Andrew Bogut’s much anticipated and finally extended on-court Golden State debut was supposed to take the Warriors to another level in the Western Conference. From low seed to high seed, thorn to knife, pretender to contender. Golden State was winning without him, after all, and his clear two-way superiority to Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins made it easy to assume his addition would be just that – a sizable positive impact on both ends of the floor.
But then Bogut actually returned and the Warriors started slumping. In the eight games he played while on a strict minutes restriction and no back-to-back policy from January 28th to February 20th, Golden State went 4-4. .500 basketball is hardly doomsday for a team like the Warriors, but that stretch was the genesis of major defensive missteps that would define the month of February, and leave many wondering whether or not this team’s early success was a fluke.
And Bogut, coming back from injury and still getting up to game speed or not, was a shell of the player Golden State expected and needed him to be. In those eight games prior to suffering back spasms and missing a chunk of schedule that overlapped February and March, Bogut shot just 49% from the field and 50% from the free throw line. Worse, he was consistently slow on both ends, a fact most evident in Golden State’s unchanged play whether he was on the floor or not.
Below are the Warriors advanced numbers while playing with or without Bogut during his initial period of games. There was marginal improvement when he was on the floor, but not nearly the type that would indicate his sterling Milwaukee play in days of yore. And most troublesome, Golden State was just as bad defensively whether Bogut – a supposed back-line defensive genius in the mold of Kevin Garnett, Marc Gasol and Tyson Chandler – was on the floor or not. *Click to enlarge images.
At the time, the back spasms that kept Bogut from six games at the end of February were just another disappointment from the Aussie in a season of many. The Warriors knew last March they were acquiring a player with a checkered injury past, but the batch of health maladies that plagued him this season was still a surprise. With those oft nagging back spasms, it seemed as if he’d never be healthy enough to help Golden State this season in the way we imagined he would.
But since his return to the lineup on March 2nd, Bogut’s been a different player and the Warriors a different team. In what’s by far Bogut’s longest consecutive games played stretch of the season, Golden State owns a 9-5 record that’s quelled any early last month notions of a dramatic fall from postseason certainty. And while Bogut’s impact is as sizable as it’s been all season, interestingly, it hasn’t come on the side of the floor most expected.
Offense has been the driving force behind Golden State’s success with Bogut on the floor since March, while the defense has fared almost as comparatively well with him on the bench. There’s much to be gleaned from the above; just because Golden State has performed better defensively with Bogut sitting doesn’t mean he’s been the lumbering giant we saw in the doldrums of February. We simply need more context to properly assess his play on both ends.
For instance, the lion’s share of Bogut’s minutes have come with the starting five. For reasons that need far more detail and research to fully explain, that group has struggled all season long defensively, in this case skewing the numbers against Bogut. And conversely, Bogut’s individual offensive statistics are actually worse now than they were during his initial 2013 comeback. His present impact on that side of the floor has more to do with nuance – screening, passing, posing a real scoring threat in general – than any huge impact as a shot-maker. Which is to say, Bogut is slowly but surely rounding into the player he’s been his entire career.
The Warriors are winning again, and the residual effects of Bogut’s increased health and activity are one of the chief reasons why. But for now, at least, those results – superior offense, inferior defense – aren’t what you’d assume with respect to team averages and on/off discrepancies. That’s something to watch for as the regular season winds down and Golden State makes its first playoff appearance since 2007.
Statistical support for this piece provided by NBA.com.
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