LOS ANGELES – Kings rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic insists he wanted to get to the NBA much more quickly than he did.
He declared for the 2013 NBA draft.
“That’s how I put myself on radar here,” said Bogdanovic, who was playing in his native Serbia.
He garnered some attention, but not enough, so he withdrew. He declared again in 2014, and the Suns picked him No. 27.
“Honestly, I wanted to come right over that year,” Bogdanovic said.
But Phoenix told him he’d likely spend significant time with its minor-league affiliate, so he returned to Europe.
“The plan was one only,” Bogdanovic said of how many more seasons he’d spend overseas.
He signed with Turkish power Fenerbahçe and helped the club reach its first-ever EuroLeague Final Four. Bogdanovic again considered coming stateside, but a prohibitive buyout and desire to win a EuroLeague title pushed him back to Fenerbahçe another year. That season, he helped the team reached the EuroLeague championship game. Fenerbahçe fell behind big early, made a thrilling comeback to force overtime, but still fell to CSKA Moscow.
“I learned to be ready to pay every single game – like it’s the last one in life,” Bogdanovic said in what sounded like a nod to that devastating result or the time a previous coach choked him during a game.
The Suns dealt Bogdanovic’s rights to Sacramento on draft night 2016 (trading up for the No. 8 pick to get Marquese Chriss), delaying Bogdanovic’s NBA debut yet another year.
Finally, just more than three years after getting drafted, Bogdanovic signed with the Kings.
The wait meant Bogdanovic was no longer restricted by the NBA’s rookie scale for first-round picks. That, his major improvement in Europe and Sacramento’s ample salary-cap space meant he got a three-year, $27 million contract. His rookie salary is $9,470,614 – the highest in NBA history – and Bogdanovic visibly beams about the deal, the upside of deferring his NBA dream so long.
He also keeps perspective.
“Money doesn’t play,” Bogdanovic said. “You’ve still got to go there and show out what you got paid for.”
So far, Bogdanovic is doing that.
He’s a strong contender for an All-Rookie team in this loaded class, and he won MVP of the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend. Bogdanovic is outperforming No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and arguably No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball, which makes some sense, considering Bogdanovic is also out-earning them – and every other rookie in NBA history.
Here are the highest-paid rookies with where they were drafted and the team for which they debuted:
Bogdanovic – who’s averaging 11.5 points, 3.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game – is a good shooter with a decent all-around game. He’s one of just 10 qualifying players* shooting 50% on 2-pointers and 40% on 3-pointers. Most of them are All-Stars.
*The other nine: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns, Al Horford, Kevin Love, Otto Porter, E'Twaun Moore and Darren Collison
A peer group comprised mostly of All-Stars is probably overly ambitious, but perhaps Bogdanovic shouldn’t be compared to other rookies, either. He’s already 25 and a veteran of professional basketball.
In fact, the Kings don’t treat him like a rookie at all.
“We’ve got four rookies on the team,” said De'Aaron Fox, the No. 5 pick in the most recent draft. Himself, No. 15 pick Justin Jackson, No. 20 pick Harry Giles and No. 34 pick Frank Mason. Older than most of his teammates, Bogdanovic doesn’t have to do typical rookie duties like picking up food or carrying bags.
“They respect me,” Bogdanovic said.
So does Buddy Hield, the crown jewel of the DeMarcus Cousins trade and Sacramento’s incumbent starting shooting guard.
The 6-foot-6 Bogdanovic and 6-foot-4 Hield can share the wing in some matchups, but some small forwards are too big for either. So, the two have alternated stints in the starting lineup.
“It’s competition, but you don’t want it to be easy for you,” said Hield, who also played in the Rising Stars game. “You want to work for your own and work for your spot. And me and Bogi have a great relationship. Whether he starts or I start, it doesn’t matter.”
Neither Hield nor Bogdanovic is a can’t-miss prospect. Bogdanovic is having a nice season, but his age creates major questions about his upside. The Kings gain value by hedging bets.
Bogdanovic sounds determined to prove himself, not fall back on his current contract, which already guarantees life-changing money.
“If you don’t use that chance,” Bogdanovic said, “it might be your last one.”