It’s hard for any basketball fan to take their eyes off Stephen Curry when watching the Warriors attack. When they’re on defense, that attention often shifts to Draymond Green and his unrelenting energy. There are so many other intriguing talents on that roster to distract yourself with when you want some variety that a key member of that team, the lumbering Andrew Bogut, often gets overlooked. Make no mistake, though. The Warriors wouldn’t be the team they are without their center.
Trading Monta Ellis for Bogut started the Warriors’ transformation in 2012. Curry got to be the team’s primary ball-handler and offensive weapon and Golden State committed itself to improve on defense. After a tough season for Bogut, injury wise, the first year he was mostly healthy the Warriors climbed to fourth in defensive efficiency despite playing David Lee at power forward. That was a proto version of this team. Just like Green is getting the most recognition for the step forward the team took on defense this year, last season’s squad had Andre Iguodala to heap praise at while Bogut worked in the shadows.
The numbers, however, paint him as the most important player on the league-leading Warriors’ defense. Bogut led all players in Defensive Real Plus-Minus. Golden State allowed just 95 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, per NBA.com. Opponents shot a shade over 41 percent against him at the rim, one of the best marks in the league, per SportVU. There’s a case to be made that him finishing sixth in Defensive Player of the Year voting was the most unfair of all award snubs. And he has been as big of a difference-maker in the postseason.
He’s making life miserable for some of the league’s best bigs. His post defense is stout and his help defense stifling. The Warriors are allowing a ridiculously low 46.5 percent from the restricted area with Bogut on the court, 13 percentage points lower than the league average. On shots he contest in that area, opponents are shooting 36 percent. When he has been on the court, the Warriors have allowed four fewer points per 100 possessions. Bogut might be the player that makes the biggest impact on the defensive side in the league.
So why isn’t he considered a star? The two bigs knocks against him as a player are the fact that he doesn’t play a ton of minutes and that he’s a complete zero on offense. Injuries are to blame for both criticisms, as he has missed a lot of games throughout his career and a gruesome accident robbed him of his touch around the rim:
While there’s some validity to those observations, Bogut has been able to play heavy minutes in games in which the Warriors have needed him to, and while scoring isn’t his strong suit, he’s a fantastic passer for a player his size.
He’s great at hand-offs, which create quick shots for Curry and Klay Thompson and can hit players coming off screens right in the pocket for them to just pull up. Yet his most impressive skill is his ability to facilitate from the elbows. Bogut shows remarkable patience and decision-making, waiting for cutters and punishing defenses for overhelping. This play against the Grizzlies in which he waits for Curry to draw a second defender to the paint only to find Harrison Barnes spotting up is a perfect example:
Bogut isn’t going to be the 16 points per game scorer with the nifty post moves he was in his best season in Milwaukee ever again, but through great screening, excellent passing and opportunistic scoring, he manages to not kill his team on that end. With everything he provides on defense, that’s all the Warriors need.
The best player in the league this season plays for Golden State, along with an All-Star shooting guard, a ferocious, trash-talking forward with a versatile game and an elite sixth man who would start on most teams. It’s not shocking that Bogut doesn’t get much attention among all those guys with fascinating games and personalities. Yet there’s a case to be made that he’s the second-most important player on that roster. Without trading for him, the Warriors don’t change the culture and wouldn’t be the best defensive team in the league and a legitimate contender.
“I don’t really care about the box scores,” Bogut told USA Today’s Sam Amick in an interview in April. “A lot of people who don’t follow us or watch our games look at a box score and say, ‘Oh, four (points) and 10 (rebounds), that’s not a good game,’ but I know the value I’m providing and I think my teammates do too.”
If the Warriors make the Finals, it’s possible everyone else will finally see it as well.