Unless your team is in possession of the world’s greatest player—shifting the competitive terms quite a bit—chances are high you need an elite defensive big man to anchor the lane if angling for a championship is to be taken seriously.
It’s no coincidence that the teams that advanced far in last year’s playoffs had great rim protection, and the ones that lacked it did not (excluding Miami).
One of the teams that succeeded on a relative scale, based on their own expectations last year, was the Golden State Warriors. The largest reason for their success was unstoppable offense, supplied by historically great shooting numbers by Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. But they were perhaps most fierce with a healthy Andrew Bogut patrolling the paint, stifling penetration and forcing offenses into drawn out possessions that led nowhere.
Here's a fantastic example from a game against the Kings. Watch Bogut in relation to his man, Jason Thompson, who's eventually forced to take a wild, contested jumper. Brilliant work by Bogut.
More times than not, Bogut’s strategy on the floor is simple: Stand in or around the painted area and prevent anyone wearing a jersey that’s a different color than his from doing anything positive.
For this reason, pick-and-roll defense involving Bogut was, purely on a visual level, borderline comical. But it was also effective, with him regularly ignoring his man altogether and daring the ball-handler to attack the rim. This was partly due to a nagging ankle injury that limited his mobility, but it also served as a sound strategy.
Golden State regularly forfeited open mid-range jumpers by either the ball-handling guard or Bogut’s man, but that’s an option any team will take 10 times out of 10 compared to an attempt at the basket.
According to Golden State’s general manager, Bob Myers, the team is treating Bogut like he’s 100 percent healthy heading into next season, which is obviously great news for a roster that’s suddenly thin in the front court.
(Festus Ezeli had surgery on his knee last June and is expected to be out six to nine months, and Jermaine O’Neal is on board but turns 35 years old on October 13. The 17-year veteran has been plagued with various injuries throughout his career and should be described as anything but dependable for a team gnawing at title contention.)
If what Myers says is true, and if Bogut is able to maintain his health through a grueling 82-game season, Golden State’s defense could be primed to perform as one of the Western Conference’s very best.
Bogut’s only appeared in 82 games once: his rookie season. Last year, he appeared in 32 games, not including all 12 of Golden State’s playoff games (where he was limited to an average of 27.3 minutes per contest).
When he did play, the difference was notable. Golden State's opponents shot 57 percent in the restricted area with Bogut on the court and 61.6 percent when he sat, according to NBA.com/Stats. Also, the number of mid-range jumpers attempted by opponents increased from 27.3 percent (when Bogut sat) to 30.7 percent (when he played).
Here's an example where Bogut stops Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings from penetrating, forces him to throw it back to Larry Sanders (a 29.6 percent shooter on jump shots last year, per Basketball-Reference.com) on the pick-and-pop and Golden State happily gobbles up the missed shot.
As far as being a team defender, there’s no question that a healthy Bogut has potential to be one of the league’s premier rim protectors. But his work man-to-man might be equally impressive. Bogut is immovable in the post, but he also has quick feet, preventing most players his size from blowing past him off the dribble.
Going against him on an island is an ineffective and dangerous strategy for any offense, which should come in handy now that three contenders in the conference have big men who pose a threat in the post (Marc Gasol, Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard).
According to Synergy Sports, Bogut was the league’s 11th best defender in isolation situations last season (that number sounds more impressive than it is—remember, he only played in 44 total games) and opponents shot just 26.7 percent. Those numbers will go up next year, but that’s only because nobody’s that good over the course of a long season.
Thanks to their brittle front line, and completely inept defensive play from the likes of David Lee and newcomer Marreese Speights, Bogut isn't a luxury for this team. His health and consistent dominance in the back line is vital. If he's OK to play 30-plus minutes per game next spring, there's no reason to think the Warriors won't advance even further.
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