Only eighteen months ago, Warriors owner Joe Lacob took to half-court to retire Chris Mullin’s number 17 to the rafters of Oracle Arena.
“Tonight is about two things: embracing history and respect.”
Oops. A cascade of boos rained down on Lacob from the rafters. Like Chad’s father from Dave Chappelle’s Mad Real World, the Warriors owner was unlucky: an awkward white guy who said the wrong thing in a bad neighborhood. 1 With the wounds of the Oracle faithful still raw from losing fan favorite and the 2005-06 “We Believe” holdover Monta Ellis for injured Milwaukee Bucks big man Andrew Bogut only six days earlier, the sold out arena wanted to give Lacob a piece of their mind. By adding another injured ankle to ride the bench alongside Stephen Curry, ownership had effectively thrown in the towel on yet another season.
Flash forward to the present. Eighteen months, one lottery pick and a Conference Semifinal appearance later, 2 the jury is still out on Bogut, still the highest earner on the roster. 3 The Utah product’s ankle barely lasted the preseason, giving way five games into the 2012-13 campaign and sending many a Warrior fan (including myself) into conniptions. Away we went, kvetching to the message boards. “It hurts to think that we gave up Ekpe Udoh for damaged goods and Richard Jefferson’s pitiful contract.” I whined at the time. 4
With all-world perimeter defender Andre Iguodala now in Oakland and a year of playoff experience under Coach Mark Jackson’s belt, the Warriors have become a popular dark horse contender among hoops heads. The stakes have multiplied since that fateful March night at the Oracle. Golden State has an outside shot to make it out of the “spaghetti” Western Conference, and Lacob is betting the farm on the expiring Bogut’s surgically repaired ankle. 5
What are the odds that the Silicon Valley millionaire will cash out this time?
On paper, Bogut is a strong independent defender who don’t need no man…err…help man. When healthy, the Aussie projects as a top-five defensive center. That’s good, because the Warriors need a great shot blocker and post defender to cover for David Lee, the greatest liability inside the paint since Exit Through the Gift Shop. Though Bogut’s post defense is still top-notch, his speed rotating from the weak side to the ball side on defense was not what it once was a season ago, allowing Tony Parker and other Spurs to confidently penetrate the lane in the Second Round of the playoffs.
Lacob’s aggressive courtship of Dwight Howard proves that ownership is skeptical of the Aussie as a long-term solution down low. Bogie’s offensive analytics took a beating last year, and it’s unlikely he will ever recover his shot from a 2010 elbow injury. He ranked 337th in the league in overall offensive efficiency, and his FT% has declined 115 points from his peak in 2009-10 (.629), while his FG% (48.4%) is also down 5% from four seasons ago. On offense, Jackson will primarily rely on Bogie for his elite post passing, which gives the Warriors another option to hit Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes for open looks. Surrounded by three-point threats, the Aussie’s AST% improved 1.1% over his career average last season.
Still, a healthy season is a lot to ask of a big man who has played in 42 games over the past two seasons without the equivalent of Phoenix’s training staff of shamanistic voodoo healers. 6 But that’s exactly what the Warriors, who had the worst plus-minus rating of any Western Conference playoff team last year (+0.9), would need to contend for home court advantage in the postseason. The Aussie will also need to prove to free agent suitors that he’s 100% to avoid taking a salary haircut in the offseason, whether in the Bay Area or elsewhere.
Though Jackson figures to limit Bogie’s minutes to an extent this year, particularly after Festus Ezeli returns from injury, he will anchor (and hopefully improve) a mediocre defensive (ranked 14th in DRtg) but formidable rebounding team (first in DReb %). Even so, the big man proved quite adept at defending isolation (yielding 0.58 points per possession) and the pick and roll man (0.79 points per possession) in limited action. Bogut sprung to life as a defensive monster against Denver in the playoffs; shutting down Ty Lawson’s driving options and tearing through the JaVale “Pierre” McGee-Kosta Koufos front line. Over the six game series, the Aussie limited the Nuggets to 53.5% inside of five feet and 38.7% inside of eight, 4.5 and 19.7% better than the NBA average, respectively.
All told, in 12 playoff appearances at 27.2 minutes per game, Bogut yielded 262 points in the paint, or 21.8 per game, comparing favorably with Tyson Chandler (20.2), and even more impressively with Roy Hibbert (25.4), Tim Duncan (27.4), Joakim Noah (28.0) and Marc Gasol (31.9), though the Aussie yielded field goals at a slightly higher rate per minute (.8). 7
In the restricted area he limited opponents to just 54.2% shooting, good for 11th among eligible defenders, and 37.7% in the rest of the paint. Additionally, Bogie’s 102.8 regular season DRtg improved in the playoffs, falling to 99.9, bringing his net rating to 7.9, meaning that the Aussie center scored nearly eight more points than he surrendered per possession.
Undoubtedly, Stephen Curry’s ankle injury against the Spurs was the nail in the coffin for the Warriors in the playoffs. If Golden State hopes to advance to the conference finals this year the health of their team leader, the undersized shooting phenom out of Davidson, will be paramount.
Still, This team still isn’t as deep as the Clippers, as experienced as the Spurs, as gritty as Memphis, or as athletic as the Thunder, and win or lose, that would be apparent in a seven-game series, as it was in six against the Spurs in May. With NBA offenses focused on penetrating the middle, the Warriors will need Bogut’s ankle to be 100% healthy to stand a chance of making it out of the West.
1403 Oranges Squeezed
- Fortunately, Warrior fans aren’t prone to irrational violence. ↩
- The shock value of the Dubs six-game upset of the Nuggets rivals that of Grits n’ Gravy’s elimination in the 2004 World Series of Dice at the hands of Leonard Washington. Eighteen of eighteen ESPN Analysts picked against Golden State. ↩
- Bogut is set to earn $14 million in 2012-13. This is actually a testament to the yeoman’s work that GM Bob Myers has done in purging the poison contracts of Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, among others. ↩
- You can find it in the bowels of the r/warriors subreddit. It’s there. ↩
- Weak Sergio Leone puns aside, getting out of the West this season will be like making it out of this. ↩
- Head Trainer Aaron Nelson’s latest miracle? Fixing Channing Frye’s right butt cheek. Seriously. ↩
- Opposing Points in the Paint per minute (playoffs): Chandler = .69, Hibbert = .695, Duncan = .78, Gasol = .785, Bogut = .8, Noah = .82. ↩