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Is Andrew Bogut Back to Being an Elite NBA Center?

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Is Andrew Bogut Back to Being an Elite NBA Center?
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The trajectory of Andrew Bogut's career has been relatively dismal, as the former No. 1 overall pick has battled through an abundance of injury woes. This season, Bogut has managed to stay healthy, and his performances on the court have had a huge impact on the convivial atmosphere among Golden State Warriors fans.

Bogut's body has certainly taken a toll over the years, and he is not as mobile as he once was. He might not be putting up dominant offensive numbers, but his impact on the defensive end is unquestionable, and he deserves to be mentioned among the best centers in the league.

Playing alongside the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee, Bogut has found himself at the very bottom of the food chain on the offensive end. He has practically no plays called for him but still finds ways to contribute offensively, while anchoring a much-improved defense on the other end.

Many teams around the league are fond of athletic big men and shot-blockers. Bogut doesn't have half the athleticism of the likes of Serge Ibaka or DeAndre Jordan, but he makes up for his lack of hops with a great basketball IQ and ability to read the game. His idiosyncratic style of play, while not always aesthetically pleasing, has been effective and should be commended.

 

Numbers

Bogut is not a center who is a lock for 20 points and 10 rebounds on any given night. He is not a player you build your team around as the primary scorer, but his numbers overall are still very impressive.

He plays under 30 minutes per game, but when you adjust Bogut's numbers, he is right up there with some of the best. He ranks third in the league in rebounding and fifth in the league in blocks per 36 minutes. Since Golden State's offense rarely forces the ball into Bogut's hands, he only takes high-quality shots close to the basket. He ranks second in the NBA in field-goal percentage at 64 percent and is one of only three players in the league who are shooting over 60 percent this season, joining DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond.

Those are the basic statistical categories in which Bogut is expected to excel, and he does.

 

Offense

As mentioned, the Warriors very rarely call plays for Bogut, but that doesn't mean that he isn't involved in the offense. One of the things that he does very well, which doesn't show up in the box score, is setting screens. Take a look at this picture:

via Synergy

Bogut is an excellent screener. He has a wide frame and impeccable timing when setting picks for his shooters, as you can see in the photo above. Most of the time, he positions himself very well, and completely swallows the defender trying to fight over the screen. In the instance above, Klay Thompson gets an open jumper thanks to the great screen, and both Thompson and Curry often get open looks just by using Bogut in high pick-and-rolls.

When the ball-handlers in pick-and-rolls don't pull up for a jumper, they can often find Bogut cutting to the basket, either through lobs or bounce passes. He is regularly neglected by the opposition and can take advantage of looks that Curry, who demands a great deal of attention, creates for him. There are a couple of examples of this in the video below:

In the first clip, Bogut's defender has to help on a penetrating Curry, who completes a simple wrap-around pass to the big man for a layup. The second play features another good screen by Bogut, which closes off Russell Westbrook. Curry is the major threat in that situation and can find a cutting Bogut, who has a completely open lane in front of him, with a bounce pass. The last play is the most interesting one. You can see Bogut lurking on the weak side as the play develops and, timing his cut perfectly, creating a very clear passing lane through the middle.

Bogut doesn't take many shots, but when opposing defenses double- or triple-team Curry, he does make himself available. He ranks 14th in the league in points per play on cuts, shooting 74.7 percent on those plays (via Synergy, subscription required).

The only real play that is called specifically for the center is a well-documented set. It involves Bogut faking a pin-down screen for a shooter, most often Thompson, then quickly slipping the pick to catch a lob pass. Here are a couple of instances in which Golden State has used this play:

Even though the Warriors pull out this set on quite a regular basis, it still catches defenses off guard. Thompson is the bigger threat in the play, and the big man guarding Bogut often hesitates. The execution obviously requires great timing and precision by the ball-handler, usually Curry or Iguodala, and it has led to turnovers on some occasions.

Bogut doesn't post up a lot, but he sometimes does ask for the ball when he is isolated down low against a significantly shorter or weaker defender. In the play below, he uses his strength advantage over Terrence Jones, who is cross-matched on Bogut with Dwight Howard guarding David Lee:

Bogut still has a pretty soft touch around the rim, even though he doesn't get to utilize it that much. The Warriors' offensive rating goes up by 6.9 points per 100 possessions when Bogut is on the court, compared to when he is on the bench. A lot of it has to do with the fact that he mostly plays in lineups with the starters, but he is still important to the offense.

 

Defense

While you can argue about Bogut's role offensively, his impact on the defensive end is unquestionable. According to SportVu player tracking statistics, Bogut is one of the best rim protectors in the league. Opponents shoot 44 percent at the rim when Bogut is in range to contest a shot, which ranks him behind Roy Hibbert (41 percent) and Serge Ibaka (43.2 percent) but ahead of three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner Dwight Howard (47.5 percent). Let's dig into a little film to see what makes Bogut so good defensively.

Bogut ranks 30th in the league in points per play when defending rolling big men in pick-and-rolls (via Synergy, subscription required). This video shows why:

Bogut might have some trouble hanging with the most athletic guys in the league, but he is still mobile enough to close down the driving lane for guards and at the same time recover to his own man. In a couple of the clips above, you can see big men getting the ball on a cut and transitioning into a post-up. Bogut is an excellent shot-blocker and is strong enough to hold his ground against most centers in the league.

In the very last clip, Zach Randolph gets an open mid-range jumper. This is part of the Warriors' pick-and-roll defensive scheme. Bogut almost always sags off when opponents run high pick-and-rolls, making sure the ball-handler doesn't get a layup at the basket. Even though Randolph is spotting up around the right elbow area, Bogut stays in the paint to contest a potential layup.

When Bogut is defending pick-and-rolls, that mid-range jumper, also known as the most inefficient shot in the league, is readily available for opposing big men. When Bogut is on the floor, 49.3 percent of the opposition's shots are mid-range jumpers, which fall at a 36 percent rate. If Bogut is on the bench, the amount of mid-range jumpers drops to 42.6 percent, and opponents convert at a 38 percent clip.

In the play against Randolph, Bogut was able to recover and semi-contested the shot. Sometimes he doesn't even bother to try and simply dares his opponent to put up the shot. Statistically, that is a huge win for the Warriors defense, but there have been games in which good shooters such as Darrell Arthur, Nikola Vucevic and Jason Smith have been able to take advantage of it.

Bogut also never hesitates to leave his man open in the mid-range area to rotate and help his teammates. Take a look at this play:

For most of the possession, Bogut isn't even looking at his man and is observing the action, remaining in a position to bring weak-side help. When Iguodala gives up the baseline drive, Bogut comes over to double, then turns around and, together with Iguodala, gets a stop.

Even when he is not actively part of a pick-and-roll play, Bogut always tries to stay in a position to help, like a true rim protector. Even though his shot-blocking stats are impressive, they could be even better considering the amount of shots he alters with his timely rotations.

Opponents often settle for mid-range jumpers when Bogut is on the floor, and ball-handlers are hesitant to drive when he is defending the rim. This is a perfect example:

Bradley Beal starts driving toward the basket but quickly stops and turns around when he sees Bogut. He goes back to the three-point line, gathers some more courage and uses a Marcin Gortat pick to get past his man. Bogut expertly baits Beal into taking the layup, while staying in range to block the shot. 

Bogut's defensive instincts are terrific, and when you can make penetrating guards think twice before driving to the basket, you gain the upper hand.

 

Closing thoughts

Bogut is quietly having a great season and has had a huge impact on Golden State's success. His presence inside has allowed the Warriors to get away with playing two huge minus defenders in the starting lineup in Curry and Lee and still have the fourth-best defensive efficiency in the league. With his injury woes behind him for now, Bogut is gluing together the Warriors, keeping the team in equilibrium, and he is back in the elite center conversation.

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