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Andrew Bogut's Value to Golden State Warriors Has Never Been Higher

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 5, 2015

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Despite the small-ball surprise the Golden State Warriors sprung on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, big man Andrew Bogut remains critical to keeping the Dubs on top.

Yes, it's true the Warriors effectively erased Bogut from their rotation, playing him a grand total of three minutes in their Finals-clinching streak of wins in Games 4, 5 and 6 back in June. Shrinking the lineup, picking up the pace and relying on Draymond Green to man the center spot paid off in a big way; the Warriors crushed Cleveland in Game 4 and never looked back.

Take those three games as evidence of Bogut's expendability if you like, but just know you'll also be ignoring the other 87 contests he played during the regular season and playoffs.

Assistant coach Ron Adams told Angus Crawford of NBA Australia: "If people are shortsighted, they could minimize what [Bogut] did. But the reason we won this year is that we're a real team, and everyone supports—as he did during that stretch run and when we made the change—and that's the significant thing."

The Warriors are an unsolvable problem with Green, who's smaller than most power forwards, playing center. The undersized unit that gave the Cavs fits—which included Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes alongside Green—spaced the floor on offense and had enough speed and guts to compete defensively.

Without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, all Cleveland had to rely on (aside from LeBron James) in those Finals was the size advantage provided by Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson. If any team could exploit the Warriors' shrunk-down lineup, it should have been the Cavaliers.

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Yet they had no answer.

All year, the Warriors flummoxed opponents with the same tactic.

Here's how the Warriors' most commonly used Green-at-center lineups fared last season:

Warriors Most-Used Lineups with Green at Center, 2014-15
PlayersMinutesORtgDRtgNet Rtg
Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes, Green102113.691.9+21.8
Livingston, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes, Green30113.391.1+22.0
Curry, Livingston, Thompson, Barnes, Green27130.292.1+38.1
Curry, Livingston, Iguodala, Barnes, Green21147.579.2+68.3
Curry, Livingston, Thompson, Iguodala, Green20103.383.3+20.0
NBA.com

Golden State's overall net rating of plus-11.4 points per 100 possessions topped the league by a mile in 2014-15. Those numbers with Green at the 5 are almost comically higher. The Warriors destroyed when they went small.

More evidence Bogut is unnecessary, right?

Hardly.

Warriors Most-Used Lineups with Bogut at Center, 2014-15
PlayersMinutesORtgDRtgNet Rtg
Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Green, Bogut813114.494.8+19.6
Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green, Bogut181122.694.3+28.3
NBA.com

Note the Warriors' conventional starting five, their most-used unit, was nearly as good as the most frequently featured Green-at-center lineup. And that normal group with Bogut at the center spot played significantly more minutes than any featuring Green as the de facto big man.

The Warriors won the third-most games in NBA history (regular season and playoffs combined) last year, and they did it with Bogut as their center for the vast majority of the time.

Forget "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." This is more like "if it works better than almost anything in history, in the name of everything holy, don't touch it!"

Remember, too, that Golden State is a defense-first outfit, despite the insistence of casual fans and national media that run-and-gun offense defines it. And while Green's remarkable versatility sparks a chaos engine that rockets the Warriors to elite levels on D, Bogut is the more consistent, reliable power source.

Green is a singularly potent break-glass-in-case-of-emergency tool Golden State reaches for in times of need. He is a secret weapon, not a primary means of assault.

Maybe this is all too sobering. Maybe it's more fun to think the Warriors have reinvented the basketball wheel with Green, a player who does things nobody else can. It's exhilarating to believe we're seeing a profound change, a landscape-altering trend that will phase out traditional big men forever.

But if it's innovation you're after, remember how Bogut featured prominently in the postseason's boldest strategical move. The Warriors put him on Tony Allen in the conference semifinals, counting on the big Aussie's savant-like help instincts and spatial awareness as he played free safety. It swung the series in Golden State's favor instantly.

Bogut is not a lumbering oaf. He's a finesse player trapped in the body of a giant—a skillful passer, an intelligent screen-setter and a startlingly rangy athlete when he wants to be.

He's not perfect. His offensive hesitancy to shoot sometimes makes him too easy to guard. But the biggest sample of data we have from last season shows the Warriors were unstoppable with him on the floor.

The size of that sample matters.

We don't have a precise measurement of the physical punishment a player like Green suffers in big minutes as an undersized center. We do know, though, that despite obvious effectiveness at the 5, the Warriors limited Green's minutes at that spot significantly. Check those lineup data charts again; Green didn't exactly log heavy playing time as a center.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Because the long-term cost is too great.

In 2012, Shane Battier told CBSSports.com's Matt Moore that his role as a small-ball 4 was the most physically taxing task of his career.

Last March, Shawn Marion cited his role as an undersized power forward as the reason his body began to deteriorate, telling Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group:

The biggest thing I had to adjust to at one point was when I went from small forward to power forward. The wear and tear of big guys just leaning on you. Because over time, that wears on you. When you're having to bang with guys that are 30 pounds heavier than you, it's going to start to wear on you, because when he starts leaning on you it's going to fatigue you. It's going to make you that much tired and it's that much harder to push through it.

In an interview with Grantland's Zach Lowe, Jared Dudley echoed the sentiment, saying "Yes, there definitely is" a legitimate physical toll when playing up a position.

Dudley's comments on Green get to the core of why Bogut matters so much for Golden State: "Draymond Green is the blueprint," Dudley said. "Is he unique? Yes. But it can be done, and maybe us [power forwards] can't do it as long as he can, but you can do spot minutes."

Spot minutes. That's the key.

It's precisely because Green is so valuable to the Warriors that Bogut must continue to be an integral piece of the first unit. It's fair to ask Green to bang with the bigs for a few minutes, a few games or even an entire playoff series.

It's reckless to ask for more than that.

The Warriors invested $82 million in Green this summer, and he's already playing against power forwards who are uniformly larger than he is. It's imperative that the Warriors protect their investment by exposing Green to centers in very small, isolated doses.

Small ball will continue to be a devastating option for the Warriors, but they won't rely on it exclusively. They can't, and they don't have to.

Their flexibility is a weapon unto itself.

Bogut knows that, and he told reporters (via Basketball Australia):

I think it's changed, but it won't be for 82 games. There are certain games where coaches will go small, and it works. And there are certain games where it doesn't...I don't think you win a championship going solely small. I don't think you win a championship going solely big.

The Warriors were better than everybody when they went small last year, and if they could get away with playing that way all the time, maybe they would. But the risk to Green is too great, and the need for the versatility Bogut cited is real—especially in a league that scouts and adjusts quickly.

Fortunately, the Warriors were better than everybody when they went big, too.

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 27:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors reacts alongside teammate Andrew Bogut #12 in the second half against the Houston Rockets during game five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

So if the question is "Bogut or Green?," the answer is simple.

Both.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com.

Grant Hughes covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @gt_hughes.

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