Luke Walton

Can Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic bring World Cup stardom back to Sacramento?

Can Kings' Bogdan Bogdanovic bring World Cup stardom back to Sacramento?

Serbia finished off their 2019 FIBA World Cup run Saturday morning with a 90-81 victory over the Czech Republic. A fifth-place finish is not what the Serbs were hoping for when they entered the field in China. It was a disappointing showing for a team that came into the tournament with visions of gold.

Losses to perennial international powerhouses in Spain and Argentina proved to be the undoing of Serbia, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort from Sacramento Kings wing Bogdan Bogdanovic. In fact, the 27-year-old has been the talk of the tournament, despite his team’s early exit.

For the tournament, the smooth shooting guard averaged 22.9 points, 4.4 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 28 minutes per game. During his team’s eight contests, Bogdanovic knocked down 35-of-66 (53 percent) attempts from behind the arc and ran an incredible +100 overall in the plus/minus category.

Bogdanovic was the star of his team and possibly even the MVP of the tournament. He took ownership of his team and put on a show. More importantly for his team back in the NBA, he escaped the tournament without injury and looks ready to take another big step forward in his third season in the league.

It’s possible Bogdanovic will need to take it easy through training camp and the preseason schedule as he recovers not only from the World Cup, but the extreme travel schedule. He’ll fly to Sacramento and then back to India in the first week of October for the Kings’ preseason matchups against the Indiana Pacers.

The Kings have undoubtedly kept a close eye on Bogdanovic throughout the tournament to ensure that he returns to the States in good health, and they have to love what they are seeing on the court. Luke Walton is still learning his players, but like everyone else in Sacramento, he has to wonder if Bogdanovic can translate his international success to another step forward with the Kings.

This is the third straight summer Bogdnaovic has come to the Kings after playing in international competition. His rookie season in the league, Bogdanovic looked worn out early in the year as he adjusted to a new league. In his sophomore season, Bogdanovic missed 11 of the first 12 games after sustaining an injury during the EuroBasket tournament, undergoing knee surgery at the start of camp.

Now fully healthy, Bogdanovic will enter camp competing for minutes in a crowded rotation in Sacramento. The early plan is likely for Bogdanovic to be a key component in the second unit. He’ll have an opportunity to be an offensive leader of the group with veterans like Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza and Nemanja Bjelcia flanking him.

How good can Bogdanovic be? It’s a question the Kings are anxious to learn.

He’s often drawn comparisons to former San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili, who spent years coming off the bench for Gregg Popovich’s club. Like Bogdanovic, Ginobili continued to star in international play as well as with his team in the NBA.

Prior to his third NBA season, a 27-year-old Ginobili led Argentina to a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. That experience appeared to work as a catalyst for the player Ginobili became in the NBA. 

He would go on to make the All-Star team for the first time during the 2004-05 season and he became a vital member of a perennial championship contender in San Antonio.

The Kings can only hope that Bogdanovic will have a similar career trajectory to Ginobili’s. With any luck, his latest experience in World Cup play will give him the confidence to be a more assertive NBA player and to take ownership of the Kings like he has with the Serbian national team.

[RELATED: How Luke Walton could use Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield this year]

Sacramento could use a player that can score at will and makes his teammates better. They have seen flashes of this from Bogdanovic, but they need more.

There is an outline of what Bogdanovic can be. He’s a long way away from a real comparison to Ginobili, but if he can be the player he was for Serbia, he can be a difference-maker for the Kings.

Kings player profile: Where does Trevor Ariza fit into crowded rotation?

Kings player profile: Where does Trevor Ariza fit into crowded rotation?

Every year the Sacramento Kings bring in a veteran leader or two with the hopes that they will help stabilize the youth of the team and further build the culture behind the scenes. Garrett Temple, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and George Hill are just a few names that come to mind and now, Trevor Ariza has joined the list.

At 34-years-old, Ariza showed that he had plenty left in the tank after being traded to the Washington Wizards last season. He put up solid numbers and despite playing in his 15th NBA season, he managed to log 34 minutes per game in 69 total contests with the Wizards and Suns.

Vlade Divac inked Ariza to a two-year, $25 million deal, although the second season has just $1.8 million guaranteed. Ariza can still play, but is this finally the season he sees a reduced role?

It’s a crowded roster in Sacramento and Luke Walton has his work cut out for him. Here is a look at where Ariza fits into the grand scheme of things when training camp opens later this month.

Strengths

The veteran 3-and-D wing has made a nice living on the perimeter for a decade and a half. At 6-foot-8, 215 pounds, he has great size and length at the small forward position and he’s proven to be extremely durable throughout his long NBA career.

As a scorer, Ariza shot 434 three-pointers in 69 games last season, which would have placed him behind only Buddy Hield on the Kings’ roster. Ariza knocked down just 33.4 percent from deep on the season, but he is a career 35.1 percent shooter from behind the arc and playing fewer minutes may help him improve his accuracy numbers.

Outside of shooting the deep ball, Ariza hit 61.1 percent at the rim on 193 attempts. His 3-point attempts and shots at the rim accounted for 627 of his 736 shot attempts. 55.2 percent of Ariza’s shot attempts come without a dribble, mostly as a catch and shoot launcher from long range. He knows exactly who he is as a scorer and he stays in his lane.

While he hasn’t been asked to facilitate the offense in most of his stops, Ariza showed that he was capable of setting up his teammates last year. He averaged 3.7 assists per game on the season, which is 1.5 assists more than his career average of 2.2.

Ariza averages 1.5 steals per game for his career and posted 1.2 steals per game last season. He’s a long defender that has historically caused plenty of issues on the perimeter.

Weaknesses

There comes a point in every player’s career when the game catches up and then passes them. It may not come this season for Ariza, but he’s played over 1100 games between the regular season and postseason and the Kings’ frenetic pace can take the wind out of a 20-year-old, let alone someone who opens the season at 34.

Known as a strong perimeter defender throughout his career, Ariza struggled last season with both the Suns and the Wizards. It’s hard to know whether that was due to the players around him, the system they played in or if father time finally came calling. It might be a combination of all three.

Ariza allowed his opponent to shoot 8.8 percent higher than league average, including 4.3 percent higher on 3-point attempts and 12.8 percent inside the arc. That’s just not going to fly.

His 2017-18 numbers with the Houston Rockets were very good, which is promising. It should also be noted that the Wizards and Suns ranked 28th and 29th in the league in defensive rating last season and were in the bottom three in the league in points allowed per game.

Ariza was a very solid rebounder as a young player, but his numbers have dipped as he’s moved further away from the rim. He also doesn’t draw fouls at a high rate, which is a trend amongst many of the Kings players.

Path to Improvement

It’s pretty simple. Ariza needs to do what he’s done throughout his career - play solid defense and stick the three-point shot.

He isn’t going to play 34 minutes per game in Sacramento, so he should be fresh and ready when he comes in. The Kings might not ask him to be the facilitator he was last season, but having another willing passer on the floor is always a good thing.

Luke Walton needs Ariza to be a vocal leader on the defensive side of the ball. If he can get back to the player he was during the 2017-18 season, he should help shore up a lot of the issues the Kings’ second unit had last season.

Projection

Ariza had to know when he signed his deal with Sacramento that he wasn’t going to play 34 minutes per game as he has throughout his long NBA career. That doesn’t mean he can’t be an extremely effective NBA player and maybe even stretch out his career a few more years.

Walton has a ton of bodies to work with at the three. Harrison Barnes will play the majority of the minutes, but Bogdan Bogdanovic will need to steal time at the wing as well. Barnes will likely play 20 minutes at the small forward spot and another 10-12 at the four. Bogdanovic will eat around 16 minutes at the two and need another 10-12 at the three.

[RELATED: Kings player profile: How Harrison Barnes will fit into his new role]

That doesn’t leave a lot of time for Ariza. It’s possible that Walton gets creative with his rotations and plays a lot of small ball, but it would be surprising to see Ariza on the court for more than 16-18 minutes per game.

A conservative look has him averaging around seven points, three rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes per game. Sacramento is spending a lot on a player that might have a limited role with the team, but his value to the team goes beyond the numbers as a veteran leader.

Kings player profile: How Harrison Barnes will fit into his new role

Kings player profile: How Harrison Barnes will fit into his new role

The Kings walked into the 2018-19 season with Iman Shumpert, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, and Justin Jackson, a second-year player still trying to prove himself, as the only two healthy small forwards on the roster. That isn’t an issue anymore.

Vlade Divac made a splash at the deadline, adding Harrison Barnes for spare parts in a deal with the Dallas Mavericks. After a 28-game trial run in Sacramento, Barnes saw enough to stick around.

He opted out of the final year of his deal that would have paid him $25 million this season, and then inked a new four-year, $85 million contract with the Kings.

It seems like a huge commitment, but at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, Barnes is a starting level three that’s big enough to play both forward positions. At just 27 years old, the Kings now have him locked up through his prime.

Barnes is one of the few veteran players to stick around and represent Team USA at the FIBA World Cup. He's played a lot of basketball over the summer, which could come into play during training camp, preseason and through the early season schedule.

Strengths

Barnes isn’t a superstar, but he could be a superstar role player. He takes impeccable care of his body, a lesson he is passing on to his young teammates, and he’s been an extremely durable player throughout his seven-year NBA career.

With young players like De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles still trying to establish who they are in the league, Barnes is a strong influence both on and off the court. In his short stint with Sacramento last season, he instantly became one of the Kings’ better defenders and helped stabilize a young rotation.

On the offensive end, Barnes took a step back with the Kings, but almost by design. He averaged 14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 33.9 minutes after joining the squad. With an adjustment period to learn his teammates and the Kings’ style of play, he should settle in during Year 2.

Barnes shot the lights out from distance in Sacramento, knocking down 40.8 percent of his attempts from deep. It was the highest percentage of his career, but not far off his career mark of 37.4 percent.

In addition to the 3-point shot, Barnes is a solid post option against weaker wings. He shot 65 percent at the rim and has the ability to get out and run in the Kings’ uptempo style.

Overall on the season, Barnes held his opponent at exactly league average from the field. He didn’t fare well on the defense side of the ball with the Kings, but he also was thrown into a new system for the final 28 games.

During his time with the Mavs, Barnes held his opponents to a -1.9 percent from the field, including a -1.2 from 3-point range and a -1.6 on two pointers. These numbers are similar to his previous seasons in Dallas.

He is a player that seems to know what his team needs and fills that role. In Dallas, he was asked to score and posted 19.2 and 18.9 points per game in back-to-back seasons. With the Kings, he saw a need for rebounding and bumped his numbers from 4.2 boards per game with Dallas to 5.5 with Sacramento.

Barnes is a smart, high basketball IQ player that rarely makes mistakes and holds his own on both ends of the floor.

Weaknesses

Barnes is solid at almost every facet of the game, although he could have better shot selection and sometimes he tries to fit in too much. Sacramento doesn’t need him to take over games, but they need consistent production at both ends of the court every night.

On the offensive side of the ball, Barnes was very good from long range and at the rim. He was not very good in between those two spots on the court.

Barnes shot just 35.8 percent from 3-10 feet on 218 attempts. His numbers were even worse from 10-16 feet (31.3 percent) and 16 feet to the 3-point line (26.1 percent). In total, Barnes shot just 32.9 percent from 3-feet out to the 3-point line on 386 shot attempts.

While these numbers are not good, they seem to be an aberration. Barnes shot 41.6 percent from this same area on 620 attempts during the 2017-18 season and 44 percent on 820 attempts during the 206-17 campaign. It’s possible that playing with a new group of players in Dallas, including a heavy usage rookie like Luka Doncic -- as well as switching teams midseason -- was the culprit for the dip in numbers.

Barnes could be a more willing passer. His career average of 1.5 assists per game is low, especially when you consider that he averages 30.7 minutes played per game during his seven seasons in the NBA.

He’s also not a shot blocker and his 0.7 steals per game is below what you would expect from a player with his size and athleticism.

Path to Improvement

With an entire offseason and training camp in Sacramento, Barnes will settle in and become a leader for the Kings. He could be slightly more vocal behind the scenes, but he joined a team in the middle of a playoff push and needed to fit in first.

On the offensive end, Barnes is likely to have less opportunity than he’s used to in Sacramento. He needs to find a way to clean up his mid-range game or focus more on post play, the 3-point line and transition for his scoring numbers.

Sacramento was not a good rebounding team last season and they might not be this year either. Barnes notched solid rebounding numbers after joining the Kings, but there are opportunities for him to hit the glass with more frequency.

While it’s not his strong suit, Barnes needs to improve as a passer and look for his teammates with more frequency. The Kings’ fast paced style opens the floor and allows for plenty of open looks. Barnes needs to get involved in the sharing.

Projection

Barnes is a minutes eater and he is familiar with head coach Luke Walton and his style of play. He’s also a versatile player that can bounce back and forth between both forward positions.

Between his stops in Dallas and Sacramento, Barnes averaged nearly 33 minutes per game last season and it’s hard to imagine that number coming down this year. He’ll see at least 20 minutes per game at the three and 10 or more as a stretch four.

If Walton starts Fox, Hield, Bagley and Dewayne Dedmon, Barnes is likely the fourth option with the starting group.

[RELATED: Barnes at center of Team USA-Greece FIBA confrontation]

With the uptempo style the Kings play, there will be opportunities for everyone to eat. If Barnes can shoot around the 40 percent mark from 3-point range again and make some adjustments to his play style, he could easily finish around 15 points with six rebounds and 2.5 assists in 33 minutes per game for Sacramento this season.

With Trevor Ariza and Bogdanovic also needing minutes at the three, and Barnes coming off a long FIBA World Cup schedule, there also is a chance for a reduction in minutes early in the season, which could affect his overall numbers slightly.