There's something different when you watch Bojan Bogdanovic of the Croatian national team than when you watch Bojan Bogdanovic of the Brooklyn Nets.
You see a different player in all facets of the game. You see a difference in his role, passion, and character... one that possesses a confidence and swagger rarely seen when he's wearing the black and-white. They all seem to go hand in hand.
The potential is there. His desire to be great is there. His love for the game is there. Now it's about translating it to the NBA game in what might be his best opportunity since joining the Nets in the 2014-2015 season.
Bogdanovic is having a nice run in FIBA play as Croatia continues to shock the world with three upsets over Greece, Italy and Sunday night, Spain. Bogdanovic scored 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 3-of-8 from deep to go with three rebounds, two assists and one block in 36 minutes.
It's not that surprising if you have been following Bogdanovic through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, where he averaged 25 points a game to get Croatia to Rio. That amounted to one-third of the points Croatia scored in the tournament. After the clinching overtime game vs. Italy, Dario Saric said, "Bojan is our best player."
His impressive play on the big stage caught some eyes.
The most polished I have seen Bojan Bogdanovic play on the offensive end. Confidence and comfort level for the 27 year-old.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) August 7, 2016
Love that Bojan Bogdanovic is Kevin Durant in international play.— Chris Towers (@CTowersCBS) August 7, 2016
Said Spanish broadcaster TVE, "Sensational Bogdanovic led Croatia to a breakthrough."
This season will be the biggest opportunity of his NBA career thus far. Sean Marks has expressed his desire to find European talent, essentially seeking a diamond in the rough.
But do they already have a diamond in the rough in Bogie? He seems to fit the criteria of what sort of player they're looking to find and strike gold. They obviously think so. During the build-up to the qualifying tournament, the Nets sent assistant coach Chris Fleming to Croatia to talk with Bogdanovic.
"It’s important for me that Chris came to Zagreb, that Nets sent him there," said Bogdanovic back in June. "That’s proof for me that Nets have big plans for me in next season. We talked a lot what I should improve in my game. He said me how to be more consistent in spot up shooting coming from screens. Also, I should post up more, because I did that a lot in Europe, but not in NBA."
There are reasons to believe things will change.
1. Joe Johnson is gone.
And Bogdanovic will finally get the minutes he needs in order to make an impact. Prior to Johnson's departure, Bogdanovic averaged 10.4 points in nearly 26 minutes per game. But in the final 25 games of the season without Johnson, his numbers spiked to 15.2 points in 28 minutes. He also shot 42 percent from deep. The ball was in his hands more, and the ball found his hands more often.
2. There's a new coach and new system in place...
... Which means Bogdanovic should benefit from Kenny Atkinson's desire to move the ball, rather than Lionel Hollins' complacent offensive sets that often saw Bogdanovic camped out on the perimeter and placed into isolation situations with the shot clock running down.
His three-point percentage spiked from 32 percent under Hollins to 42 percent under Tony Brown, who turned the Nets into a much better three-point shooting team with just a little tweak in the offense. He averaged 12.6 points under Brown after 9.5 under Hollins.
Perhaps if the ball moves as well as Atkinson hopes, Bogdanovic should benefit. Not to mention, if they give him a chance to do things where he thrives in the European game, such as posting up, he can really benefit from a new system and coach.
3. Confidence has always been an issue...
... But under the new regime and new development tactics, the Nets are all about building guys up. "We've also got to make it where he enjoys coming in the gym... We're not going to criticize him for every mistake he makes," Kenny Atkinson said of newcomer Anthony Bennett at the introductory press conference on July 22. "He's a guy we've got to build up his confidence, and if he misses two straight corner 3s, take the next one."
It's that culture change we keep hearing about. It might not necessarily be about Bojan, but that's the same positive attitude he needs in order to sustain confidence and remain consistent.
4. Patience and development is all part of the rebuilding process...
... And he should take advantage of the situation. The Nets showed commitment to Allen Crabbe, who would've likely started in place of Bogdanovic, but since Portland decided to match, he should be able to solidify a role as a starter... and scorer.
Other than Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin, there aren't many guys that are capable of putting the ball in the hoop. Bogdanovic has shown signs of brilliance on the offensive end, most notably a 44-point game on March 15 against the Philadelphia 76ers. His defense is suspect, but he'll have guys like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to help band-aid the wound on that side of the ball.
Long story short, Atkinson doesn't have many guys to turn to. Bogdanovic will be one of them.
5. He's playing in his contract year.
He's ready for the big payday in the new NBA. He came over to the NBA for the Mini-MLE, which paid a little over $3.3 million per year and his third year will be up after the 2016-2017 season. Allen Crabbe just received $75 million over four years and he's averaged similar numbers this past season. Granted, he's younger than Bogdanovic and has different skills. Crabbe's contract, as Mike Mazzeo pointed out, may serve as motivation.
Bojan Bogdanovic is going into a contract year and the #Nets wanted to give Allen Crabbe $75 million to start at shooting guard. Motivation?— Mike Mazzeo (@MazzESPN) August 8, 2016
Not all things will be so positive, though...
As mentioned, his defense is awfully suspect and this can become a major problem if Kenny Atkinson is going to depend on a defensive-savvy team he AND Sean Marks hope to have now and in the future.
Furthermore, if Bogdanovic can excel on a consistent basis this season, will he become trade bait for the Nets around the trade deadline? He'll cost them a lot of money they may not want to spend come next off-season. They certainly will be tempted.
He seems to fit the criteria of what they're looking for during this draft pick twilight zone they find themselves in. But nobody seems to be safe. He does want to stay. In fact, he criticized ESPN for its despairing critiques of the Nets.
"I think ESPN is wrong. Brooklyn will have new coach, new coaching staff. Maybe we’ll get some good free agent. I believe we will contend for playoffs next year," said Bogdanovic, noting that last season, "We had a lot of problems. Coaching changes, the Jarrett Jack injury, the Joe Johnson departure…"
It's premature to decide in the moment, but it's also pretty simple. His fate this season (and future with the Nets) could very well depend on whether we see the passionate, star-studded leader for Croatia, or the inconsistent role player we've seen in Brooklyn.