Veteran Forward May Be Putting Up Nice Numbers, But Atkinson Doesn't Trust Him Yet When It Matters

By Steve Lichtenstein
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In a year where the term “fact” has become open to interpretation in the national news, please indulge me while I similarly destruct certain claims related to matters of far less importance.

You see, basketball statistics may be facts, but they can often obscure reality.

When it comes to Nets wing Bojan Bogdanovic, there’s no denying that the 27-year-old from Croatia is averaging 15.2 points per game this season, the third-highest on the team. In the Nets’ 107-97 home victory over the sagging Lakers on Wednesday, he dropped a game-high 23 points in 29 minutes. He shot 6-for-13 from the floor, including 3-for-7 from behind the 3-point line, and connected on 8 of his 10 free throws.

The “facts” suggest he had some game, huh?

Only if you didn’t watch it.

What does it say about Bogdanovic that, for the second tight contest in a row, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson went with Joe Harris over Bogdanovic for most of the end-game possessions? Bogdanovic played just a little over two of the final eight minutes, mostly in offense/defense rotations with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. This after he saw only six seconds of fourth-quarter time during Brooklyn’s 122-118 near-miracle in Houston on Monday night.

“I think it’s a feel — I think Joe’s playing really well and Bojan’s playing well and it’s always a tough decision,” Atkinson said in reference to why he has been relying on Harris to close recent games. “We have a bunch of wings — we have a little bit of a logjam right now. We’ve kind of played it like who’s playing well is going to stay in there, so I think it’s nothing permanent.”

So, according to Atkinson, Harris, who shot 3-for-10 in 26 minutes against the Lakers, was having a better game going than the leading scorer?

Atkinson happened to be correct in his conclusion, if you look past the “facts” on the stat sheet. There are reasons why Atkinson trusts Harris in these situations more than Bogdanovic.

The problem with Bogdanovic is that for every point he scores, he does at least equivalent damage in the other aspects of the game. His subpar defense, his penchant for getting stripped, and his inability to just “get after it” are all usually negative contributions when it comes to the Nets winning basketball games.

For example, there were numerous sequences on Wednesday where Bogdanovic seemingly had the advantage in securing a loose ball, only to see a more energetic Laker snatch it away. Los Angeles missed a ton of shots, yet the 6-foot-8 Bogdanovic grabbed only three defensive rebounds, or as many offensive rebounds as Luol Deng, his assigned Laker at his position, procured. Unfortunately, no one keeps track of the impact of his negligence on the defensive end or from live-ball turnovers.

I have brought these deficiencies to your attention several times during Bogdanovic’s two prior seasons in Brooklyn. I have always believed he was the Net most in need of a change in scenery.

(In the interim, I must give him credit for his excellent showing at the Olympics this past summer and for how he has worked to improve on his ability to penetrate defenses. I no longer faint when he drives left and finishes with his off hand).

The reason I am now regurgitating this topic is because Dec. 15 is kind of an important date on NBA calendars. Not only is it the cutoff for the owners and players to opt out of their collective bargaining agreement, which both parties just agreed to extend until January in the wake of Wednesday’s announcement of a tentative deal, but it’s also the first day the multitude of players who signed free agent contracts over the summer can be traded.

That means you can count on a little over two months of rumors emanating from the “House of Brooklyn,” where general manager Sean Marks likely has “For Sale” signs ready to adorn many of his players’ jerseys until the Feb. 23 deadline. With a record of 7-17, the Nets know they need to trade whatever assets they have today if it can help to build a better tomorrow.

One of those players must be Bogdanovic, who is in the final year of the mini mid-level exception contract he signed prior to the 2014-15 season.

In theory, that should make him easier to move. His $3.5 million salary is not too exorbitant to fit under the salary cap (even with his 15 percent trade kicker) and he will have a reasonable $6.8 million cap hold when he enters restricted free agency next summer.

Marks will still have to give it a hard sell.

It could go something like this: “Here’s a player perfect for a contending team looking for a perimeter shooter at the wing to come off the bench. He’s making 54.5 percent of his 3-pointers from the corner! He scored 44 points in a game last season! Great value, and it will only cost you a heavily protected first-round pick, someone who isn’t going to help you win in the near-term anyway.”

Marks will have to pitch Bogdanovic as the shiny new object who can help a team change games with his specific skill set. That sounds familiar, but I’m hoping it will work against smart NBA executives the way it succeeded in a certain other marketing campaign.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1