With his side in with a good shot at taking top seed out of Group D at EuroBasket 2017, Bogdan Bogdanovic has a chance to lead Serbia to its first medal finish since 2009. Bogdanovic however has been up and down across the competition, despite coming good when it matters. Emmet Ryan looks at how Bogdan is taking on the role as the boss of his side and how this tournament could help define him going forward
The Twitter handle says it all, @leaderofhorde. Bogdan is the guy for Serbia, albeit a little sooner than planned and in sub-optimal circumstances. No Milos Teodosic to be creator in chief. No Nemanja Bjelica to provide another top tier scoring threat. No Nikola Jokic to tandem with Boban Marjanovic as the most space creating big man duo in the competition. Not even a Nikola Kalinic to deliver his big game Kalinic performances that Bogdanovic was so used to at Fenerbahce. This is a depleted roster for sure but still one capable of going deep. Serbia should be seen as second favourites only to Spain but their weaknesses in light of the absences have shown and Bogdan’s having issues carrying the load.
The raw stats are splendid, averaging 21 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game but it’s beneath the numbers that we see why Serbia needs more from its leader. Bogdan started this tournament with exactly the kind of display Serbia needed. Against a talented Latvian side with plenty of offensive firepower, Bogdanovic was a force throughout as he finished with 30 points. Against Russia however he was shut down through the bulk of the first half and his 19 point closing tally spoke more of Serbia’s desperation down the stretch to try and catch the Russians than any real spark from Bogdan.
In that game he was just another guy on the floor for the most part and that’s not how Bogdan rolls. When Bogdan is on top, he looks like he’s in another contest to the other 9 guys out there with him. To understand what is Bogdan, we need to go back to Game 1 of this past season’s Euroleague playoffs.
Fener travelled to Athens to face a Panathinaikos team with a stout defence. Xavi Pascual knows how to run a D and his guys wrecked everything Fenerbahce threw at them early. Everything except Bogdan who was happily making buckets and playing with the fluidity of a man not be challenged by a great defensive outfit with the fiery Oaka crowd at his back. He was effective as his teammates floundered and, when the rest of Fenerbahce got its act together, he remained effective. The same happened in Game 2, while Fener didn’t struggle from the off it was still like Bogdan was playing against a much weaker side than the rest of his team.
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Russia made him look part of the game and Turkey did a pretty good job on him the next day. Melih Mahmutoglu, hardly known for his athletic talent, was up in Bogdan’s ass throughout the game. He never flinched and it clearly got to Bogdanovic, who remains good friends with his former Fener team mate.
Then, in the fourth quarter, we saw the leader emerge. Serbia needed a charge and they had only one man who could give it to them. Bogdan unloaded, finding holes or just plain making them to score Serbia’s next 10 points to end the contest and give Serbia more control over their fate.
There’s a lot of attention on Bogdanovic here. In addition to playing in the home arena of his old side Fenerbahce’s Euroleague, where he was a key part in their run to a first ever Euroleague title this past May, and his role as Serbia’s star there is also the jump. When Bogdanovic suits up for the Sacramento Kings this autumn, he will be the highest paid rookie in NBA history and there will be no shortage of attention paid to whether he’s earned such a tag.
That Turkey game, or rather the late display, showed the character in Bogdanovic. After almost two straight games of getting frustrated, he found a way to be the guy. Against Great Britain the following day he flirted with a triple double, although it needs to be qualified that Britain’s defence has been like a sieve and it’s only been their joyous offence that has kept their games close.
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That game however did serve a purpose for the pieces around Bogdanovic. In addition to the star power of those absentees, the biggest loss for Serbia has undoubtedly been on offence. Outside of Marjanovic, the other 10 names on the sheet alongside Bogdan are noted far more for their defensive prowess. Opponents know the threat is going to be Bogdanovic and they are ready for him. They are gunning for him and they are daring the rest of Serbian side to prove them wrong.
The Marjanovic option has been rather blunt. Feeding the Bobinator certainly brings results but it’s also been painfully obvious as Serbia’s go to approach. The Great Britain game served to remind the rest of the Serbian roster that they need to bring the buckets and that, albeit against a turnstile, can make them. Against Belgium on Thursday the challenge will be stiffer defensively but the already eliminated Belgians will present a good opportunity for the likes of Vladimir Lucic and Stefan Jovic to develop more confidence in their own offensive games.
That’s the psychological issue with these absences, the rest of the Serbian roster has needed to adjust to not having Milos, Nemanja, and the Joker there. The timing of Kalinic’s injury, so close to the tournament, would hardly have helped the mood. Part of Bogdan’s job here is to show that he’s got this.
That Panathinaikos D is arguably of a similar level to the Russian side that limited Bogdan. It’s certainly on a par with the Turkish team that contained him through three quarters. The difference here is that now, instead of having those other scorers to take some attention Bogdan is the man. Well, that’s what comes with being the guy carrying the hopes of a nation. Serbia took their licks and are still standing. Bogdan’s taken his and the road is clear. Serbia will finish either first or second in the group, now it’s on Bogdanovic to lead from the front and use the adversity to drive his side forward. That’s the job of a leader.
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