Andrew Bogut isn’t close to the game’s best low-block scorer. He’s not the league’s most prolific shot-blocker. He isn’t chiseled from granite like Dwight Howard, doesn’t gallop down the floor like Serge Ibaka or possess the pterodactyl-like wingspan of LARRY SANDERS!
Bogut’s game, rather, is an amalgam of reliance on size, nuance, understanding and skill. And while those traits by themselves aren’t necessarily without peer, few big men come close to matching the sum of Bogut’s parts. It’s what makes him such an effective presence on offense even if he’s never averaged 16.0 points per game, and what makes him one of basketball’s best defenders though he lacks the elite physical ability normally associated with them.
We’re just two games into Bogut’s real recovery tour from ankle surgery, and already his play is paying major dividends. He’s averaging 10 points, 6.5 rebounds and a whopping 3.5 blocks in just 24.5 minutes per game, and the Warriors are 2-0 with him in the lineup. Advanced statistics are more of a mixed bag so far; Bogut’s net rating in the win over Toronto was +26.5(!) while last night’s actually fared on the wrong side of zero (-.6).
It’s safe to assume those numbers will trend toward the overwhelmingly positive over the long-haul. That’s not only been a constant for the majority of Bogut’s career, but it makes sense to assume more playing time and familiarity with his teammates will yield better overall on-floor results. Not surprisingly, though, it wasn’t Golden State’s defense that suffered with the Aussie on the floor last night. The Warriors surrendered just 98.3 points per 100 possession with Bogut in the lineup, compared to a 107.3 mark when he was on the bench. Why? Look no farther than the game’s deciding play for an indication of just how quietly or noisily dominant Bogut can be on that end of the floor.
The play begins with OJ Mayo operating from the the top of the key, defended by Klay Thompson. Dallas stacks their two big men – athletic, active cutters Brandan Wright and Shawn Marion – in the right corner and Bogut defends the former. It should be noted that Wright is less of a threat than Marion here; he’s a devastating finisher within several feet of the basket, but struggles catching and shooting accurately on the move. It’s safe to say Bogut and David Lee know this, and have a plan in place should Mayo come their direction and Thompson needs help stopping the ball.
Mayo starts driving left but goes behind his back to head the opposite direction, and Bogut immediately reacts. Even before it’s clear Thompson has Mayo beat, Bogut has taken two aggressive steps toward the ballhandler, ready to offer resistance with arms outstretched. That leaves Wright open behind him, but Lee subtly retreats to make a pass to Wright much more difficult, and Bogut is so big such a dish would prove risky in the first place. Still, he’s making a measured gamble here by helping so early that only few would make. It takes confidence, precision and perhaps most importantly knowing the capabilities of the dribbler and man you’re leaving in question.
Bogut had fully committed in the frame above, but in this one it’s clear to every player on the floor. He frantically and maniacally cuts Mayo off before the former Trojan barely has feet in the paint, with arms oustretched to prevent an easy pass to the awaiting Marion. Lee is now splitting the difference between Marion and Wright – the man Bogut left to help on the handler – in theory leaving room for a pass from Mayo to either of them. But Bogut helps so decisively and with such activity that Mayo gets flustered and takes a meaningless dribble toward the sideline directly after the below screenshot. This stalls things for the slightest but important bit, allowing Lee to better position himself in the direction of Marion as Wright cuts below the hoop to the left block.
The pass finally gets to Marion, but by now Lee’s had time to recover well enough to stop an easy baseline drive. Directly after Mayo’s pass to Marion, Bogut drops with his left foot back to Wright in full recovery mode. He sees Marion putting the ball on the floor and, after initially sliding in Wright’s direction, aborts into a quick run/cross-step/hop with a lunge off his left foot. It’s not what coaches teach, but it makes up more ground in less time than a simple slide.
Centers not named Howard, JaVale McGee or SANDERS! aren’t supposed to be able to make this play. It takes a rare blend of length, short-area quickness and anticipation for a big man to recover with such haste to an awaiting Wright, but Bogut takes no false steps and seemingly knows where the ball is going before the Mavericks do. As Wright catches and raises to shoot, Bogut’s already there craning his right arm to challenge the left-hander. Wright sees Bogut and re-gathers to get a better shot, but the Aussie is a statue by now, arm extended high and straight-up all while crowding the shooter with his body.
Here’s the full sequence in real-time. Pay special attention to Bogut’s decisiveness from his initial movement. There’s no wasted movements here, every step with a purpose and in the direction the play is eventually headed. And, finally, the screenshot of Bogut’s game-deciding block on Wright. Contact? Sure. Too much? Definitely not in this situation. Did he get ball? Absolutely.
Bogut won’t always make the game’s most important rotation or block. But this type of controlled roving is commonplace for him throughout the game and will only improve a stingier-than-expected Warriors defense. Simply replacing Festus Ezeli’s minutes with a limited Bogut would go a long way toward making Golden State better. But given his play in his first two games back from injury, it’s clear Bogut won’t be limited for long and that his role – on both ends of the floor – is one the Warriors’ other bigs weren’t capable of playing. For a team that already elicits an uncomfortable sense of the unknown from the West’s elite as the new kid on the block, it’s an alarming development, and one that makes Golden State ever threatening as a potential playoff opponent.
Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com.
Follow Jack Winter on Twitter @armstrongwinter.