SALT LAKE CITY — On Saturday, the fans in Bojan Bogdanovic’s home country of Croatia will be able to do something he never really got a chance to while growing up: watch an NBA basketball game on national television at a relatively normal time.
The Utah Jazz will play the Charlotte Hornets at 3 p.m. MST. That makes for an odd Saturday matinee for the Jazz. But for the NBA fans in Europe, it’s a pretty good deal.
“Showing teams on national TV, that didn’t happen for 20, 30 years,” Bogdanovic said. “It’s great for young fans or young kids to see.”
It’ll be extra special for his home country to see a game starring one of their own. And if they haven’t been paying attention this season, they might be in for a surprise. Even Bogdanovic’s Jazz teammates have been pleasantly surprised by just how good he has been in his first two months in a Jazz uniform.
Bogdanovic is averaging 21.1 points, shooting a career-high 46% from 3-point range (while averaging over two more 3s per game than his career average), and after dropping 30 points in Tuesday’s win over the Magic, he now has six 30-point games this season. He came into the year with only four such games in his first five seasons.
So when Donovan Mitchell was asked if Bogdanovic is better than he thought he’d be, he could honestly and emphatically answer: “For sure.”
Mitchell isn’t alone. Jazz head coach Quin Snyder said that as he’s been around Bogdanovic more, he has realized just how complete of a player he is. He's not just simply a shooter (though he is that), he's a pure offensive player. It’s hard to imagine the Jazz front office initially pursuing Nikola Mirotic if they knew that Bogdanovic was going to be this good.
“My hunch is he’s always been confident,” Snyder said. “Sometimes opportunity presents itself; and when the team needs you to do something, good players find ways to fill those needs. It doesn’t feel like he’s ever pressing himself on a game.”
That's why 19-point games, like he had in Thursday's win over Atlanta, can feel pretty quiet, and how his back-to-back 30-point outings in wins over Golden State and Atlanta can even be overshadowed. He just plays.
“I think as you are around him, you realize he can score,” Snyder said. “His ability to drive and make plays not just for himself at the rim, but his willingness to be unselfish and create for his teammates when that’s appropriate. there’s a versatility to him offensively. Whether it be the post, coming off screens, running the pick and roll, he’s able to attack in a lot of different ways.
“I think we knew that, but every time you are around somebody you feel it more because you see it more.”
Bogdanovic has always had those abilities, but teams haven’t always put him in situations where he could showcase them. He's a team guy, so he's perfectly fine deferring to his teammates.
Bogdanovic has often called Mitchell the team's best player and said that he should have the ball in his hands at the end. But make no mistake, Bogdanovic can be that guy. And the Jazz have found that out this year, just like Indiana did a season after he was thrust into a true No. 1 role due to injury.
Maybe that’s why Pacers coach Nate McMillan is one of the few people not too surprised about Bogdnaovic’s effectiveness this season.
“He’s doing pretty much what he was doing here,” McMillan said. “They are giving him the ball. He’s playing with it a lot. He’s playing off of pick and roll, pin downs. He has the ability to score in a lot of different ways: transition, 45% from the 3. He’s playing very similar to how he was playing here.”
But McMillan did say that Bogdanovic was always adding to his game during his two years in Indiana. And he hasn't stopped doing that.
He started playing the game pretty late in life. Bogdanovic wasn't involved in serious competitive basketball until he was 15. Like many in Europe, his early years were spent on a soccer pitch and not on the hardwood. Exposure to the league was hard to come by, too.
When he was young, Bogdanovic remembers that the Chicago Bulls, featuring Croatian legend Toni Kukoc, would be on television occasionally. But outside of that, there wasn't a lot of ways to see the top league and top players.
“It was difficult,” Bogdanovic said. “YouTube wasn’t big back then. There were just highlights to see some of the game. Kukoc was big-time, so we were all following him. It’s way easier with social media, YouTube; there are games all around the world.”
And on Saturday, there will be one being played pretty close to the primetime slot in his homeland.
“It’s great for the people over there to see the best basketball in the world,” Bogdanovic said.
The best basketball includes him.