Are Golden State Warriors Still a Playoff Threat Without Andrew Bogut?

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Are Golden State Warriors Still a Playoff Threat Without Andrew Bogut?
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The Golden State Warriors faced a brutally tough road through the playoffs before the news broke about Andrew Bogut's cracked rib. Now, they shouldn't even expect to survive the first round.

Per an official team release, the Dubs big man is hurting:

There are no two ways about it: This is a devastating blow for the Warriors. Next to Stephen Curry, Bogut is the hardest Dub to replace.

The big Aussie ranks second in the league in defensive rating this year, just a hair behind leader Joakim Noah, per Basketball-Reference.com. He holds opponents to 45 percent shooting at the rim, per NBA.com, a figure better than Noah, better than Dwight Howard, better than Anthony Davis...well, you get the idea.

In fact, there are three interior defenders in the entire league who force lower field-goal percentages at close range than Bogut: Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka and Robin Lopez, per NBA.com.

It's no surprise, then, that the Warriors have put together the NBA's third-best defense with Bogut as the centerpiece. Put simply, he's a transformative force.

He controls traffic, intimidates everyone on the floor, dares guards to take low-efficiency runners and provides the kind of physicality the nice-guy Warriors desperately need. There are ways for the Dubs to replace one or two of the qualities Bogut brings, but there's no substitute for the total package.

It's unclear how long he'll be out, so perhaps all this hand-wringing is premature. But none of the initial reports inspire confidence in a speedy return.

Per Marcus Thompson of Bay Area News Group, Bogut is currently at risk of hurting himself with a hearty sneeze. And if he were to suit up, he'd be at risk for much worse:

Every player heals on his own schedule, but Bogut has never been one of the league's quicker regenerators. And with precedents for this type of injury typically featuring absences that last weeks, the outlook isn't good.

Oh, and then there's this, which should probably weigh most heavily in the prognosis:

Brace yourselves, Warriors fans; a first-round out is suddenly more likely than ever.

 

The Other Guys

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It doesn't help matters that the Dubs are slated to face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. The ultra-athletic front line of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin could completely annihilate the Warriors on the glass without Bogut banging down low.

On the year, the Warriors have a rebound rate of 52.5 percent with their starting big man on the floor. That figure would rank first in the league. Without Bogut on the court, the Warriors slip to 49.9 percent, which puts them in the middle of the NBA pack.

There are plenty of ways to lose to the Clips, but the surest one might be surrendering an endless supply of second-chance points.

The task of replacing Bogut falls to some combination of Jermaine O'Neal, Marreese Speights and David Lee, whose own injured hamstring and resultant nerve issues have left him with almost no lift of late.

The defensive drop-off from Bogut to all three of those players is so profound that it hardly warrants mentioning. But you might look at Bogut's 7.3 points per game and assume his offense was more replaceable.

If that's your position, congratulations! You've just proved you haven't been watching.

The Dubs dump the ball into O'Neal (Bogut's likely replacement) on offense when the second unit takes the floor, an absurd strategy that would still be terrible even if O'Neal weren't a low-percentage finisher on the block. But he is, and the stagnation that paralyzes the Warriors offense when he gets his post touches is a huge reason the Dubs' second unit is among the worst in the league.

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Bogut, for all his hesitance to shoot, sets bone-jarrings screens, is a brilliant passer from the top of the circle and is a key part of the Dubs' sneaky backdoor lob game that routinely catches opponents off guard.

He doesn't post up, only shoots as a last resort and generally avoids getting fouled because he's a poor free-throw shooter. But those flaws are just fine with the Warriors, whose offensive rating jumps by 5.1 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.

Losing Bogut's passing, nastiness and, of course, defense makes it difficult to see the Warriors putting up a fight against the Clips.

Note, too, that it's still possible for Golden State to slip from its current sixth-place position. If the Warriors were to finish with the No. 7 seed, they'd draw a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. 

OKC prefers smaller lineups, and it's possible the Warriors might match up a bit better against Kevin Durant and Co.

But when the idea of facing the likely MVP of the league and the rest of the NBA's most athletically gifted roster sounds like a preferable option, well...that's a good indication the straits are dire.

 

Optimism?

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If you want to counter the overwhelming evidence pointing to a first-round ouster, you can cite the fact that the Dubs survived without another frontcourt star last year. Lee tore his hip flexor against the Denver Nuggets in the first round, and Golden State made do without him.

Relying on a smaller lineup with Harrison Barnes at the 4, the Warriors stumbled on a strategy that worked. It even helped them put a scare into the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals.

So, if they learned anything from last year, it's that there's value in a one-big lineup that features four floor-spacing smalls.

But the Dubs can't and won't adopt a similar strategy this year. Not against the hulking Clippers, and not with Lee as the lone big man. That's an unsustainable defensive approach because Lee is practically invisible on that end of the floor.

If it feels like the "optimism" section has circled back to "doom and gloom," it's because the chances of the Warriors surviving a series without Bogut are almost nil.

Are there other positive ways to spin the situation? Sure, there's this:

But the playoffs are a different animal, and the scenario in which Golden State knocks off the Clippers four times in seven tries is hard to envision. Maybe it involves Stephen Curry going off for a handful of 50-point games. Maybe it depends on Mark Jackson cashing in a few favors with the man upstairs.

A series win isn't impossible. But it'd be a borderline miracle.

 

No Answers

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Looking ahead, Bogut's absence makes for a cloudy future in Oakland.

Jackson has been on the hot seat for most of the year, playing with just one more season on his contract as the front office waits to see if he can get the team to perform up to its championship expectations. Most would say he hasn't done that yet, but a deep playoff run could have changed a few opinions.

Now, Jackson has a built-in excuse for what he so often calls his no-excuse basketball team—even if he's pretending that's not the case, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Well, we’re a no-excuse basketball team. Next man stand up," Jackson said. "We prepared for this all season long, and it’s going to be a great opportunity for other guys. We move forward and other guys are expected to step in and fulfill a role."

The Warriors can't be fairly judged without Bogut, so how can Jackson be?

Owner Joe Lacob is impatient enough to potentially axe Jackson anyway, and it might still be the right decision. But it'll now be a much more complicated one.

It's going to take Bogut a while to get over the discomfort of his latest injury. For the Warriors, the postseason pain will, unfortunately, be over rather quickly.

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