This past summer was filled with uncertainty and unwarranted hope for the Nets.
The strategy was to get under the cap, but somehow form a team that could prove analytics and pundits wrong. The hope was that they would "gel" on the court. It was a team made up of players fighting for their careers, coated around the duo of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young.
With that being said, some of the guys surrounding the two were forced to step up. Expectations on players, namely Bojan Bogdanovic, were lifted.
They had to be.
Because... who else would step up?
"We also have high expectations for Bojan Bogdanovic, who showed us real flashes of brilliance in his first year on the Nets," Mikhail Prokhorov said in a two-minute pre-season message to the fans.
Team officials believed that Bogdanovic's second year was likely to be a big improvement and that he would smoothly transition from the European game to the NBA game and from Europe to the United States.
He also talked briefly about retaining "Brook and Thaddeus," which will help continuity and keeping Joe Johnson as part of the "core." Inevitable things were hinted before the season even happened.
For the Nets, the "core" wasn't working with Joe. For Joe, the "core" and Nets' new direction wasn't working for him. He's meant to be in a playoff situation that allows him to adapt into a role, especially in the big moments.
The Nets miss it, but he was playing big minutes over the young guys like Bogdanovic, who'd been taken out of the starting lineup and had easily fallen short of the expectations placed on him. Things have changed in favor of the new direction.
Markel Brown and even Wayne Ellington have shown the ability to be decent role players.
Sean Kilpatrick is making Sean Marks look like a smart man -- his first signing since taking over as GM. Kilpatrick is averaging close to 14 points per game since signing a 10-day contract.
But Bojan Bogdanovic sticks out the most.
It reminds you of how he should've been playing this entire season since Tony Brown took over and instilled a freer offence. Bojan's excelled and his confidence/consistency doesn't seem to be as much of an issue as it was with Hollins.
(Credit: Andres B)
The numbers speak loud and clear. His average of 12.3 points on 43 percent from 3-point seemed like fair expectations before the season. The 3-point percentage is certainly exceeding those expectations a tad, but even the Nets as a whole have fixed their deep game.
Since February 1st, the Nets are first in the NBA at 42 percent.
Things get even more impressive when you examine the numbers since Joe Johnson was bought-out. It's a much smaller sample size of 10 games, but the numbers spike up as minutes and field goal attempts (per 36 minutes) increase. Coincidence?
Bogdanovic scored a career-high 44 points and tied Drazen Petrovic for the most points ever scored by a foreign-born Net. His career-high before that was 28 points in the final game of last season.
I questioned his consistency and whether he could sustain it against a tougher team like the Chicago Bulls the following night. He dropped 26 points, two short of his previous career-high.
"I feel good, but I feel bad right now because we lost this lead we had in the first half (at Toronto), but re: my game, I'm starting and getting a lot of minutes right now with Joe Johnson gone like you said, and have to be aggressive on both on defense and offense."
Bogdanovic even praised Interim Coach Tony Brown; former assistant to Lionel Hollins who mentioned earlier in the season that he too is working for the own sake of his own future.
"Tony was with us last year as an assistant for Lionel. So we know him well. He is a good coach and an even better person."
The Nets were 10-27 under Lionel Hollins; 9-22 under Tony Brown. That's not too bad for someone who didn't have some of the talent that Lionel had, namely Jarrett Jack, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - and Joe Johnson for at least 1/3 of his tenure.
Sean Marks needed to strategize and evaluate talent, and Tony Brown was forced to make the most out of it. They're both doing a great job in doing so. And as a result, Bogdanovic is reaping the benefits. In February, he's averaging 18.7 points on 42 percent from 3-point in 32 minutes. He's scored in double figures in eight of the last 10.
Nobody's calling Bogie a star, but with his stellar offensive play in a fitting system, he's proving to be a valuable asset for the future.
All it took was giving him a fair chance.