By Angus Crawford (@gus_crawford)
The Warriors just strung together a gaudy, rollercoaster ten-game winning streak, relishing the opportunity to blend together a healthy “Full Squad” [Editor’s note: get your #FullSquad shirts here!].
The gargantuan centerpiece of this squad – both literally and metaphorically – is none other than the man whom Dubs’ fans have been pining for consistency and stability from, Australian five-man Andrew Bogut.
Handed a hefty, incentive-based contract (three years, $36 million) extension on the eve of the season, Bogut is now firmly entrenched as the Golden State Warriors’ pivot for the foreseeable future. The question for the former number one overall draft pick, however, has rarely been one of talent.
Bogut’s elite defensive nous, physicality, and undervalued polish in the post have been limited by niggling injury concerns stretched across a number of seasons; a fate that has forced the Australian to wrestle with the unwanted label of “injury prone.”
While Bogut’s progress with the Milwaukee Bucks was derailed by an improbable, gruesome elbow injury in 2010, being restricted to just 67 total regular-season appearances in a two-and-a-half season span for Golden State has been overwhelmingly spurred by lingering ankle issues.
After surgery on the troublesome left ankle in April 2012 and a lengthy rehabilitation period, it’s no surprise that the return of the eight-year veteran to the Bay Area fold coincided with the Warriors putting together a postseason push in 2013, and enjoying a 24-14 start to the 2014 season.
When comparing the group that instigated the playoff stretch to the current incarnation of the Warriors, there is one measure that stands out. According to NBA.com statistics, Golden State conceded an average of 102.6 points per 100 possessions in the 2012-13 season – a campaign where Bogut featured a mere thirty-two times.
This was good for 13th in the league’s defensive efficiency rankings. The team’s defense has undergone noticeable improvement thus far in 2013-14, thanks in part to the addition of Andre Iguodala, increased minutes for sophomore wing Draymond Green and also courtesy of the steadfast presence of the 7’0’’ starting center in 37 of the Warriors’ 38 matchups.
Golden State now owns a lively, invigorated defense with a top-five standing, a key factor in their wildly successful seven-game East Coast swing.
The harvests of the team’s defensive labors are such that prior to the team’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Warriors led the league in defensive rebound percentage (approximately 77 percent).
Bogut, meanwhile, is currently ranked seventh best in the NBA for contesting opposition shots at the rim (of players contesting a min. of four shots per game). The Dubs’ center is regularly crowding lanes and lurking around the restricted area, limiting opponents’ conversion to a measly 43.5 percent when contesting.
You don’t have to consider player tracking data to be conscious of the defensive transformation, either. Golden State held opponents under 90 points just 13 times total last season. This has already been managed 11 times in 2013-14, per Basketball-Reference, and we’re not yet at the halfway mark of the season.
By a number of measures, the Warriors are assembling their best defensive effort since the ’03-04 season. Without doubt, this would not be possible if the team were not able to piggyback off of contributions like Andrew Bogut blistering his own career-best per-36 rebounding numbers (13.6).
The University of Utah product is averaging double-digit defensive rebounds per-36 minutes for the first time in his career, and places sixth in the league for his ability to capitalize on rebounding opportunities.
He is gathering a wholesome 68.9 percent of rebounds per chance, per SportsVU data, which puts him amongst the league’s best. Glass-eating at this level has helped to spark some of the squad’s best lineups and combinations, too.
Many onlookers have called for Mark Jackson to use Draymond Green in the undersized four role to a greater extent, particularly when grouped with Iguodala and Bogut. This trio packs a different punch to the team’s standard frontlines, recording a plus-minus of plus-19.2 points per 100 possessions in 13 games shared together according to NBA.com. That’s more than encouraging, and the Oracle Arena crowd will assuredly look for the coaching staff to add to this threesome’s 37 total minutes played alongside one another.
An especially pleasing aspect underlining all of these eye-catching metrics is the fact that Bogut and his teammates have played the highest number of road games to date in the NBA.
The Warriors have 26 games remaining in Oakland, and can rest up after the recent, taxing road swing, with only two games coming in the next seven nights. Further experimentation with lineups may produce even stingier defensive units, a shuddering thought for the Western Conference rivals of this “full,” unique team.
With health, a soon-to-be softening schedule, and an increasingly present Bogut in tow, the path towards solidifying standings and the already-robust defense appears set.