One of the major surprise packages in this NBA season has been the Indiana Pacers. Many predicted them to finish in NBA oblivion after letting Paul George go, but they find themselves with a serious chance at getting home advantage in a very competitive Eastern Conference. Victor Oladipo has received the majority of the credit for this retool in Indiana being a huge success, but other players such as Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic deserve recognition for their efforts too.
In their last ten games, Indiana has appeared to hit a slight bump in the road, largely because of the fact Collison has missed a fair amount of time, but the man who has managed to make sure their offensive struggles did not become a huge problem is Bojan Bogdanovic. The Croatian has been an inconsistent player since entering the NBA, with his problems in Brooklyn he could turn from an enigma to irrelevant in back-to-back nights. These problems have somewhat followed him to Indiana, but in the last ten games, he has simply been immense, averaging 18 points per game on 53/49/90 shooting splits. In addition to being efficient, he has stepped up in crunch time, meaning that his performances are not really going under the radar.
One of my favorite things about the Indiana Pacers is how well they use screens, and Bojan Bogdanovic has no doubt fitted into this philosophy seamlessly. When he was traded to the Washington Wizards last year, Scott Brooks used him as a spot-up shooter and saw him as the sixth man, which meant he played the majority of his minutes as an individual in Scott Brooks’ relatively bland system. Indiana plays a more team-oriented style of ball, and it is very clear Bogdanovic has fit-in well. He spends the majority of his time playing off the ball and is at his best playing off-screen, or moving around as a spot up shooter, as opposed to just standing in the corner waiting.
The play below is a perfect example of Bojan Bogdanovic fitting what Indiana likes to do on offense. Cory Joseph sets a back screen, and the threat of Joseph moving to the three-point line creates an opportunity to be decisive. The Croatian’s decisiveness has sometimes translated into him being a shot chucker, but Indiana’s scheme puts him in situations where his split-second decisions lead to easy shots, which is the definition of efficient basketball. Bogdanovic was actually more efficient in Washington than he got credit for, but because Brooks asked him to create as an individual, it led to up-and-down play, especially in the playoffs. Nate McMillan’s offense is a much better fit with his skill set:
The play below is another way the Pacers optimize their wings, and it is so simple. The Pacers run this look for Bogdanovic at least once a game. The threat of Bogdanovic as a spot-up guy is so great that teams over-commit to stopping it, leaving the curl option open. It is simple basketball that doesn’t require a lot of effort or skill from the wing player, but it is yet another example of Nate McMillan knowing Bogdanovic’s strengths and weaknesses, and optimizing them to the maximum:
One of the issues Bogdanovic repeatedly had in Brooklyn was that he was seen as the main man on the offensive side of the ball, and this essentially gave him the license to roam free and turn into a high volume, low percentage player. Nate McMillan’s system requires him to be very disciplined, but by using screens, he creates opportunities for Bogdanovic to showcase his talent, which is there in abundance.
The play below is perhaps my favorite of the Pacers ten-game run. Victor Oladipo sets a back screen, and as Bogdanovic moves from it, the Wizards rotate a help defender over, which momentarily leaves Thaddeus Young open. The Pacers really should have launched the ball into Young, but instead, they miss their opportunity. However, they reset the action with a fake handoff, and Bogdanovic showcases his confidence by knocking down a tough corner three with a defender in his face. This individual play summarises the excellent play of Bogdanovic in this ten game run, and how he has become a go-to-guy for the Indiana Pacers which is essential as Victor Oladipo has struggled from downtown in this run, shooting below 30 percent:
In the grand scheme of things, Bojan Bogdanovic’s form is welcome for the Pacers, as it means that Victor Oladipo is not necessarily required to keep up his unbelievable form from before the all-star break. Before Bogdanovic caught fire, the Indiana Pacers were looking like the sort of team that could struggle to make noise in the post-season, a team powered by a high usage guard with little individual help in half-court situations. The play of Bogdanovic is not only legit, but it is here to stay, and this makes the Pacers a serious dark horse in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
It must be noted that in the last ten games the Pacers have struggled offensively, but that is mainly because Darren Collison was out, and he has been a pleasant surprise in Indiana too. With his return, the Pacers can push on and lock up home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Indiana was a good team even before Bogdanovic hit form, but his versatility on offense makes him the wild-card in this team, and he could be the difference between a first-round exit and a hard-fought second-round series with someone such as the Raptors or the Celtics.
The Croatian clearly knows what people thought of him, as after the win against the Bucks on March 5th, Bogdanovic said:
‘You’ve got to believe always in yourself and your teammates. I know most of the league didn’t. … This is their problem.’
The Pacers wing does not play with a chip on his shoulder, however, as when he was asked if the Pacers were opening eyes up around the NBA, he didn’t seem to care much and he brushed the question off. And in all honesty, that is part of what makes this Pacers team great, they do not chase stats, they just play team ball.
Nate McMillan’s style of coaching and his insistence on discipline on both sides of the ball has created a controlled sort of chaos in the game of Bojan Bogdanovic, and controlled chaos can be dangerous in the post-season. His emergence as a reliable option for the Indiana Pacers makes both himself and the team must more dangerous throughout the remainder of the season.