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Bojan Bogdanovic is the secret weapon for the Utah Jazz in the 2021 NBA playoffs

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What wasn’t there in the bubble, will be there now.

Boston Celtics vs Utah Jazz Photo by Jeff Swinger/NBAE via Getty Images

It was the thing that every Jazz fan said in the playoffs last year. If only we had Bojan Bogdanovic. The series with the Denver Nuggets was a tough one and, even without Bojan Bogdanovic, Donovan Mitchell was almost able to take the Utah Jazz to the next round all by himself.

Mitchell went off with 2 50 point games (57 in game 1 and 51 in game 4) and his statline for the first 6 games of the series was phenomenal. In those first 6 games, Mitchell averaged 38.7 points while shooting 54.8% from the field and 55.4% from three. He also averaged 5.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.

As brilliant as Mitchell was was in Game 1, it’s hard not to think about the 8-second backcourt violation that turned the ball over to the Nuggets at a crucial point in the game. Or Mike Conley missing Game 1 and 2 for the birth of his child. Those are things that could have possibly shifted things but it’s Game 7 where the Jazz truly missed their X-factor in Bojan Bogdanovic.

In what was a slugfest of a game that went down to the final shot, how nice would it have been to have their second leading scorer in the game? The stat lines from that one are rough. In the bubble where teams seemed to score at will, the final score was 80-78 with the Nuggets getting the win.

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets - Game Seven Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

In that game Mitchell went 9/22 from the field and 2/8 from three with 9 rebounds and 1 assist. The thing is, that was one of the better performances in the game. Mitchell was a +3 in the loss and had Gary Harris hounding him all game.

What was also frustrating was Mike Conley’s struggles. Conley was 2/13 from the field and 1/6 from 3 and for the game was a -6. In fairness to Conley no one on the Jazz had a big offensive night. Joe Ingles struggled to hit shots and Jordan Clarkson was only 1/5 from three.

That game is an example of why Bojan Bogdanovic would have carried the Jazz over the top. With the whole team struggling, having a third option, typically guarded either by Michael Porter Jr, or one of the other lesser defenders on the Nuggets, would have given the Jazz the boost they’d have needed to get over the top.

Now the Jazz have only 3 games left till the playoffs start and they have a healthy Bogdanovic playing his best basketball of the year.

A lot has been written about Bogdanovic’s struggles this season. For much of the year Bogdanovic struggled to finish at the rim and his 3-point was shaky. At times he avoided shooting it altogether. When did that change start to happen?

According to Cleaning the Glass’s trends it’s clear that Bogdanovic turned things around about March 31st. He had had a small uptick early in the season but for the most part it had been mostly underwhelming.

cleaningtheglass.com

The 3 games before March 31st Bogdanovic didn’t take a single free throw and only took 7 3-pointers total.

And then something happened. Maybe it was some sort of pep talk? Maybe he woke up and his wrist was feeling better? Maybe he switched to decaf.

Whatever it was, Bogdanovic was a different player and had a doge coin-like rise. According to basketball reference, in the 23 games since then, Bogdanovic is shooting 48.4% from the field and 41.3% from 3 for 22 points per game.

That production has gotten only better as the season has gone on. Bogdanovic was awarded NBA Player of the Week last week for what has been an incredible stretch. Even more impressive is that he’s done this without Donovan Mitchell or Mike Conley even on the floor.

In his last 6 games, Bogdanovic is shooting 57.1% from the field and 52.2% from 3 and scoring 29.7 points per game! That also includes 4.7 free throw attempts per game with a free throw percentage of 92.9.

Houston Rockets v Utah Jazz Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s weird to think that a team that has in the #1 seed is being overlooked, but that’s definitely the case with the Utah. Like I mentioned before, the Jazz have been playing without Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley for 7 games now. In that span they’ve gone 5-2 behind electric play by Bojan Bogdanovic and Rudy Gobert’s DPOY level defense. The Jazz have been without Donovan Mitchell for 13 games and still have a winning record in that span. Those weren’t easy wins either, that included a nice win against the Jokic-led Denver Nuggets where Bogdanovic scored a career-high 48 points.

The fact that this team has found this chemistry during this period of player injuries is a great sign. The question is, can the Jazz insert Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley back in the lineup and get this same production from Bogdanovic? If they can, the Jazz are going to surprise a lot of people in the playoffs when they make it to the NBA Finals.

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