Golden State center Andrew Bogut is averaging 7.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, hardly earth-shattering numbers. However, he has established himself as perhaps the best passing big man in the game as well as one of its finest rim protectors. He has helped lead the Warriors to a league-best 14-2 start and is due proper praise here.
Bogut is a newly-unleashed offensive fulcrum for the Warriors, who are stylistically and statistically much-improved on that end of the floor in large part due to his increased role. I wrote on the eve of the season that the Aussie could “get his Boris Diaw on” and be devastating as a passer in a motion-packed offense under new coach Steve Kerr. He has done exactly that.
Remarkably, Bogut is currently assisting on 18.7% of teammates’ buckets whilst he is on the floor, a distinctly Diaw-like number. Fittingly, Diaw is putting up an almost-identical 18.5% assist percentage.
Bogut is catching the ball at the top of the key and at the elbows, and hitting his teammates in stride from every angle. It has been beautiful to watch. Witness the screenshots:
If a teammate is open, Bogut will find a way to get him the ball.
Here he turns to bounce a pass between his legs to find a curling Curry and simultaneously set a second consecutive screen on his bewildered defender:
He has made more highlight passes through the first sixteen games of the season than Kyrie Irving has made in his life.
This no-look left-handed behind-the-back assist to Draymond Green whilst rolling through the lane was another gem:
A big man who can make consistently smart, snappy passes is a rare asset for any team. The list of centers who have averaged at least three assists for a season since the turn of the century is not long: Shaquille O’Neal, Vlade Divac, Brad Miller, Marc Gasol, Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Bogut, who also did it in ’06/07. Moreover, Bogut would be only the fourth center ever to average at least three assists whilst taking under 7 shots a game, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Indeed, Bogut’s assists come not because he is a high usage rate back-to-the-basket threat who finds himself passing out of double teams, but because he effectively plays the role of point center, often initiating the offense from beyond the three-point line, sometimes bringing the ball up himself after a defensive rebound:
That being said, the Warriors are also increasingly stationing Bogut in the low post – another area on the floor from which he can create easy buckets for teammates. For me, the post-up in today’s NBA is often best used as a passing vehicle rather than a scoring one, and Bogut is better equipped than most to take advantage of it. Get free cutting to the basket and Bogut will find you, as Klay Thompson knows better than anyone:
Give it up for the Magic Johnson of Australian centers!
The No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, Bogut has found widespread praise hard to come by during his career to date. Widely considered a bust to begin his career, he was labelled “Andrew Bogus” by ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith and has been termed “soft” due to his extensive injury history. When the Warriors traded popular shooting guard Monta Ellis for him it so infuriated their oft-tormented fanbase that the home crowd booed owner Joe Lacob at Chris Mullin’s jersey retirement ceremony. But, now in his third season with the team, Bogut has truly found himself a home – and a new three-year, $36 million contract extension – in the Bay Area.
A high IQ player flourishing under a high IQ coach, he has embraced Steve Kerr’s offense whilst revealing his distaste for Mark Jackson’s: “We had a lot of guys (last season) who wouldn’t touch the ball for 10 or 15 possessions.” Indeed, he was one of them – an absolute travesty given his ability to facilitate for others. Alas, my distaste for Jackson as a coach is a well documented.
Bogut understands the importance and potential rewards of playing basketball the right way, of embracing ball movement and player movement. There are only five players on a court – it should not be hard to keep every one of them involved.
“I like to read the game,” he confirms. “I enjoy it. I enjoy passing. I enjoy being a team.”
He also enjoys anchoring one of the best defenses in the league.
Golden State currently ranks first on that end, allowing just 95.1 points per 100 possessions, with Bogut central to their entire defensive indentity. He is a giant, patrolling the paint and warding off the rim whilst also being able to guard the few remaining back-to-the-basket scorers without the need for double-team help.
In the minutes Bogut is on the floor, the Warriors give up a laughably low 91 points per 100 possessions, which would rank as the stingiest defense in the history of the league. For what it is worth, Dwight Howard’s best ever individual defensive efficiency mark was 94 points per 100 possessions in ‘10/11. Though not the otherworldly-athletic shot blocker Dwight was back then, Bogut is every bit as good a deterrent to penetrators.
He is so big – a legit 7’0” – and so alert that even the wiliest of swingmen must think twice on their drives to the rim when he is patrolling the paint. See here as he closes down Manu Ginobili’s path to the basket:
Within ten feet of the basket, he is holding opponents to just 36.9% shooting, per NBA.com’s advanced stats – 18.2% lower than the league average in that range.
Most remarkably, he is holding opponents to 39.7% shooting at the rim, making the most makeable of shots a low-percentage look:
Only Roy Hibbert (38.5% opponent shooting at the rim) and Samuel Dalembert (38.9%) have protected the basket better among players who have played at least ten games so far this season, and neither of them are as efficient offensively as Bogut – both average more turnovers than assists and both shoot under 48% from the field.
What a luxury it is to have a 7-footer who brings so much to the table defensively without taking anything off it offensively. Bogut is not insistent on a certain number of post touches or shot attempts and will happily set high-quality screens all day for teammates when he’s not busy passing to them:
What a delight he would be to play with.
Bogut’s own points, which are scored on over-57% shooting for the ninth straight season, tend to come on dirty work around the rim, smart back-door cuts for dunks and the occasional lefty jump hook:
He will occasionally explode off the drive out of a pick-and-roll. This layup on Friday night suggested he is feeling as spry as he has in years and had the Warriors bench on its feet:
With Bogut excelling to this extent on both ends and with Curry submitting an MVP-level start to the season, it is no wonder the Warriors rank in the top six for both offensive and defensive efficiency. They are the only team to do so, making them every bit as legit a title contender as I predicted they would be in this space.
Of course, with Bogut there will forever be legitimate question marks surrounding his health. He is central to the Warriors’ structure on both ends and without him their title aspirations would be non-serious. Can he manage to stay free of serious injury for an 82-game regular season and potentially long postseason run? He has played 70+ games just twice in his previous nine years and critically missed the Warriors’ first round series versus the Clippers last season with a fractured rib, so the jury is very much still out.
Let us enjoy him while he is healthy though, for however long it lasts. In the present-time NBA in which smart teams put a premium on floor spacing and ball movement on offense and rim protection on defense, he is in many ways the ideal center. Simultaneously a high IQ quarterback, great teammate and a defensive deterrent for the ages, if he does stay healthy he is a bargain at $12 million a year and potentially a crucial piece in a Championship puzzle. Watch this space.