The Warriors are sitting at a permissible 29-19 this year, but let’s flash back to a less comfortable time, when they were 9-8 at the beginning of December and in desperate need of a win. Facing the 3-11 Sacramento Kings in a must-win away game, the Dubs led 115-113 with 8.6 seconds remaining when the Kings inbounded the ball to Isaiah Thomas. The Kings point guard ran the length of the floor, blew past Klay Thompson and tossed up a layup with three seconds remaining, only to see Andrew Bogut block the shot and grab the rebound to seal the win.
Perhaps no play better epitomizes Bogut’s defensive value this season than that hugely important block, which really turned the table for the Warriors. Golden State went on to win 14 of its next 19 games following that play, doing so thanks in large part to Bogut’s outstanding defense during that stretch.
But Bogut’s role as the defensive anchor has really been a theme of the entire season, and it’s his play, along with Andre Iguodala’s added defensive impact, that explains why the Dubs are fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Better yet, the Warriors are allowing their fewest points per game since 2003-04, the span of a decade.
What exactly has led to the dramatic improvement? Of course, Iguodala’s presence as one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders helps, but it’s Bogut who has really made the difference.
Just last season, Warriors fans got a preview of the impact Bogut would make this season. The Dubs finished 19th in the NBA in points allowed, which came after they finished no better than 27th during the six preceding seasons (including four straight last-place finishes at one point). But Bogut only played in 32 games in 2012-13, meaning his true defensive impact went relatively unnoticed until this year.
Thus far, Bogut has played in (and started ) 47 of the Warriors’ 48 games, putting him on track to surpass his single-season high in starts while playing in the most games since his rookie season.
That means half the battle for Bogut is simply staying on the court, a fight that he’s won so far. When he was drafted first overall in the 2005 draft, everyone knew about his potential and his physical talent. He’s no longer the 20-year-old he was when David Stern called his name during the draft, but his talent still remains, and now he finally has the chance to show it.
Indeed, few players have been better at inside defending than Bogut this season. The Australian big man ranks seventh in the NBA in blocks per game this year, and opponents shoot just 44.3 percent against him at the rim, according to NBA Player Tracking Data. That’s good for seventh-best in the NBA among qualified players whose opponents attempt at least four inside shots per game against them.
Additionally, only Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka and Robin Lopez face more inside shots per game while allowing a lower inside shooting percentage than Bogut (among qualified players). That’s pretty good company.
But statistics really don’t tell the whole picture. Simply watching a Warriors game allows one to truly recognize Bogut’s true defensive impact, which also includes plenty of intangibles that even advanced stats can’t show.
Part of what helps Bogut defensively is his limited role on the other side of the court. He’s averaging only 6.1 shot attempts per game (but converting at a .643 clip), which helps him to conserve his energy for his primary role on the team: playing aggressive, lockdown defense.
Bogut particularly expends the energy he conserves due to his limited offensive role by providing ample help defense, which is especially necessary because of David Lee’s defensive shortcomings. And that’s where another important intangible part of Bogut’s value comes from: He allows Lee, a key offensive contributor, to stay on the floor while minimizing the power forward’s negative defensive impact.
For example, if you go to the 1:26 mark in the video below, you’ll see Lee gambling on an attempted steal, allowing his man, Jan Vesely, to slip into the paint. Bogut promptly comes over to record the block. Also, if you watch the video from the start, you’ll see right off the bat that Bogut blocks Trevor Ariza after Iguodala allowed him to slip by. So really, Bogut tends to help everyone on defense. He almost seems to act as the “safety net” at times, providing an inside presence when one-on-one matchups break down.
This isn’t to take away from Iguodala’s impact, or to even ignore Klay Thompson’s defensive improvement on the wing. Rather, it’s to give credit where it’s due, because it’s truly time to recognize Bogut as an elite defensive big man. Sure, his aggressive nature does get him into foul trouble at times. But that’s a price Bogut and the Warriors pay due to his playing style, which certainly pays off most of the time anyway.
Now, if only he could get that free throw percentage up…