After a second consecutive disappointing playoff exit, the Milwaukee Bucks had to make some huge moves in order to not only freshen things up on the court, but to try and keep Giannis Antetokounmpo with the franchise. Last night, General Manager Jon Horst delivered on his promises to Giannis. Eric Bledsoe and George Hill were shipped out to bring Jrue Holiday to the franchise. Holiday is a similar level defender to Bledsoe but his offense projects to be a better fit alongside Giannis due to him being a better spot-up shooter and playmaker than Bledsoe.
A few hours after the Bucks first move was announced, there was an announcement that they had acquired Bogdan Bogdanovic from the Sacramento Kings. The Serbian came over with high expectations from Europe and was hyped as a potentially franchise changing arrival for the miserable Sacramento Kings. Bogdanovic had flashes, but the Bucks will be hoping they can make the flashes more consistent, which could lead to him solidifying himself as a borderline all-star calibre player.
Bogdanovic was often utilised as a secondary scorer in Sacramento. He was most commonly used off screens and then he was either advised to shoot spot-up jumpers, or attack downhill. Bogdanovic was highly effective when defenses went underneath screens, ranking in the 83rd percentile for overall offense when teams go over screens. Bogdanovic isn’t a particularly fast player, but he possesses real craft and is a highly patient player.
Before delving into Bogdanovic’ game, it makes sense to look at why the Milwaukee Bucks coveted him. Per Half Court Hoops, the Milwaukee Bucks two most utilised actions in the playoffs were wide action, and spread pick and rolls. On the whole, Mike Budenholzer prefers his teams to master a couple of concepts and run them over and over, as opposed to run a lengthy playbook. This is why the Bucks were such an offensive juggernaut in the regular season, the players knew what they had to execute on any given night and they did so effectively.
In the series against the Miami Heat, Erik Spoelstra’s team drastically altered the Bucks shot quality. They often blitzed the Bucks ball handler out of the Bucks ‘wide’ action, which is simply a 5-out ball screen, usually set by Giannis. The aim of this action is to get some immediate separation for dribble penetration and downhill attacks. The issue the Bucks ran into against the Heat out of their core actions, is that they lacked the shooting to force the Heat to really close out hard against the guards. The play below showcases this.
The Heat easily defend one of the Bucks core actions with good switching and communication. The result is that Eric Bledsoe has to take a poor shot. The Heat are able to sag far off of him and as soon as he gets into the paint, they get tight to him. Bledsoe is a good slashing point guard but due to Giannis not having perimeter gravity, this isn’t necessarily going to trouble a good defense. It is easy to imagine the Bucks subbing Bogdanovic in for these actions, especially as he is used to coming off-screens with the Sacramento Kings.
To put it simply, the Bucks core actions are basic and with flawed players running them such as non-shooters or non-creators, great defenses can shut them down. Bledsoe is a far superior defender and driver to Bogdan Bogdanovic, but the Serbian has potential to be the three-level scorer the Bucks have desperately missed in their back to back playoff exits.
Bogdanovic’s arrival was about more than shooting. The Bucks had multiple perimeter shooters who they could utilise in their ghost, wide and spread actions. The issue was, a lot of these players were merely spot-up guys. Bogdanovic is potentially a three-level scorer, and certainly when he was at his best in Sacramento, he knew how to leverage his scoring and score at each level of the court. The key for Milwaukee will be turning these flashes into consistency.
Bogdanovic will replace Wesley Matthews in the Bucks lineup. Matthews had a great season but he was highly limited as a creator, which was not a mesh alongside a struggling Eric Bledsoe and a Giannis who was left open on the perimeter. Bogdanovic is an effective shooter, having shot 37% from beyond in each of the last two years. This is despite ranking in the 30th percentile for three-point shot quality. For some players this is down to poor shot selection. In Bogi’s case, it is more down to the fact that the Kings offense is outdated and flawed in multiple areas such as freelance decision making and spacing. I touched on this in my deep dive on the Sacramento Kings offense under Luke Walton.
The most notable skills Bogdanovic possesses in the half-court are patience and craft, the clip below shows this.
The Kings run ‘Miami’ Action, which is a handoff into a ball screen. This was one of the good things they ran somewhat consistently. Bogdanovic attacks downhill, backs into his defender which is called ‘putting your man in jail’. This makes chasedown steals and blocks more difficult and it is a good way to create space inside. He maintains control of the ball as Jaxson Hayes attempts to poke the ball away. He then plants his left foot and crosses over to his right, before nailing a floater.
Bogdanovic isn’t a naturally fast player, but he optimises his lack of speed the best he can by being patient and making subtle moves to manipulate defenders. Every player has a limitation, but those who can maximise what they do have are exceptionally important players to have on the roster.
Bogdanovic uses ball screens well, which is why many teams see secondary creator upside with him.
On this play, the Kings try and run a two-man game between Jabari Parker and Bogdanovic. Dillon Brooks is worried about Bogdanovic taking the hand-off to the baseline, so he over commits to stop that. Parker simply reverses the screen and Bogdanovic uses the space well and gets the easy finish.
There is however a legitimate concern that Bogdan Bogdanovic may struggle to be an effective player without a ball screen. This is largely because he just lacks natural speed. He is skilled enough to still be effective as a scorer, but the inconsistency could hypothetically be put down to the fact he needs a ball screen to give himself the initial separation. Once he gets this, he is largely effective. His numbers when defenders go over screens are so good because he has a variety of moves to set up pull-up jumpers and floaters.
Bogdanovic’ lack of burst means he ends up with a relatively high frequency of mid-range shots. But he does make them at a high rate. He ranked in the 93rd percentile for frequency on all mid-range attempts the past year. This once again paints the picture of Bogdanovic as being an athletically limited player, who does well to maximise the things he has to live off without his athleticism. He’s a good mid-range scorer and a subtle mover on the interior, but there are legitimate concerns over the level which he can create at without ball-screen reads or defensive mistakes.
Bogdanovic is an interesting case study for how to evaluate playmaking. As noted above, Bogdanovic plays with patience on the interior which allows him to set up spot-up shooters for looks. In the B-Ball Index’s Passing Efficiency metric, Bogdanovic ranks in the 96th percentile. He also ranks in the 98th percentile for scoring gravity. As with his scoring, Bogdanovic is a good playmaker when he gets some kind of initial separation. He can make effective dump-off passes to spot-up shooters and he knows how to maximise the fear the defense has when he gets into the mid-range areas with a defender behind him.
On the above play, Bogdanovic gets separation after initiating a give-and-go with Harry Giles after the pick-and-roll failed. He times the wraparound pass back into Giles quickly. The majority of the playmaking reads that he makes are very simple, but the better the scorer you are, the simpler the playmaking reads are. When Bogdanovic is playing well and getting good screens set, his playmaking is good. In games where he was limited to spot-up roles which were common because of how chaotic and inconsistent the Kings offensive profile was, his playmaking didn’t shine through.
Bogdanovic isn’t an elite playmaker or a guy you hand the keys of an offense to, but luckily for the Bucks he will not need to be this. The majority of his work will likely be coming off screens to shoot the ball, and reading and reacting to what the defense gives him. In a series like the one against the Heat, Bogdanovic would have given them more because he can score at two levels. Whereas Bledsoe and Matthews could only score at one respectively. Bogdanovic is an intelligent scorer and can make smart reads off screens such as on the play below.
The Kings look to set up their ‘Miami’ Action which is a hand-off into a ball screen. The Jazz see it coming so Mike Conley fronts Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles switches onto Corey Joseph. This is to deny the initial separation that a Miami action play will get. Bogdanovic recognises what is happening and passes to Bjelica and cuts back door. Counters are hard to put down to player or coaching, but given the freelance nature of the Kings offense it is fair to infer that this was a read Bogdanovic made by himself as the majority of the Kings offense is standing around not making motion cuts.
Bogdanovic isn’t a fast player but he is a decisive cutter who reads the game well when he is playing off the ball. He showcases this below in a game against the San Antonio Spurs.
Again, Sacramento looks to run their ‘Miami’ Action. Marco Belinelli tries to obstruct Bogdanovic’s path to take the hand-off so he attempts to cut backdoor. But seeing Belinelli’s poor body language, Bogdanovic recovers to the three-point line and takes a pitch pass from Yogi Ferrell at an angle where Ferrell can also set him some form of a ball screen. Bogdanovic was utilised on simple actions but he executed the majority of the counters in these respective actions very well, which increases his ceiling as a secondary creator.
It is easy to imagine Bogdanovic being a key part of the Bucks wide, ghost and spread actions. He lacks the burst to run an offense the way Luke Walton sometimes tried to get him to do so and he doesn’t put enough pressure on drop bigs to really be used in many pick-and-roll actions. This is where the lack of burst will truly hurt him. He could be more decisive at times but this isn’t necessarily the way he plays, he likes to take his time which is why he ends up with a lot of floaters and mid-range step-backs. But he does leverage this well by hitting them at a high enough clip to worry defenders.
The Serbian is a fascinating case study. He is undoubtedly a slow player, but he is intelligent, precise and patient. He will struggle to be super effective inside without a screen that gives him some form of separation. But the Bucks offense is diverse and with the fact they have two players who draw a lot of attention in Middleton and Giannis, Bogdanovic’s lack of burst could become less apparent and easier to hide. He has the right attributes to be utilised as an off-movement and off-screen shooter but the reason the Bucks will have made a trade for him is the fact he has great touch inside and offers something different to someone like Wes Matthews who can only hit stand-still jump shots.
I would expect Mike Budenholzer to insert Bogdanovic into a lot of the actions the Bucks already run and just try and simplify his usage. He is simply too inconsistent to allow to run large parts of the offense. The floor with Bogdanovic is very high because he can shoot threes but also make tough shots on the interior. The Kings would often go to him at the end of quarters and at the end of the game because he can make tough shots and smart reads off ball screens.
The biggest hypothetical surrounding how high Bogdanovic’s ceiling can go is over the playmaking. The majority of his assists in Sacramento were easy reads. With a more well-oiled offense with other players who possess gravity, will Bogdanovic’s playmaking reads become faster, and will he further leverage his mid-range ability to create easy looks for his team-mates. If this comes true, his ceiling is legitimate as a third-best player on a championship team, even with a lack of speed and burst. He will never be a fast player, but if his reads become quicker and more on the fly with the ball in his hands, the ceiling goes up. It will be intriguing to see how he looks with better team-mates. Regardless, he is an upgrade on the players he is replacing and he gives the Bucks an extra element of scoring as they aim to get Giannis over the finish line in the Playoffs.