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Bojan needs to join the Jazz party

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The Jazz are off to one of their best starts in history, but Bogey is off to one of his worst.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Utah Jazz Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz are putting the NBA on notice in the early season by going on one of their mid-season winning streaks in the early weeks of the season. This early surge has given the Jazz one of their better starts in franchise history. With a 13-4 record through 17 games, they trail only the 1996-97 Jazz who were 15-2 and are tied with three other seasons — 1998-99, 2000-01 and 2006-07 — for the honor of second place.

Plenty of factors are influencing this run, first and foremost is the elevated play of Mike Conley who cast off whatever ailed him in the 2019-20 season and is averaging a solid 16.5 points on heavenly efficiency. Donovan Mitchell overcoming a slow start to where he’s now putting up career highs in several key areas, Jordan Clarkson also putting up a career season and Rudy Gobert doing Rudy Gobert things are even more reasons why Utah is currently 0.5 games away from being tied for the best record in the league.

That core group is missing a name, however. Another contributor that should be a driving force in Utah’s championship chances. Yea, we’re talking Bojan Bogdanovic.

The performance by the Croatian Bogdanovic is yet another lesson in how much can change between seasons and you can assume good things will transfer from season to season. Last year, Bogey lived up to his signing in nearly ever way by averaging 20.2 points, giving Utah its first season with multiple 20+ point scorers since 1991-92 (Jeff and Karl Malone).

This year has been a different story so far. Bogey is down nearly seven points in his per game scoring at 13.4 and his three-year streak of shooting above 40 percent from three is in danger with him only making 36.8 percent of his attempts.

Advanced metrics take Bogdanovic’s lack of production and place him among the worst players in the league right now. NBA Math’s Total Points Added metric credits Bojan with a -42.23 mark, the 12th-worst number among all players this season. His VORP is -0.3, tied for 11th-worst and his Box Plus/Minus is at a -4.1, tied for 34th-worst among qualified players.

The name-dropping of stats that paint Bogdanovic’s season as really bad could go on, but the point is made and no one is likely arguing that he’s played poorly, Bogey included. The important thing is to isolate where he’s gone wrong and see if he’s on track yet to join the party.

To start the season, Bogdanovic looked rusty coming off a kind-of offseason surgery on his wrist. His downturn in 3-point percentage has already been mentioned (if you don’t remember, it’s a 36.8 percent now, down from a 41.3 three-year average from 2017-2020), but it wasn’t his only poor are of shooting. Bogey also shot poorly inside the arc. His 36.8 rate on 2-pointers (yes, it’s the same as his 3-point percentage) is by far a career low.

Looking at 3-point shooting first, in the first eight games of the season, Bogdanovic had a shooting run so awful it challenged Conley’s start to least year. He made just 34.0 percent from downtown (and it’s only that “good” because he posted two very solid shooting games among six other relatively awful nights). and three times went 0-for from deep.

The biggest contributor to the awful shooting percentages from deep was his performance on corner 3-pointers. Bojan was actually decent above the break at 40.0 percent, but he made just 19.0 percent of corner threes.

Shifting focus to 2-pointers, the rim and short mid-range are the two main culprits. Bogey hasn’t ever been an elite rim finisher in his career, but he was solid last year for the Jazz at 60.8 percent inside the restricted area according to NBA.com. Right now, he’s down to 42.2 percent. His Paint Non-RA shooting numbers have also taken a dip down to 27.6 percent from a much better 38.8 rate last year.

One more small note about offense is that Bogdanovic is simply not trying to score as much. His usage is down from 25.5 last year to 21.1 now. Even if his shooting numbers were exactly the same as last year, he’s still only be scoring 15.5 points per game. It makes one wonder if confidence in his wrist is something Bogdanovic is recovering along with the physical health of said joint.

Among all of his negatives on offense at the moment, it’s worth pointing out Bogdanovic’s defense, though conversations about his defense have historically had the phrase “lack thereof” somewhere in them. This is the are we’d all love for Bojan to improve in but it seems unlikely he will. He’s never posted a positive Defensive BPM in his career, and at 31 (turns 32 in April), this old dog isn’t likely to learn a new trick.

The negative values in defensive catch-all metrics is something Utah can deal with, they did so last season, but what is more concerning about Bogey’s defense this season is his on/off numbers. Per Cleaning the Glass, he’s had a good, even great, on/off split on defense for most of his NBA career. Teams scored around 4-5 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the court and last year that number was -3.8, good for the 80th percentile. This year he’s in the 35th percentile and defenses are scoring more with him on the court than when he’s off it to the tune of +2.6 points per 100 possessions.

The bottom line is that Bogdanovic is having a bad season. But the good news is it’s getting better for him, at least on the offensive end. Those first eight games were really rough (especially if you exclude his two outlying good-shooting nights), but the last nine have been a little better, especially from three.

Bojan’s Shooting Splits Comparison 

Span FG% 2PT% 3PT% Corner 3 Restricted Area Paint Non-RA
Span FG% 2PT% 3PT% Corner 3 Restricted Area Paint Non-RA
First 8 of 2020-21 35.1 36.4 34.0 19.0 38.1 26.7
Last 9 of 2020-21 38.3 38.3 39.1 37.1 45.5 30.8
2019-20 Season 44.7 47.9 41.4 45.8 60.8 38.8

Prior to yesterday’s win over the Knicks these numbers were tending a little more up, but a 2 for 10 night (2 for 7 from three) dropped them back down a little. However, they’re still up from a rough start.

Utah is playing some tremendous basketball, winning big and even winning when they don’t play particularly well. Should Bogdanovic join the party and get back to his 2019-20 numbers, the rest of the NBA may not sleep too soundly at night.