By Steve Lichtenstein
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When you’re a fan of a team whose season is as lost as the Nets’ right now, the only reason to pay attention is to try to gauge which players might prove worthwhile to hold on to for the future.
Of course, this being such a cursed franchise, two possible candidates — rookie wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and third-year point guard Shane Larkin — are currently unavailable thanks to the dreaded injury bug.
Hollis-Jefferson’s ailment, a broken bone in his right ankle that is expected to keep him out for approximately eight more weeks, has opened the door for another player to work himself back into the organization’s good graces.
Bojan Bogdanovic replaced Hollis-Jefferson in the starting lineup during the Nets’ six-game homestand that concluded with a 104-98 loss to Miami on Wednesday night.
In my eyes, the change couldn’t be more detrimental to the on-court product.
While Hollis-Jefferson is a bundle of energy, impacting games with hustle plays, Bogdanovic’s attitude appears to be more, “Meh … someone else will get it.”
Though I doubt Bogdanovic has much trade value, I’m hoping the Nets might be able to find a team that believes he can thrive in the right situation. So long as they aren’t too picky when discussing considerations.
The Nets always talk about getting younger and more athletic. The 26-year old Croatian doesn’t fit into either category.
Wednesday’s performance pretty much summarized what we’ve seen from Bogdanovic over his season-plus in Brooklyn.
Bogdanovic was absolutely brutalized by the Heat’s Dwyane Wade on the defensive end. Wade poured in 12 of his game-high 28 points on just seven field-goal attempts in the first quarter. He then scored 10 more points on only six shots over the final six minutes of the game to help Miami pull out the victory.
The way Wade made Bogdanovic look silly with his multiple fakes and step-throughs, it seemed unfair. On one referee’s whistle, I was hoping they would step in and stop the fight.
It got so bad that Nets coach Lionel Hollins tried rapidly-aging veteran Joe Johnson on Wade for a few possessions down the stretch. That didn’t work either, as Wade got open in the lane to sink a short floater that put the Heat up, 103-98, with 43 seconds remaining.
“I come out aggressive every game,” Wade said. “I don’t worry about who’s guarding me or who’s not guarding me. It’s just the feel of the game. I got the opportunity to get some shots going early on. Some nights they go in and some nights they don’t.”
Hollins will take a lot of heat (no pun intended) for allowing 24 seconds to be run off the clock without fouling on Miami’s next possession with the Nets still down by five. Hollins told the media he wanted someone to commit a foul, but none of his players, including Bogdanovic, who looked back at Hollins three times while Wade was dribbling, said they heard him or instinctively knew that it was necessary to foul in order to extend the game.
But while that lack of communication certainly looks bad on him, what lost the game was Hollins not adjusting to give Bogdanovic help on Wade.
“You could decide to go double him (Wade) and hopefully he passes it,” Hollins said of his defensive options. “But even when he did that, (Justise) Winslow hit a 3 and (Goran) Dragic hit a 3 earlier and that puts a little bit of caution in trying to go down there and just double-team him and taking the ball out of his hands.”
Of course, the bigger issue for the Nets is that Hollins just doesn’t have a bevy of NBA-level defenders on his roster who he could go to, especially with Hollis-Jefferson out. It says quite a bit that on most nights the 34-year-old Johnson is tasked with guarding the opposition’s top wing scorer.
In the short term, the hope has been that Bogdanovic produces enough on the other end to make his lousy defense somewhat palatable.
But even there Bogdanovic falls short.
Just because Bogdanovic is European, it doesn’t necessarily mean he is lights out from long range. At best he has the ability to maintain his league-average (around 35 percent) 3-point efficiency.
During Monday’s telecast of the Nets’ loss to Orlando, YES commentator Mike Fratello showed replays of two of Bogdanovic’s 3-point attempts. On the first one, Fratello noted how it looked like an old-school set shot. The second attempt was more contested, which caused Bogdanovic to lean back a bit, resulting in a miss.
Bogdanovic has made 46.3 percent of his 3s this season when the nearest defender is six feet or more from him, according to NBA.com. Yet his cumulative catch-and-shoot 3-point rate is a rather mediocre 34.7 percent.
To put that in perspective, Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore, who plays the same position and role in the offensive scheme as Bogdanovic and takes approximately the same number of 3-pointers per game in similar playing time, has converted 51.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s this season.
The reason I have focused on that particular stat is that Bogdanovic is also a poor ballhandler. He doesn’t create his own shot off the dribble, nor does he excel in finding open looks for his teammates (his assist-to-turnover ratio is less than 1).
A very typical sequence occurred with less than five minutes remaining and the Nets trailing by eight. Bogdanovic drove into the paint, only to be stripped by Dragic. On Miami’s ensuing possession, Wade had Bogdanovic isolated on the left side and doze him with a crossover, giving him ample room to drain a mid-range jump shot. Bogdanovic just raised his arms in a half-hearted attempt to contest.
With the 7-18 Nets going nowhere, I get that it makes sense to give Bogdanovic a longer look. So much was expected from him when the Nets acquired his rights at the 2011 draft and then waited for his Euro League contract to expire before signing him two summers ago to a three-year, $10.3 million contract using their mini mid-level exception.
While it took some time for Bogdanovic to acclimate himself to the speed of the NBA game as well as the different ball and 3-point distance, by the end of his rookie season he stepped up to average 17.4 points per game on 55 percent shooting, including 51.3 percent from deep, over the final seven games of the Nets’ playoff push.
A rough Eurobasket tournament over the summer in which Bogdanovic suffered an ankle injury and a concussion set him back in training camp and he lost his opportunity to earn a spot in the starting lineup. He has since been in and out of Hollins’ doghouse, particularly during the last two weeks of November when he averaged just 3.5 points per game over an eight-game span. In that period, he misfired on 30 of 40 field-goal attempts (including 17 of 20 3-pointers). Bogdanovic blamed his poor performance on everything from inconsistent minutes to a lack of aggressiveness.
Now Bogdanovic has no more excuses. He is getting plenty of playing time and opportunities to be featured on both ends.
I’m betting that it will only prove that he isn’t good enough to be a keeper.
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