Small Forward Wednesdays: Bogdanovic’s improved defense


Bojan Bogdanovic has been known from seasons past to be a notoriously bad defender. This season, he is trying to smash that stigma.

I understand if you don’t want to hear anything about Bojan Bogdanovic right now. His error that led to the Indiana Pacers losing a hard-fought game against the Boston Celtics was heartbreaking. But that was an offensive mistake. Let’s instead talk about his defense.

So far this season, Bojan Bogdanovic has a 113 defensive rating and a -2.2 Defensive Box Plus Minus (DBPM), per basketball reference. To be clear, neither of those numbers are good. However, they both represent the second best figures of his career, and they are both improvements over last season.

Improvement is the key here. Bojan’s lateral movement has never been particularly good, but when he is matched up with someone close to his speed, he has been doing a solid job this year. DeMar DeRozan is the first game that his improvement was perceptible.

Bojan Bogdanovic and Cory Joseph of the Indiana Pacers
CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 10: Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Indiana Pacers and Cory Joseph #6 of the Indiana Pacers high five during the game against the Chicago Bulls on November 10, 2017 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images) /

DeRozan is a 24 points-per-game guy, yet when he came to Indiana, the Pacers shut him down. He finished with just 13 points and it took him 16 shots to do it. It was his fourth-worst scoring night of the season, his fifth-worst shooting percentage of the year. His two free throw attempts were the third lowest number for him in the 2017-18 campaign.

Bojan’s defense had a lot to do with his struggles. He was able to stay in front of him and use his height and length to make DeRozan’s life hell. Here, he stays in front of him the whole way on the drive, keeps his arms straight up on the shot contest, and forces the miss. He does it all with perfect footwork and technique:

He also changed direction three times on his back down without losing a step, very impressive for a guy not known for his defense in the slightest.

That game also displayed some defensive versatility from the Croatian forward. The Raptors, currently the 11th fastest team in the league in terms of pace, were pushing on the fast break. Bojan was back and in a good position. The ball is advanced to Norman Powell on the wing, a young spry forward who is much faster than Bogdanovic. Bojan slides right with him on his drive to the rim and puts up a perfect shot contest. The good defense forced Powell to pass.

The pass ended up in the previously mentioned DeRozan’s hands, who went up for a finger roll in the lane. But not so fast. Bojan Bogdanovic was waiting in the paint to contest the shot and he forced the miss, concluding possibly the best defensive sequence of his season:

That whole progression, especially given the score of the game, is incredibly impressive and likely sealed the Pacers win.

Bojan is also grabbing steals at an enhanced rate. His .6 steals per game and his steal percentage of 1 percent are both career highs, per basketball reference. For a slower player, Bojan has surprising anticipation skills.

In the Paul George return game, you saw those skills on full display. He has seen PG make this between the legs dribble into a crossover move countless times. Once George goes for it, Bojan uses his quick hands and takes it away, and it leads to a bucket on the other end:

His anticipation skills also allow him to be in passing lanes from time to time. He read this LaMarcus Aldridge pass like a book and drops into the lane to prevent the safety valve pass to the short corner. Because of his heads-up play, he comes up with a steal:

Bojan’s defense is not perfect. He still falls asleep off-ball and is frequently a step late in his rotations. However, he is improving as the season goes on, and he’s as good or better than he has ever been before.

Next: Are the Indiana Pacers still a top 10 team?

In the absence of Glenn Robinson III for a short while longer, it is fantastic for the Pacers that they have been able to get a modicum of wing defense from Bojan Bogdanovic. Let’s hope it sticks around.