT, 9.0 3PT attempts per game), 4.5 REB. 4.4 AST, 1.5 STL, a team-leading 36.5 minutes, and has a +5.7 net rating. The Hawks are 10-6 in this stretch despite Trae Young missing six of those games, John Collins and Snell missing nine, and Gallinari missing eight, on top of De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish being unavailable on the wing for the entirety of that stretch.
He has been a stabilizing force for Atlanta offensively, providing the creation and aggressiveness the Hawks have been looking for. It’s no secret that outside of Young, the Hawks have struggled to generate offense. Bogdanovic, along with other players such as Williams and Brandon Goodwin, have been able to hold down the fort when Young is either off the floor, or out entirely due to injury like he has been for the past couple games.
Per PBPStats.com, the Hawks have a +2.7 net rating across 510 minutes when Bogdanovic is on the floor and Young is off. Bogdanovic ability to create shots for himself has been an extraordinary valuable trait for the club, and has been an integral part of the overall turnaround for the team. He’s had the assistance of Williams and Goodwin in terms of handling and distributing the basketball in the absence of Young, but night-in, night-out, Bogdanovic has been carrying an immense scoring load out of the starting lineup over this recent surge in both efficiency and volume.
Bogdanovic looks like he will be the long-term answer in the backcourt next to Young after all, as he’s shown both the ability to survive on the floor without him — largely due to his fantastic pull-up shooting and feel — as well as play next to the budding star guard. Bogdanovic has converted 43.2% of his catch-and-shoot three-pointers this season (5.2 such attempts per game), and provides solid defense on the wing in most matchups.
Hunter and Capela are both under contract as well, so it’s easy to envision a core of Young, Bogdanovic, Hunter and Capela being an effective group on each end of the floor. The looming restricted free agency of John Collins is a notoriously huge question mark, but heading into the offseason it feels like Atlanta can feel good about those four that are under contract regardless of what happens with the talented young power forward. Ideally, Collins would be back and they would have a lethal, versatile five-man lineup.
Atlanta’s goal for the remainder of this season will obviously be to get Young into the lineup and ideally mesh this version of Bogdanovic with him on the court in an effort to create an extremely dangerous scoring tandem for the postseason. The gravity of Young and the Bogdanovic of late could be enough to cripple opposing defenses, not to mention the Hawks’ immense inside presence. In a season that has consisted of the utmost uncertainty in terms of availability for players across the league, the Hawks have navigated a period of injury crisis and find themselves in good position in the standings as the postseason nears.