The Bojan Effect

By any measure of offensive effectiveness for the 2022-23 season, it would be difficult to argue that any Pistons’ player surpassed veteran Bojan Bogdanovic.

He led Detroit in scoring with 21.6 PPG. Among players with a regular role in the rotation, only Alec Burks (.414) outshot him from three (.411). But Bojan attempted and made the most threes (145 of 353). His TS% of .627 was only topped by Jalen Duren’s .655.

Bogdanovic was far more than a three-point sniper. His 5.1 FTAs per game was a team high, as was his .884 FT%. Plus he shot well from everywhere else on the floor: .685 (0-3), .487 (3-10), .537 (10-16), .406 (16-3P). His 2.6 APG was surpassed only by those who ran the point for Detroit – Cade Cunningham, Killian Hayes, Jaden Ivey, and Cory Joseph.

If his defensive abilities matched his offensive prowess, Bogdanovic almost certainly would be an NBA All-Star. While we can debate how much of a liability he is when guarding the opposition, the consensus opinion is that Bojan is a less than average defender.

But how bad is he? Is Bogdanovic so deleterious at defense that he effectively gives up more scores than he creates? If so, this makes him a liability whenever he is on the floor. And it would certainly suggest that he should be used primarily as a scorer off the bench rather than as a starter.

However, what if Bojan’s superior scoring contribution genuinely outweighs his defensive weaknesses? In that case the best approach would be to construct line-ups that cover for this problem as much as is possible in order to maximize his positive impact as a bucket-getter.

Is there a way to determine whether or not Bogdanovic is a net-positive contributor to the Pistons? I believe there is.

I began by looking at how Detroit performed on both sides of the ball last season. Specifically, the Pistons averaged 110.3 PPG and allowed 118.5 PPG – a point differential of – 8.2. Next, I looked at how the team performed both before and after the All-Star Break. While the squad had posted a 15-44 record going into the break, they noise-dived afterwards, finishing 2-21.

For our purposes, what is especially noteworthy about the post-ASB swoon is that Bojan played in only three of those 23 games, as the team sat him due to soreness in his Achilles tendons. So we can consider the games he missed as a "lab experiment" to determine what difference his absence made on both ends of the court. Bogdanovic also was inactive for three pre-ASB contests, so I factored them into my calculations, too.

In the 59 games in which Bogdanovic played, Detroit averaged 114.1 PPG – 3.8 more than their season average of 110.3. And if that difference is not impressive enough, the Pistons’ scoring average without him in uniform was even more striking – 100.6 PPG.

So how about the defensive impact of not playing Bogdanovic? As noted earlier, Detroit allowed 118.5 PPG for the season. In the 59 games when Bojan played, the opposition averaged 119.1 PPG. In the 23 games he sat out, they averaged 117.1 PPG. Clearly that is not nearly as large a difference.

Now I don’t think these figures can exhaustively explain the play of the 2022-23 Pistons. We can cite other factors beyond Bogdanovic’s absence from the line-up that also contributed to the team playing noticeably worse in those 23 games. Alec Burks, for example, was inactive for the final 17 games of the season. And yet while it stands to reason that missing their two best three-point shooters would have sunk Detroit’s shooting from beyond the arc, the team shot .353 in those 17 games sans Bogdanovic and Burks. That was actually slightly better than the full season mark of .351!

While it is a small sample size, when we look at the four games he missed before being sat down for the rest of the season, we see a similar pattern unfold. Without Bogdanovic, Detroit averaged only 105.0 PPG and gave up 120.8. And all four matches were losses. So I do not think any other possible factors can appreciably discount the value of Bojan’s steady impact.

Of course, even with Bogdanovic in the starting line-up for 32.1 MPG, the Pistons were still outscored by an average of 5.0 PPG. His outsized contributions did not make them a good team. But without him their futility reached historic levels. The 2015-16 Philadelphia team that won only 10 games was outscored by an average of 10.2 PPG. Without Bojan, Detroit was bested by an average of 16.5 PPG!

So we should not wonder why Troy Weaver’s asking price in any trade offers for Bogdanovic includes a first-round draft pick. Joined by a healthy Cunningham, a maturing Ivey, Duren and Isaiah Stewart, a steady Monte Morris to man the second unit, and another promising rookie in Ausar Thompson, the crafty Croatian can capably contribute to the 2023-24 Pistons. This season we can fully expect to enjoy even more of "The Bojan Effect."

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