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Podium Guys: Could Bojan Bogdanovic Be the Pacers’ Difference-Maker in the Postseason?

The Indiana forward has stepped up his game in Victor Oladipo’s absence. After another stellar performance Sunday against the Nuggets, is it time to take him seriously as a playoff threat?

Bojan Bogdanovic AP Images/Ringer illustration

The podium is the NBA postseason’s version of a game ball. With more media packing the locker rooms in the playoffs, the league will often pull certain players out of the fray and up on stage in the interview room. Most of the time, it’s a spot reserved for a team’s star. But occasionally, an unsung hero will swing a game and get their moment in the spotlight. That is what J.A. Adande would call a Podium Game. Here are the under-the-radar players most likely to get one as we barrel toward the big stage of the postseason.

Player: Bojan Bogdanovic
Team: Indiana Pacers
Position: Forward
Numbers: 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 57.6 eFG%, 2.9 net rating

How’d he get here?

Bogdanovic was drafted by the Heat with the first pick in the second round in the 2011 draft, then traded to the Wolves and later the Nets—all on draft night. He played in Europe (specifically Croatia, Spain, and Turkey) until 2014, when he finally came to Brooklyn. He spent two and a half years with the Nets before being traded to Washington in 2017. When he hit free agency last offseason, he signed with Indiana. That change of scenery coincided with his breakout season, when he shot over 40 percent from 3. Coming into this season, Bogdanovic was expected to be an integral part of the Pacers’ core.

Over the last 27 games, his role has expanded even further. When the Pacers lost Victor Oladipo to season-ending knee surgery in late January, they seemed primed for a hard regression. But while they couldn’t hang on to the 3-seed in the East, Nate McMillan’s system and the rest of Indiana’s supporting cast has done enough to stay within the conference’s top four. Bogdanovic has buoyed the Pacers by taking on an increased scoring role. Since Oladipo went down, Bogdanovic is shooting a 50-40-80 split and averaging 21.3 points per game, about four more than he was when Oladipo was healthy. Bogdanovic has become one of Indiana’s most efficient players and yet remains largely overlooked. But on an underrated team like the Pacers, that’s all in line with the brand.

What’s his game like?

In a league that is shooting more 3s by the day, the Pacers average the second-fewest attempts per game (25.4), behind only the Spurs. This makes Bogdanovic’s team-high 42.3 shooting percentage from deep on 4.7 attempts a game—third-most on the team behind Oladipo and Wes Matthews, who arrived at the trade deadline—that much more essential.

Bogdanovic’s velvet smooth 3s are his calling card, but he’s far more than just a spot-up shooter. Watch him roam the perimeter and you’ll see that he has a keen eye for when to scissor through the defense, and he’s fully capable of shredding opponents off the dribble by finding the open man or getting to the rim himself. His off-ball cutting is often ingenious, and his playmaking and back-to-the basket post game is a pleasant surprise. Though he can’t fill the Oladipo-sized void in the team’s offense, he’s compensated for a good chunk of it. Bogdanovic may not be as difficult to track as JJ Redick, but he’s far more complex to guard when it comes to his combination of size, shooting, and vision. He averages only 1.9 assists per game on the season (2.2 since Oladipo’s injury), but his skill beyond the arc and the threat of his dribble-drive passes put defenders on tilt. On defense, Bogdanovic is often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best player, and his 6-foot-8, 216-pound frame helps him hold his own down low and also on the outside.

What does his team say about him?

Thaddeus Young: “From Day 1, he’s been a guy who’s been integrated. Last year he did a lot for us, he guarded some of the best guys on the court and made a lot of trey-balls.”

“I know he stays to himself a lot,” Darren Collison said. “But I’m glad he’s getting attention. He deserves it. The thing with Bogey is, he doesn’t care, and I say that in a good way.”

“He’s a bit of a loner, but that’s OK because I’m a loner, too,” assistant coach Bill Bayno said. “Sometimes I see him at the (downtown Indianapolis) Whole Foods. He’s usually by himself.”

Head coach Nate McMillan: “He’s one of those guys I have to say ‘whoa’ to. He just keeps showing growth in his game because we’re using him differently now and we’re depending on him more.”

Bayno, on Bogdanovic’s impending free agency this offseason: “I’m just praying we don’t lose him.”

On a scale from Jokic to J.R. Smith, how irrational is his confidence?

A good step below scalding-hot-soup-throwing, but confident enough to pull-up from 30 feet on occasion—I’d characterize it as sneaky irrational. There’s a stepback in his arsenal, too, as well as plenty of aggressive drives to the rim. He plays unafraid. Speaking of J.R. Smith ...

What’s been his biggest moment so far?

In last season’s playoffs, Bogdanovic threatened LeBron’s reign for a game when he went off for 30 points, took over the fourth quarter, and hit a dagger in Smith’s face. This season, his best moment has been the 37-point, seven-rebound, four-assist performance he put together against the Wolves three weeks ago. He also scored 35 in a win over Denver on Sunday, which gave him his third 30-plus-point game of the season after having only one such performance in the first three years of his career.

Why might he swing a playoff game?

In short: his scoring. Bogdanovic’s game has grown to a point where he can be the team’s no. 1 option at times. The Pacers can count on him to make shots when he has the hot hand, and when he doesn’t (like in the four games preceding his dismantling of the Nuggets, when he went a combined 2-of-14 from beyond the arc), he can drive to the basket (he’s shooting over 68 percent within 3 feet of the rim) or dish to a teammate to trade a good shot for a better shot. Even with all that, though, his 4.7 attempts a game seem measly compared with the league’s other top shooters. Come playoff time, it’ll be interesting to see whether that number rises—it should. The Pacers’ identity has carried them this far, but in the postseason, they may have to loosen up and give Bogdanovic more opportunities to just let it fly.