With the NBA Finals set to begin on Thursday night in front of the NBA’s version of the “12th man,” also known as Oracle Arena, we take a look at the matchup taking place at the center position between two guys with just as much Finals experience as I have … none.
Andrew Bogut took some exception to the TNT crew inaccurately naming the sport that Cleveland guard Matthew Dellavedova played growing up, per Scott Cacciola of The New York Times. Instead of correctly calling it “Australian rules football,” which Bogut actually played when he was younger as well, the TNT guys surmised that it was rugby. Bogut asserted that it was “ignorant” and “quite frustrating.”
However, he hasn’t taken exception to the role he’s been given in Golden State courtesy of Steve Kerr. The Warriors relish small ball, which is something they’ve employed throughout the entire season and has netted excellent results. Because of this strategy, Bogut played just 23.6 minutes per game in the regular season, the lowest mark of his career. But with 10 seasons under his belt, he’s cognizant of the fact that he’s the closest he’s ever been to an NBA title.
Bogut is playing 24.4 minutes per game in the playoffs, posting averages of 5.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. To the average fan who doesn’t really watch his team play, it would appear that he doesn’t make a huge difference in their lineup. But similar to his counterpart Timofey Mozgov, Bogut makes his presence felt on the defensive end and on the boards.
Opponents were plus-6.0 points per 100 possessions offensively when Bogut was on the bench compared to when he was on the floor in the regular season, per Basketball Reference, which speaks to how disruptive he can be on defense. In the playoffs, that difference in offensive rating for opponents stands at plus-2.3. Although the disparity might indicate that he hasn’t been as effective in the postseason, Bogut can still be looked upon to have a significant impact regulating the lane.
Looking at this Finals matchup, Bogut didn’t stand out too much in the regular season against Cleveland. In the Warriors’ victory on Jan. 9, he came off the bench (he had just been injured) and had four points and five rebounds in 20 minutes, although he was a team-best plus-15. Things didn’t go so well in the Cavaliers’ victory on Feb. 26, as the Aussie had six points and five rebounds in 21 minutes and was a team-worst minus-11.
We won’t be looking at Bogut’s scoring output as an accurate assessment of his production in the series, but the rebounding and defense will be scrutinized. The 10 rebounds he totaled against Cleveland during the regular season simply won’t be good enough in this series. It would also be helpful if he shot better than 33 percent from the free throw line, like he’s done thus far in the postseason. The fact that he’s a liability at the charity stripe might cause Cavaliers head coach David Blatt to make the team pay for it by sending him to the line frequently.
We’ve seen Bogut draw the challenge of guarding rising star Anthony Davis in the first round of these playoffs. Then we watched him go toe-to-toe with the likes Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the semifinals. Though criticized often for his lack of aggressiveness and ferocity, Dwight Howard played exceptionally well in the Western Conference Finals and also gifted Bogut with some hefty elbows. Bogut has been battle-tested, so we’ll see if that experience, size and girth can serve him well against Mozgov and the Cavs’ frontcourt.
Mozgov has gone from getting obliterated by Blake Griffin and put on a poster in a Knicks uniform, to growing accustomed to losing while sporting Nuggets attire, to a Cleveland team that’s just four wins away from a title celebration.
In lieu of panicking and acquiescing to the injury woes plaguing the organization early in the season, particularly to Anderson Varejao, general manager David Griffin simply got on the phone, made a few calls and brought over other guys to come play with LeBron James and Co.
Mozgov was one of those guys, and he’s been sensational since he’s come to Cleveland. In just his second postseason stint, he’s averaging 9.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, which is eerily similar to the numbers Bogut has posted, although Mozgov is more of a scoring threat. There may not be many plays tailored to getting Mozgov buckets, but his work on the boards, finishing at the rim and strong rim protection is what has made him successful on his new squad.
The Cavs were a plus-5.6 in offensive rating when Mozgov was on the floor in the regular season, while the opposition was a minus-5.3 according to Basketball Reference. His impact has been statistically and optically visible for Cleveland, and that impact has been especially impressive on the defensive end in the playoffs. The Cavaliers have the best defensive rating in the postseason, and Mozgov’s rim protection has played a big part in that, as the team is plus-12.1 points per 100 possessions defensively with him on the court.
Mozgov was solid in the Feb. 26 victory over the Warriors, notching a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. The big man will likely see similar minutes to Bogut because of the Cavaliers’ desire to play a lot of small ball, but his activity in the lane will be critical when he’s on the floor.
This series won’t feature a bevy of all-time great moves from these two centers, but it’ll be an enticing matchup with both guys playing important roles. Mozgov wasn’t familiar with winning games in the NBA until he teamed up with LeBron. And as for Bogut, injuries and missing games was more recognizable to him than contending for a championship.
Although the ticket prices aren’t soaring because fans are salivating at the thought of a Mozgov-Bogut matchup, this battle and the production from both might tell a huge story in this series, particularly as it pertains to dirty work, crashing the boards and defense.