Utah Jazz: regrading the 2019 Bojan Bogdanovic signing

Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports)
Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic (Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports) /

In case you’ve somehow gotten this far in life without the following information, we’ve got you covered: NBA contracts are big. The Utah Jazz handed Croatian sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic a four-year, $72 million dollar contract in the summer of 2019. Should they have buyer’s remorse?

The answer may not be a distinct yes or no. The Bogey man provides the Jazz with a lot of value as a 6’7 combo forward with high-level floor spacing and some secondary shot creation. Still, the average annual value of Bogdanovic’s contract is $18.25 million a year. That’s a substantial portion of a team’s cap sheet. Let’s look at whether Bogdanovic is really worth that kind of salary for the Utah Jazz based on his offensive value, defensive value, and value relative to his peers.

Utah Jazz offense

Bogdanovic is largely known for his offensive contributions, and rightfully so. His value to the Utah Jazz starts behind the 3 point line, where he’s shot a sterling 40.2%  on 6.9 attempts per game over the two seasons since he relocated to Salt Lake City. That kind of floor spacing from a player who is capable of manning the 4 has a premium on it in today’s NBA. In fact, it almost justifies Bogdanovic’s contract singlehandedly.

Luckily for the Jazz, that’s not Bogdanovic’s only value on the offensive end. Unlike similarly compensated floor spacers (paging Davis Bertans), Bogey can create his own shot as a safety valve when Coach Snyder’s primary creators are stifled by opposing defenses. His ability to get his shot off against tight defensive coverage separates him from floor-spacing specialists. He can also put the ball on the floor and make drives when necessary.

In total, Bogdanovic scored 20.2 points per game on a very efficient 60.3 True Shooting % (TS%) in 2019-20, the first year of his contract. He unquestionably earned his keep in year one, but last season, his production did suffer some slippage. Still, 17.0 points per game on a 58.8 TS% is solid value. Offensively, Bogdanovic likely exceeded his contract value in 2019-20, and simply met it in 2020-21.

Utah Jazz defense

Measuring defensive impact is notoriously more difficult than measuring offense. Simply put, if you’re not generating numbers, it’s unlikely that you’re impacting the game on the offensive side. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible to lock an opposing player down without generating a steal or a block. Metrics like Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) are somewhat helpful, but still, a player could be sharing the floor with an elite defender or two and effectively piggybacking their DBPM.

With all that being said: Bojan Bogdanovic’s defensive value is a little bit challenging to surmise. His reputation on the less glamorous end is less than stellar, and the numbers largely back up the claim. Over the course of his contract with the Utah Jazz to date, he’s posted negative DBPMs in both seasons, at -1.5 and -0.9. So, Bogdanovic is a negative defensive asset, and that should negatively impact his re-grade, end of story?

Not so fast.

For those with a firm opposition to opening multiple links, Bogdanovic defended the ball at a high level throughout these most recent playoffs, garnering the praise of both Quin Snyder and his teammates. There is an old cliche in basketball that certain players can “flip a switch”, and this is a possible explanation for the variance in Bogey’s defensive output.

Ultimately, the likely explanation is that Bogdanovic is a fierce competitor who was cursed with limited lateral mobility and foot speed. He may not be an outright defensive liability, but his consistently negative DBPM scores throughout his career suggest that he’s not an asset in that regard either.

Utah Jazz relative value

Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) is a metric designed to estimate the value per 100 possessions that a player contributed relative to a replacement-level player, whose value on the same metric is always -2.0. Over his two seasons with the Utah Jazz, Bojan Bogdanovic’s average VORP of 0.9 suggests that, at the very least, he is comfortably better than a replacement-level player.

A perusal of players in Bogdanovic’s general pay range finds players that both clearly exceed and clearly fall short of the combo forward’s value. If you follow the NBA, you probably don’t need to pull up advanced metrics to know that Domantas Sabonis ($19.8 million), Zach Lavine ($19.5) and Fred VanVleet ($19.6) are better players than Bojan, or that Eric Gordon ($18.2), Eric Bledsoe ($18.1) and Ricky Rubio ($17.8) are not.

Instead, we found the VORP from the 2020-21 season for three players in the $17-20 million average annual income range who, at first glance, seemed roughly comparable to Bogdanovic, to see how the Utah Jazz’s $72 million dollar man and his 0.7 VORP from 2020-21 stacked up against his peers.

Lonzo Ball secured a contract with the Chicago Bulls this offseason with an average annual income of $18.6 million. His VORP from 2020-21 was 1.6. Sharpshooting wing Joe Harris earns an average salary of $17.3 million for the Brooklyn Nets, and his VORP of 1.2 also exceeds Bogdanovic’s 0.7 mark. Finally, Indiana Pacers stretch 5 Myles Turner earns about $18 million a year. His VORP of 0.9 from 2020-21 narrowly bests Bogdanovic’s figure.

Overall, it seems as though Bojan Bogdanovic’s contract is marginally higher than his value, but doesn’t qualify as an egregious overpay either. It may be fair to say that he exceeded its value in 2019-20 while falling just short of it in 2020-21; however, at 32-years-old, he is more likely to decline than not.

Next. Ranking the Jazz's bench among next season's best. dark

Still, contending teams like the Utah Jazz can afford to overpay veterans. Bojan Bogdanovic provides them with reliable floor spacing and positional versatility, and ultimately, it’s unlikely that the team’s front office has deep regrets about the signing.

Grade: B-