It’s been something of a wild week in Atlanta, at least as it relates to the city’s basketball team. In the process of sending out (only) veteran Dewayne Dedmon (and no real draft assets), the Hawks have added Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn, Tony Snell and Solomon Hill. As a reminder, some transactions are not yet finalized, so a few minor details could go down a bit differently than currently understood based upon the reporting that has been done.
There are already heated discussions happening on Twitter and elsewhere regarding how good the Atlanta Hawks will be in the next NBA season — the one that starts in less than four weeks. A lively conversation is underway regarding where the Hawks now stack up in an Eastern Conference in which most of the projected playoff teams are largely running back the rosters they had last season.
From my standpoint, fans of the Atlanta basketball team might be a little too excited, but that’s also okay, it’s the nature of fandom. It doesn’t seem to me that the Hawks are anything of a serious threat to win the conference this season. Even with a deep and talented roster, it takes time to build up to the kind of play that might take a team past the first round of the playoffs. Apart from those that added MVP-level talent, teams rarely accomplish something like that during their first season together.
Don’t get me wrong, though. It should be a fun season of basketball for the Hawks and their fans. But it seems to me that this was built to maximize and optimize the impact of the play of their young star, Trae Young.
After all, until a franchise has shown its young, foundational player that it intends to put a legitimate team around him and that it has a blueprint for how to move towards the pursuit of serious goals, what else really matters?
Gallinari and Young might now form the best pick-and-pop duo in the league. Young and John Collins, assuming he’s not moved before the start of the season, likely form the best pick-and-roll combo. Snell offers stellar off the ball shooting, a must for a team building around Young.
Rondo offers another playmaker and one that is a master in the pick-and-roll. Dunn brings elite defense at the point of attack. But none of the new players are likely to help Young to the level that Bogdanovic will, despite the great fit that Gallinari offers on offense.
A 28-year-old wing entering his fourth season in the league, observers around the league might not know what to make of Bogdanovic. After starting for Sacramento for most of his rookie season, he was part of the starting lineup in just 45 games over his last two seasons with the Kings... a backup on a non-playoff team.
On top of Bogdanovic not having played with the most visible profile during his time with the Kings, there is so much nuance in his play that his positive traits often went further unnoticed.
Bogdanovic might never score a lot more than he did last season (15.1 points per game) but he can score at all three levels. He converted 37.2% of his three-point attempts last year at nice volume and shot a very impressive 67.7% on shots at the rim.
His proficiency in the midrange may be what sets him apart form peers even a bit more where he was seventh in the league (when controlling for volume) behind some of the league’s best scorers and shooters: Seth Curry, Chris Paul, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love, Kemba Walker and Malcom Brogdon. He was fourth among all guards in shots in the paint but also outside of the restricted area.
On the perimeter, Bogdanovic is a much more reliable shooter working in catch and shoot opportunities. At the same time, he’s very capable creating a shot for himself when he can work past a defender and steer toward the lane. The self-creation will take some of the burden off of Young and potentially help when playing with members of the second unit.
He is otherwise not dynamic in a single area of offensive play, but he is solid across the board. Bogdanovic can capably run the pick-and-roll, he’s does well enough in isolation — which will be key when opposing teams look to put their bigger guard on Young — and he’s a productive shooter working off of handoffs where he might do a lot of work with Gallinari.
Critically, Bogdanovic is a very productive offensive player that doesn’t really ever stray too far from the plan. There is a useful predictability to how he operates on offense that is likely to be immensely valuable to his new backcourt mate. Dynamic point guards, like Young, that can bend opposing defenses almost at will strongly prefer teammates to be exactly where they are supposed to be when the passing lanes are created.
Offensively, Bogdanovic is immensely versatile and quite productive. And he does his work in a manner than sets him up to do whatever might be asked of him from game to game playing next Young.
Need him to spot up? No problem. Need a shooter to work off of off-ball screens? He can do that. Need to punish a defense that has cross-matched a bigger defender onto Young? He’s your guy. Need creation on the weak side of the floor after Young draws additional defenders with him to the strong side? Bogdanovic is fully capable of doing it.
And he can do all of it without unnecessarily improvising, which further helps Young and the Hawks.
Defensively, Bogdanovic is not a stopper by any means. For a bigger guard, he works over screens reasonably well, but he’s just not the athlete that the better wing defenders typically are.
The primary value he brings on that end of the court is in that he has good size and is surprisingly strong and physical. Those latter traits are crucial to what the Hawks are doing as to try to build a defense around Young.
So much of what determines how effective players will be defensively depends upon what their team is building to do. In Bogdanovic, Atlanta has added another big player that can log minutes at the shooting guard and small forward positions. That is going to be key whether they are simply trying to show bodies near the paint behind the point of attack or when they are wanting to play a switch-based scheme in some match ups.
In Sacramento, Bogdanovic split his time, statistically speaking, almost evenly across the two wing spots. For example, his versatility will have additional value when head coach Lloyd Pierce may want to play Young and Rondo together for stretches. It will also be a factor when they may opt to deploy Cam Reddish or Dunn on the opposing team’s point guard.
On both ends of the court, by all accounts, Bogdanovic will offer a nice blend of versatility that goes along with the absence of an overly rigid view of what he is and what he should be set up to do. And, again, that really can’t be over-emphasized in how it looks to work from a fit perspective with Young.
When trying to assess the addition by Atlanta that will have the most impact this season, some might point to Gallinari, especially given the dynamic pairing he will have with Young in the offensive half court. However, when it comes to fully accounting for all the ways that Bogdanovic should be able to add value through his versatility and his ability to help with offensive workload, the answer very well may be the acquisition Young’s new backcourt mate.