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The Atlanta Hawks may have dropped to fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings with Wednesday’s loss to the streaking New York Knicks, but their rapid ascent up the ladder over the last few weeks has been eye-opening.
Sure, all it’s taken to get there is being a couple games over .500 in the weaker East, and yes, handing the reins over to head coach Nate McMillan has been the catalyst behind the quick turnaround. But a big part of the Hawks’ 18-7 record since firing Lloyd Pierce amounts to simply getting healthy, and there’s been arguably no one more important on that front than Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Of course, this could all matter a lot less depending on the results of Trae Young’s MRI results after injuring his left ankle, because without their central offensive cog, the suddenly loud Hawks have little hope of continuing to make such a racket in the East. But with or without Young, Atlanta can at least breathe a sigh of relief over what it’s seeing out of Double Bogdan lately.
For the first half of the season, the undeniable feeling of possible buyer’s remorse began to creep in. The Hawks had inked Bogdanovic to a four-year, $72 million contract in 2020 NBA free agency, but just nine mediocre games into his tenure with his new team, the 28-year-old guard suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for 25 games. He made his return on March 2, just in time for McMillan’s debut as interim head coach, but he was rusty and played limited minutes for the first six games.
All in all, Bogdanovic’s first 15 games with Atlanta were worrisome. He was the team’s eighth-leading scorer, averaging just 8.5 points in his 22.2 minutes per game while shooting a dismal 35.7 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from beyond the arc.
But then a funny, entirely predictable thing happened: Bogdanovic got healthy, and once he did, he looked like the exemplary fit everyone expected him to be from day one.
Bogdan Bogdanovic has been thriving for the Hawks lately
Over the last month, Bogdan Bogdanovic is averaging 19.3 points per game (second on the Hawks behind only Young), while chipping in 4.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists for good measure. He’s shooting a blistering 49.5 percent from the field, 47.3 percent from 3-point range on a whopping 7.9 attempts per game and 89.5 percent from the free-throw line. In that 19-game stretch, he’s only scored in single digits once, he’s shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range 13 times, he’s damn-near posting 50-40-90 shooting splits and he’s posted a point differential of plus-3.3.
It’s no wonder that McMillan’s trust in Bogdanovic has increased, as he’s playing 33.4 minutes per game since he took the helm. His pick-and-roll chemistry with Clint Capela has been promising, and in the shooting department, the only player in the entire league to top Bogdanovic’s 52 made 3-pointers in the month of April so far is the supernova that is Stephen Curry (74). The next-closest player is Reggie Bullock with 44, and nobody in the top-five can match Bogdanovic’s 49.1 percent conversion rate from deep.
On Wednesday, the Hawks lost Young to injury and wound up losing the game in overtime, but that extra period never happens without Bogdanovic’s cunning manipulation of the final set play, which saw him duck past his defender, use his screener to fade to the corner on a back pick, catch the inbounds pass, square up with the basket and launch a clutch, game-tying 3-pointer, all in a matter of seconds.
It’s that kind of intelligent playmaking, nifty footwork, sharpshooting skill-set that makes Bogdanovic a natural fit on this Hawks team. Sacramento Kings fans already know he’s got a knack for hitting big shots, and both his secondary playmaking and defense remain underrated.
On the season, Bogdanovic has worked his way up to 14.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game on .452/.413/.906 shooting splits while leading the Hawks in 3-point attempts. A 19-game sample size may not seem like much to get excited about, especially for a guy who missed 25 straight contests due to injury. But Atlanta’s biggest problem early on was an inability to get healthy, and now he’s getting the chance to show he can thrive in his new environment.
That issue of health reared its ugly head yet again with Young going down, but after investing in an “older” free agent to make a postseason push, the Hawks are finally seeing what a healthy Bogdan Bogdanovic can do. Rest assured, their rise up the standings being perfectly timed with his emergence is anything but coincidental.
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Finally, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne shed some light on the bonds between Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards as fellow No. 1 picks (subscription required).