The trade for Bojan Bogdanovic felt like the Detroit Pistons were playing with house money. Detroit’s weakest position was on the wing at the starting power forward spot after losing Jerami Grant in a trade during the offseason. The team was in desperate need of replacing the veteran Grant with another adult in the room to provide a steadying influence amongst an influx of 24-and-unders, but one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the league needed to bolster their prowess from the perimeter.
Bogdanovic checks all those boxes, and all it cost the Pistons was players who didn’t seem to have a clear path to playing time in Detroit. Kelly Olynyk and Saben Lee were shipped out, and they were both likely going to be playing elsewhere after this season anyway. It cost Detroit zero draft picks and actually saves the team $3.5 million on next season’s salary cap.
Even if Bojan flames out, the trade was a win for the Pistons. Of course, Detroit is hoping he very much does not flame out in his role in Detroit, and there was buzz shortly after the trade that the team hopes to jell well enough with him and he’ll enjoy his experience enough that they can reach agreements on a new long-term deal in the upcoming offseason.
I won’t go that far, but I will say Bojan’s shooting will be desperately needed in Detroit, and he still does that incredibly well. Everything else is much more of a question mark.
Know Your Role, Bojan Bogdanovic
Catch the ball, shoot the ball. Catch the ball, swing the ball to a guard. Catch the ball, shoot the ball. When the young players on the floor become a bit unglued, get the ball in your hands and make the right play — the right shot, right pass, right read, right drive. Show them how it’s done. Catch the ball, shoot the ball.
That is Bojan’s entire season, as succinctly as I can put it. In many ways, he’s replacing Jerami Grant and everything he did. In other ways, though, he’s got a much more simplified role on the team. Whereas Grant signed a big free agent deal to show the world he could be more than a catch-and-shoot player, and he was often the only competent basketball player on the court in Detroit, he also had way too much responsibility put on his shoulders.
Grant was forced to create things out of nothing, and his usage rate rocketed from around 16% in Denver to 27% in Detroit. In his first year, nobody had the ball in his hands more than Grant. In his second season, the only player with more offensive responsibility was Cade Cunningham.
That is not going to be what the Pistons ask Bojan to do. Instead, he’ll be asked to shoot early and shoot often. Bogdanovic averaged nearly 7 three-point attempts per game in his three seasons in Utah, and he hit better than 39% of those attempts. That is a weapon that has been missing from Detroit’s arsenal, and it is much more important to the team’s success than Grant’s do-it-all (and then do even more) attack.
Of the 34 players to attempt more than 450 3-pointers last season, Bodanovic ranks eighth in 3-point percentage at 38.7%. During his three-season tenure in Utah, of the 19 players to amass more than 1,300 3-point attempts, Bojan ranks third at 39.7%. He is behind just Duncan Robinson and Evan Fournier in that span.
And Bojan is a better defender than those two, though he is by no means terribly good on that end, and age might creep up on him distressingly quickly. He’s already been abused a bit on that end of the floor during Detroit’s preseason stint, and the biggest question for Detroit is how best to exploit Bojan’s offensive arsenal.
Is it as the team’s starting power forward alongside newly stretched-out center Isaiah Stewart? That would hypothetically greatly benefit Cade’s creativity and Jaden Ivey’s mission to attack the rim at the earliest opportunity. But it’s an awfully small front line and they would suffer on the boards and in giving opponents an open invite to attack downhill.
They could use Bogdanovic off the bench alongside centers like Jalen Duren and Marvin Bagley once he gets healthy. But is a bench role really the best use of one of the game’s most effective 3-point shooters? Especially on a team that habitually finishes near the bottom of the standings in 3-point shooting and overall shooting efficiency?
Again, the answer to that is how much of a burden the 33-year-old is capable of bearing. He’s averaged more than 30 minutes per game and started every game he’s played for five consecutive seasons. Up to this point, he’s been a starter and a damn good one at that. But he also spent all that time sharing the floor with much more dangerous, effective offensive options.
If Bogdanovic is the only guy on the floor the defense is really scared of, then he’ll have a hard time generating open looks, and he might wear down having to run all over the floor trying to create a passing lane for one of Detroit’s young guards to take advantage of.
During his Utah tenure, Bogdanovic has been able to take advantage of defends who sell out trying to close out on the perimeter by taking the ball inside and making something happen. In his first year in Utah, nearly 20% of his shots were within three feet, and he shot 69.8% close to the basket. But the frequency of his rim attacks is trending downward, and we can’t take it as a given that he can be more than a catch-and-shoot option at this stage in his career. Last season, less than 15% of his attempts were within 3 feet and a career-high 50.4% were from behind the long line.
Again, even if he is merely a 3-point shooting specialist, he’ll be an extremely valuable player to Detroit. But there are factors — age, his teammates, the overall scheme of the offense — that will impact Bogdanovic’s ability to do it at an equally efficient rate as he enjoyed in the wide-open attack of Utah, and whether he’d best be served to do it in a starting role or off the bench.