Let’s cut to the chase; the three biggest keys to the Warriors’ success in 2012-13 are:
1. Andrew Bogut.
2. Andrew Bogut.
3. Andrew Bogut.
He was being facetious, of course, but only in part. He also happens to be right.
How is it that a guy who has yet to so much as wear a Golden State jersey in game action of any sort since joining the Warriors in March be so crucial to the franchise's future?
Simple: Because the Dubs have been down in the dumps for so long, and Bogut is the one player on the roster who, when healthy, can carry them into the playoffs.
Carrying anything of any weight—physical, metaphorical or otherwise—may be a chore for Bogut. He missed all but 12 games last season with a fractured left ankle and arrived in the Bay Area with the pressure of being the primary payoff for sending fan favorite (and noted nitwit) Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks.
More importantly, Bogut will be key to establishing the more defensive-minded approach that head coach Mark Jackson attempted to implement upon arrival last season.
Because frankly, the results didn't live up to expectations, and even that's putting it lightly. The Warriors were 27th in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season, allowing 106 points per 100 possessions, according to Hoopdata. They also checked in at 18th in opponent field-goal shooting (45.3 percent), 18th in opponent turnover rate, 27th in opponent free-throw rate and 27th in opponent three-point shooting (36.5 percent).
Which is to say, the Warriors were below-average when it came to forcing turnovers and defending field goals in general and were patently mediocre with regard to limiting free-throw attempts and contesting three-pointers.
This isn't all that surprising, and not just because Golden State compiled an abysmal record of 23-43. They lacked size of any note on the defensive end, especially after losing Kwame Brown to a season-ending chest injury after just nine games.
Say what you want about Kwame's reputation as one of the biggest busts in the history of the draft or his inability to throw a beach ball in the ocean, but the guy was a big body with the strength to get physical on defense. And at the very least, he was more effective in those nine games than Andris Biedrins (or the shell of his former self that earns $9 million per year) was over the course of 47 appearances.
Though Bogut isn't necessarily thought of as a defensive dynamo, he's seven feet tall, has long arms and led the league in blocks per game in 2010-11. He was also third in the league in charges taken last season (per Hoopdata), though those numbers are less significant given the small sample size.
He's a presence in the middle on the defensive end, which is precisely what the Warriors need. With Bogut protecting the rim, Golden State's perimeter defenders can take more risks and play closer to their opponents as a means of picking off passes and disrupting jump shots.
No longer will the Warriors' combatants be able to parade to and through the lane so freely, lest they find their shots altered, if not swatted away, by Bogut's long arm of the law. Surely, after finishing 28th in the league in defending the paint (per Hoop Stats), the Dubs could use the help.
On a man-to-man basis, Bogut's abilities will come in handy against the onslaught of quality big men in the Pacific Division—Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard with the Lakers, DeMarcus Cousins with the Kings, Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola with the Suns and Blake Griffin with the Clippers—not to mention the flood of formidable forwards and centers who fill the rest of the Western Conference.
But as helpful as Bogut will be defensively, he'll be even more valuable on the other end of the floor. Bogut is one of the most skilled big men in the NBA today, combining passing, shooting and low-post play for an effective offensive package.
Those talents will render him a credit to a front court that was the 26th-most efficient in the NBA last year and to an offense that put up just 32.6 points per game in the paint.
So, too, will Bogut's ability on the boards. He averaged a double-double for three consecutive seasons between 2008 and 2011 with the Bucks. Think the Warriors, who were dead-last in the league in total rebounding rate in 2011-12, would find Bogut helpful in that department?
Pairing Bogut with David Lee gives the Warriors a dynamic duo up front that can clean the glass, put the ball in the basket and attract enough defensive attention to open up the floor for the rest of the team's shooters and slashers.
Clearly then, Bogut has the chops to be an important player—if not an outright godsend—for the Warriors. But what makes him the most important player in the Bay has less to do with his own gifts and more to do with their relative value.
The Warriors are well-stocked at just about every other position except center right now. Bogut's backups consist of the bottomed-out Biedrins and Festus Ezeli, a raw rookie who has a ways to go before he can be counted on to contribute consistently.
Meanwhile, David Lee can always lean on Carl Landry, a productive veteran, should circumstances preclude him from playing. If incoming rookie Harrison Barnes should struggle or succumb to injury, Richard Jefferson will be ready, willing and able to step in on the wing. The same goes for Brandon Rush, who's slated to serve in support of sophomore star Klay Thompson at shooting guard.
Even Stephen Curry, a crucial cog in his own right whose ankle is healthy enough for him to play, can count on Jarrett Jack performing his job without too drastic of a drop-off if/when his troubles return.
Which brings us back to Bogut's own ankle. The Warriors anticipate that he'll be ready for the season opener against the Phoenix Suns on Halloween and plan to be "ultraconservative" in the way they utilize him throughout the campaign.
Which player is most important to the Warriors' success this season?
However carefully the Warriors handle Bogut, they can all but count on their prized asset missing time (say, 10-12 games in total) this season. He's played a full slate just once in his seven-year career (during his rookie season), and has missed no fewer than 13 games on five occasions.
What's more, lower leg injuries never bode well for the game's giants. Seven-footers exert so much more stress on their feet and ankles than most because of their size, and, in turn, suffer more dearly for it. Just ask Bill Walton and Yao Ming, whose promising careers were both derailed by foot problems.
Golden State doesn't necessarily need Bogut to feature in all 82 games this season, though. The team has enough talent at other positions to remain competitive in the event that Andrew has to sit out a few games here and there to rest up or allow a nagging injury to heal.
But because of how well Bogut bridges gaps in the roster and fits into the Warriors' plans (at least on paper), they can ill-afford to lose him for any significant stretch if they're to contend for a spot in the already-crowded Western Conference playoff picture.
And if the Warriors can't keep him healthy this season, how can they hope to build a winning team around him in the years to follow?