When Andrew Bogut rises off that bench, his head presses up against Golden State’s modest ceiling and lifts it to the tall man’s measure. In Toronto of all places, we caught a glimpse into the fully realized roster dream. Andrew Bogut was set to be the defense that Golden State historically lacked, the man who would compensate for David Lee’s deficiencies on that end. He just had to have health, a quality that Andrew Bogut historically lacked. He didn’t have it, and the Warriors lost him for all but four ragged, hobbled games.
A funny thing happened when Bogut missed all that time. The Warriors proved competent in his absence.
Now, normally when something like this occurs, it leads people to wonder whether a team actually misses the missing player. Over the past month, some fans have posited to me that a returning Andrew Bogut might screw up whatever chemistry this team established.
It’s a reasonable assumption in many similar instances, but not in this one. This is the rare case where a team wildly exceeds expectations without a key piece, all the while still showing how much that key piece would help. I do not wish to insult Festus Ezeli. He’s done admirably for a late-drafted rookie thrown into the starting lineup. But Andrew Bogut is better than Festus at pretty much basketball everything.
Andrew Bogut represents an upgrade at GSW’s weakest position, and the Warriors are already good. Does that mean this playoff-probable team could actually win a playoff series? What about two? Three? A (gasp!) championship? Bogut was just so, so good in his first game back.
That’s fun to dream about, but it’s so difficult to envision that I’d rather ruminate on Golden State’s cool, immediate aesthetic potential. This is an elite three-point shooting team that does it while rarely spreading the floor or slashing. It’s a theoretically impossible feat, but Golden State pulls it off due to Steph Curry’s space-creating DEFCON 1 shot threat, and David Lee’s exterior passing.
Golden State has now added another dimension to this mix. Like David Lee, Andrew Bogut possesses some wide-eyed court vision, especially for a big man. The two are already dotting the ball to each other in the paint like a regular Marc and Z-Bo.
Though Golden State may not have the ideal four-out spacing that creates room for three-point shooters, they could have something of a pinball approach where Lee and Bogut act as the paddles, bouncing the ball out to exterior shooting threats. If spread pick-and-roll has become the dominant way to create three-point looks, the Warriors can evolve the game in a new direction with their pinball wizard approach.
Of course, the early 2000’s Sacramento Kings can be looked to as a predecessor what with the passing from Vlade Divac and the real-life, Black Chris Webber. But that came about in an era when the three-pointer wasn’t so emphasized. Also, Vlade was no Bogut on the defensive end.
Oh man, that defense. Monday night was a reminder of just how incredible Andrew Bogut can be as a destroyer of enemy plans. Some shot blockers make their living swatting from the weakside. Bogut sizes up the oncoming traffic and hits them with Gandalf’s “You shall not pass!”
An offensive player’s forward progress reigns in this league. Even when he fails, it’s because the defender is falling over, absorbing contact for a charge call. I was so used to seeing the scorer’s movement honored that it was thrilling to watch Bogut just not care for another man’s momentum. Not only does the Aussie go straight up, but he puts a paw on the opposing player’s chest while mauling the ball. The massive man just shoves offense itself backwards.
So this all was happening, and the rather unfortunate occurred. Stephen Curry. Ankle. You know the drill.
Steph Curry’s healthy ankle and Andrew Bogut’s healthy ankle might have that Superman, Clark Kent relationship to one another (Have you ever seen both healed ankles in the same room?). Curry’s sprain is a reminder that this team’s dream scenario always threatens to be a mirage. The “If Healthy” Warriors are a sight to behold. But when and if, is “If Healthy” going to happen?