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Without Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic has stepped up for Utah Jazz

Your average NBA journeyman doesn't always get better. Sure, you'll see a rise in scoring some seasons if there is an injury on one team, but the next season that might drop and their rebounds might increase

Huw Hopkins

Sunday 12 January 2020 12:24, UK

Bojan Bogdanovic watches his game-winning three-pointer find the net as the Jazz toppled the Bucks
Image: Bojan Bogdanovic watches his game-winning three-pointer find the net as the Jazz toppled the Bucks

Your average NBA journeyman doesn't always get better. Sure, you'll see a rise in scoring some seasons if there is an injury on one team, but the next season that might drop and their rebounds might increase.

Players of a certain calibre bounce around the league, and are brought on to a roster because their production is consistent and fills a role.

Bojan Bogdanovic watches his game-winning three-pointer find the net as the Jazz toppled the Bucks 0:14
Bojan Bogdanovic drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to earn the Utah Jazz victory over the Milwaukee Bucks

That's certainly what the Utah Jazz were hoping for when they signed Bojan Bogdanovic last summer. They had just traded with the Memphis Grizzles for Mike Conley, who the franchise expected to bring the scoring support for Donovan Mitchell, as well as lighten the load in terms of ball-handling and playmaking.

The team gave up the likes of Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder and Grayson Allen in exchange for Conley, but they had plans to sign a few role-playing wings that can shoot the three. So, that's just what they did a day later with Bogdanovic.

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He was drafted by the Miami Heat in 2011, but joined the NBA in 2014 after signing with the Brooklyn Nets, where he averaged around 9 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists during his rookie season. It was solid, but with some ups and downs that included being dropped from the starting line-up, then moving back in and being tested in different spots on the floor.

Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Utah Jazz drives to the basket against the Milwaukee Bucks on November 25, 2019 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The following two seasons saw improved production in increased minutes until he'd built up some value as a potential piece to move, and he was sent to the Washington Wizards, where his play declined. The following summer, he signed with the Indiana Pacers, and again saw his production increase. He was averaging 18 points with 4 rebounds and 2 assists, and while he needed to improve defensively, his clutch ability in the playoffs and a knack for scoring could be a strong offering to a good defensive team. This is where the Jazz came in.

But nobody expected this.

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Mike Conley was the heart of the Memphis Grizzlies during the franchise's most successful run. There at the beginning of the Grit'n'Grind era, and the last one standing as his teammates retired and became injured, and the team fell apart and was dismantled. He averaged nearly 15 points and 6 assists, with 3 rebounds and 1.5 steals. He stayed with the team until the franchise was finally ready to move on and build around Jaren Jackson Jr and whatever would arrive in the 2019 NBA Draft (Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke).

Bojan Bogdanovic celebrates a three-pointer with team-mate Mike Conley
Image: Bojan Bogdanovic celebrates a three-pointer with team-mate Mike Conley

When he arrived in Utah, hopes were high, and while the team was solid, it was slow to get going while other teams in the Western Conference. During 21 games, Conley averaged 13.6 points, 4.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds, but his efficiency was down and the team was 12-9 - hardly the record many predicted last summer.

During that period, Bogdanovic was the player that stepped up in the scoring column. Once again, he improved his average output, from 18 points last season to 19.9 in the first 21 games, and he contributed in keeping the team above .500.

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On 2 December against the Philadelphia 76ers, however, Mike Conley went down with a hamstring injury that would see him sidelined for five games, but then he aggravated it trying to return on 17 December against the Orlando Magic.

Without Conley, the Jazz are 13-3, and since the point guard has been out, Bogdanovic has increased his scoring to 20.4 points per game, including a silly statline against the New Orleans Pelicans last week of 35 points, 0 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 blocks, and 0 steals.

Bojan Bogdanovic evades Brandon Ingram during Utah's win in New Orleans 1:56
Bojan Bogdanovic and Brandon Ingram both scored 35 points as the visiting Utah Jazz narrowly defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 128-126

His defense is still not great: he's either a sieve, or being aggressive and fouling, but Utah is one of the stingiest teams in the league, allowing just 105.5 points per game. They also have one of the league's best shot blockers roaming the paint in Rudy Gobert, and the Jazz system is in sync enough that the team will always rotate quickly.

What Bogdanovic will look like when Conley comes back is anyone's guess. One thing that the point guard has long been praised for, however, is not complaining. If his shots are reduced, or the system is different, you won't hear anything from him.

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There is also a big possibility that the Jazz will only get more in tune. Since Conley went down, Utah's opponents haven't exactly been the best in the league. The team has played the Orlando Magic twice, the Charlotte Hornets twice, the Detroit Pistons, the Chicago Bulls, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Golden State Warriors. They have still beaten the LA Clippers, but losses to the LA Lakers, Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder are a more accurate reflection of where the Jazz stand.

Bojan Bogdanovic celebrates a three-pointer with team-mate Mike Conley 1:30
Bojan Bogdanovic torched the Timberwolves for 30 points as the Utah Jazz beat Minnesota 103-95

That is no disservice to Bogdanovic. His points, rebounds and assists are all career highs, and Utah has needed him to raise his game. The team will need him to continue this progression if they are to beat the Washington Wizards, especially if Bradley Beal is back, and make a charge towards the playoffs. But that's something this journeyman has done his entire career.

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