Andrew Bogut has been the topic of much discussion this season. The talk around the Warriors big man revolved around the gross mishandling of his injury news on behalf of Warriors management and public relations department.
That wasn’t Bogut’s fault. The Warriors wanted their big man, their prime acquisition of the previous trade deadline, their centerpiece in what they were hoping was a playoff season and their big man that this very franchise has needed for years.
As Bogut began getting minutes criticism undeservedly increased. Fans clamored for more points, more rebounds, quicker switches and increased minutes. As is the case with many fans, their expectations were simply too high for such a delicate product. The idea of tame production as a placeholder for future success didn’t exist.
Bogut was never going to be 100% this season and is still not 100% entering the Warriors first round series with the Denver Nuggets. That doesn’t mean his presence isn’t any less important. In fact it only heightens, especially after the injury to fellow big man David Lee.
The Warriors aren’t looking for offense from Bogut, nor should they be. Any production on the offensive end is an extended bonus, at least until Bogut feels comfortable making his own moves down on the block. This aspect of his game, according to Bogut himself, most likely won’t be shown on the floor until next season.
With David Lee out with a torn right hip flexor, the dynamic passing between both Warriors bigs leaves as well. One of the more underrated aspects of a player’s game is his ability to pass. This skill is especially rare for a big man, and the Warriors were lucky to have two very capable (and willing) passers down low. Without Lee, Bogut’s ability to pass out of the block and make plays for others increases.
Where a lot of big men are one-and-done on the offensive end — deciding what they’re doing before they actually start their move — Bogut has the skills to pass out of every situation and make plays for other players when needed. On a team so dependent on shooters — even more now with Lee out — this will be crucial for the rest of the series.
With each possession increasingly important, the playoffs are often decided by turnovers, rebounds and increased possessions. Bogut only had nine points in Game 1 (also carried a team high +10), but will surely get more looks as the series goes on simply by default. Whether that means more set plays for the Aussie is an unknown, but his importance on putbacks and on the offensive glass stays vital for a team now missing their most productive offensive force down low.
It’ll be interesting to see how Mark Jackson approaches the hole in the frontcourt as the series progresses. First instincts point to Carl Landry sliding into the starting lineup with some combination of Green/Barnes/Ezeli sharing time at the 4. Landry and Bogut have only shared the floor for 53 minutes together this season, something I asked Landry about in my one-on-one with him just last month. Landry expressed confidence in more potential floor time with Bogut. This wasn’t any shock, but the proposition is a scary one considering the circumstances.
Lee loved to work off the pick-and-roll with Stephen Curry, something we haven’t seen Landry do much at all this season (Jack is often handling PG duties when Landry is on the floor). The Landry-Bogut duo could work simply because Landry can score for himself and is physical inside. Landry will have to work off the P&R more than he’s used to and start hitting the midrange jumper we became so accustomed to him hitting early on this season.
While Klay Thompson had an impressive game and Curry hit the game tying three with seconds to go, Bogut might’ve been the most important Warrior on Saturday. 14 rebounds (5 offensive) and four blocks are the stats, but his presence down low can’t be overstated (nor recorded). He adjusts shots nearly every possession by either altering shots themselves or forcing passes out of drives or the block. We saw a taste of this in the regular season, but to see it in the playoffs has been huge for an otherwise mediocre defensive team.
Lee’s struggles on the defensive end have been well chronicled, and Bogut is often the linchpin in covering up many defensive deficiencies from both Lee and everyone else on the floor. With that said, the defensive end is where Lee won’t be missed as much. Not that Landry is a superior defender, just a more than adequate replacement. Similar size and weight, both aren’t your ideal post defenders, but Landry is slightly more aware of his defensive surroundings than Lee is. Not losing your man on back cuts or being between your man on the basket are simple but highly important traits for a defender. Lee often failed at both.
Since Bogut’s insertion in the lineup he has been the on-court leader the Warriors hoped he’d be. In addition to being the best inside defender on the team, Bogut is vocal. He leads by example and isn’t afraid to call other players out on the court if need be. While this isn’t a breaking development, it may be new for Landry, who as noted hasn’t shared much time with Bogut on the floor. They know each other’s games, but playoff minutes is entirely different that practice time in downtown Oakland.
Bogut has always been an important member of this team, whether on the floor or not. Now, as the playoffs are upon us and his backcourt-mate no longer here, it’s up to Bogut to anchor the defense and make his unique passing abilities and aggressiveness on the glass a known commodity. The Warriors won’t go down easy in this series, and Bogut will be a big reason why.