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Bogdanovic eager to prove Pacers right

Bojan Bogdanovic has been in this situation before. The Pacers hope he can make the most of it again.
Croatia essentially started from scratch in assembling its national team in preparation for the 2016 Olympics. There was a new coach (Aleksandar Petrovic) and several new players as the program went through a major transition. With little in the way of expectations, they surprised the international world by not only qualifying for the Rio games, but finishing fourth. It was the country’s highest finish since taking silver behind the Dream Team in Barcelona in 1992.
And the central figure in that stunning performance was Bogdanovic. Handed a leadership role and given the green light by Petrovic, he led the Olympics in scoring at 25.3 points per game, hitting .506 overall and .450 from the 3-point line.
Now, Bogdanovic is once again with a young team in transition and is expected to play a major role as the starting small forward. It is an opportunity he has craved since he came to the U.S. more than three years ago.
“It’s big-time for me because I don’t want to be in NBA just to be here,” he said. “I want to play and I think the Pacers are the right move for me, the right place to be.”
So do the Pacers, who signed him to a two-year, $21 million contract, although the second year carries only a partial guarantee of $1.5 million. With the departures of Paul George (traded to Oklahoma City) and C.J. Miles (traded to Toronto), there was a near-desperate need at small forward, and Bogdanovic fills that void.
“He will be the guy I put out at the small forward position to start the first day of training camp and we’ll go from there,” said coach Nate McMillan. “He knows that everything is going to have to be earned and he’s looking forward to that opportunity. He’s a guy with a lot of potential. We need his shooting, his ability to play that wing position, his versatility to play the four position. 
“I really look at guys, when we’re talking about trading or picking up in free agency, how did we prepare for those guys? And he was a guy we were concerned about when he was in Brooklyn and when he was in Washington. Does a good job of moving and playing off the ball. He’s certainly what we call a laser from the 3-point line and a guy we talked about a lot whenever we played against him. So looking forward to the opportunity to work with him.”
The 6-8, 215-pound Bogdanovic was originally drafted in the second round, No. 31 overall, by Miami in the 2011 draft, with his rights traded to the Timberwolves and then to the Nets on draft night. He remained in Europe for three seasons before signing with the Nets in 2014. He started 121 games in two-and-a-half seasons in Brooklyn, averaging 11.3 points on .369 shooting overall, before being dealt to Washington at last year’s trade deadline.
The Wizards had hoped to hold onto Bogdanovic, signing him to a qualifying offer but when the Nets put forth a massive four-year, $106 million offer sheet on restricted free agent Otto Porter, Washington was forced to pare salaries in order to retain their starting small forward. They rescinded their rights to Bogdanovic and the Pacers moved to sign him shortly thereafter.
“He was an integral part of a playoff team last year,” said team president Kevin Pritchard. “We love his competitiveness and his ability to shoot with range. We feel like he's a perfect fit in terms of character both on and off the court.”
Though 28, which makes him something of an elder statesman in the Pacers’ youth movement, Bogdanovic otherwise fits the profile of the type of player they’ve been targeting: talented, but in need of an opportunity to grow.
“He fits right into the direction we’re going,” McMillan said. “He certainly fills a need. We needed a forward to come in and we needed a shooter. He fits in the timeline, just finishing his third year, 28 years old, has a lot of potential and I think that’s what this roster has been made up of, guys with potential. Now we have to develop these guys, be patient and allow these guys to grow.”
Like so many European players, the issue with Bogdanovic is defense. Though he clearly has offensive gifts, his inability to carve a bigger role has been linked to the defensive end. The player competing with him for minutes at small forward, Glenn Robinson III, is a comparable shooter and superior defender but still learning the nuances of the NBA game. 
Bogdanovic knows keeping the job won’t be easy, unless he’s able to improve defensively.
“I’m trying every year to put my game on another level. I saw the opportunity here to play heavy minutes and I hope I’m going to put my game and the Pacers on another level, too,” he said. “I’ve got many things to improve on my game so I’m working hard during the summer. My defense, my footwork have got to improve so I’ll try to do that to be a better player this season. … I hope with the big-time minutes that I hope I’m going to have here I can improve all of that.”
This clearly represents Bogdanovic’s best chance to step forward and establish himself as a front-line NBA player, and it might well be his last. All he has to do here is replace one of the most talented players ever to wear a Pacers jersey.
But at least he’s dealt with doubts and skepticism before, and overcome them.
“That’s what make me excited because we have a mix of good young players and also the veterans like Thaddeus Young (his Nets teammate for two seasons),” he said. “I am already a veteran because I’m three years in the league, I play big games in the EuroLeague. So it’s a really good mix and we will work hard to put this all together.”

Photo of Bojan Bogdanovic by 1070 The Fan

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