With his recovery nearly complete and his season debut finally in sight, Bogdan Bogdanovic stayed behind to work with Sacramento Kings player development coach Larry Lewis long after his team finished its morning shoot-around last week at American Airlines Arena in Miami.
Bogdanovic bounced freely between various spots behind the 3-point line, effortlessly draining jumpers in a catch-and-shoot drill. He was then directed to the top of the key. That’s where Lewis really put Bogdanovic’s surgically repaired knee to the test.
While Bogdanovic maintained his dribble — crossover, crossover, between the legs, behind the back — Lewis kept muscling into him. Lewis repeatedly pushed against Bogdanovic’s shoulders, leaned on him from both sides and tugged on the back of his T-shirt, simulating the physicality Bogdanovic will encounter if he plays against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.
The arena was virtually empty and almost silent. The only sounds were the squeaking of Bogdanovic’s shoes and the urgency in Lewis’ voice.
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“Go!” he shouted.
Bogdanovic broke for the basket with Lewis still pulling on his sweat-soaked shirt, fighting through the resistance to break free for a series of dunks and layups.
Bogdanovic had arthroscopic surgery in April to repair a slight tear to the medial meniscus in his left knee. He underwent a second procedure in September after re-injuring the knee while playing a World Cup qualifier for Serbia.
Bogdanovic has maintained that he will be ready to play when the Kings open a four-game home stand against Toronto at Golden 1 Center. Team spokesman Chris Clark said that determination probably won’t be made until after Wednesday’s shoot-around.
“We will see,” Bogdanovic said. “Nothing is for sure, but that’s the goal for me. I’m really excited. I just had a couple practices and I’m super excited to come back.”
Bogdanovic, a 6-foot-6 guard, started 52 games as a rookie last season, averaging 11.8 points, 3.3 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. He shot 44.6 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range. He made the All-Rookie second team and was named MVP of the Rising Stars Challenge after scoring 26 points to lead Team World over Team USA during All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles.
Bogdanovic will be a welcomed addition to a core unit consisting of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Nemanja Bjelica, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marvin Bagley III. Kings coach Dave Joerger said he has not decided how to use Bogdanovic, who could see time at shooting guard and small forward, either as a starter or off the bench.
Hield has been sizzling in Bogdanovic’s absence, averaging a team-high 19.7 points while shooting 48 percent from 3-point range. Joerger might choose to start them together with one at shooting guard and the other at small forward, or he could bring one off the bench to bolster a backup unit that could use firepower and a playmaker.
“No matter what coach wants to do, we’re going to go out there and do it to the best of our abilities,” Hield said. “I think we can both defend (shooting guards) and (small forwards). It doesn’t matter.”
The Kings recently won five in a row as part of a surprising 6-4 start, exceeding expectations for a young team that has implemented an up-tempo style with impressive results. Hield believes Bogdanovic will make their high-octane offense even more dangerous.
“He’s good at getting guys involved, getting guys in the right spots, and he has an ability to shoot the ball at a high level,” Hield said. “When you have guys like Fox, me, Bogi and Bjelica, and you have Willie diving to the rim, it’s going to be tough to guard.”
When the Kings were in Milwaukee on Sunday, Joerger was asked about similarities between Bogdanovic and Bjelica, a 6-10 forward also from Serbia.
“They both have the same mindset of, ‘I have a good shot here. It’s decent, but if I just do this, this and this, I’m going to get a great shot for my teammate,’” Joerger said. “Those are people you want to play with.”
Bogdanovic said it was difficult sitting idly while the Kings forged a new identity as a run-and-gun team that ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring at 118.7 points per game.
“It was really hard, especially those games that we were playing so good,” Bogdanovic said. “I really wanted to jump up and be out there with my team. I think we are way better than last year and we play way different this year. We move the ball better. We run the offense better. We are still making some young mistakes, but that’s normal.”
Hield said Bogdanovic will blend in beautifully with the Kings’ new style of play.
“He’s a great fit for what we’re doing, especially having an extra playmaker out there and a guy who can shoot the ball and spread the floor,” Hield said. “He’s terrific for what we have going on. We can’t wait to get him back because it’s going to be fun to play with him, too.”