The Crippling, All-Court Influence of Andrew Bogut’s Absence

Oct 31, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; NBA referee Ed Malloy (14) holds back Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) after a foul on Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (not pictured) in the second quarter of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

That analysis of the crushing impact Andrew Bogut’s indefinite absence will have on the Warriors playoff hopes has been relegated to one side of the ball is extremely telling. Golden State was a defensive team first and foremost this season, after all, due in large part to the supreme influence of its seven-foot Aussie. But his near-dominance on that end of the floor not withstanding, we’d be remiss to continue acting as if the loss of Bogut won’t prove detrimental to the Warriors offense, too. And considering that reality, it bears mentioning that Golden State is in even more trouble against the Clippers than anyone’s anticipating.

Few players in the league offer defensive value that can match the tough, cunning, and inflammatory Bogut’s, even if counting statistics tell a different story. His 10.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game are hardly numbers to discount, but fail to account for his carefully monitored floor-time this season. Bogut averaged just 26.4 minutes per game despite a mostly healthy regular season. And as a result, time-adjusted traditional metrics paint a much more accurate portrait of his drastic importance: DeAndre Jordan, coincidentally, is the only other player in basketball to reach Bogut’s per-36 minute thresholds of 13.0 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and 1.0 steals.

But even that analysis betrays Bogut’s defensive impact. He doesn’t block shots like Jordan, slide like Joakim Noah, or intimidate like Roy Hibbert. Instead, his awesome effectiveness is due to an enviable combination of plus physical attributes and elite mental acuity. Golden State, unfortunately, has no player in reserve that can match that advantage of body or mind, let alone such a rare amalgam.

So-called “advanced statistics” support that claim. Golden State allowed 2.0 fewer points per possession and grabbed 2.5% more of available rebounds when Bogut was on the floor compared to the bench this season, with the latter mark yielding a total rebounding rate of 52.5% that would have ranked first in the NBA. It’s crucial to note that the Warriors were no slouch in either department overall: they were third in defensive efficiency and eighth in rebounding during the regular season. Still, it’s obvious Bogut’s presence makes things far more difficult on the opposition. Perhaps most indicative of that reality? The opponent’s shot-charts with Bogut on and off the floor.

On-court at left Bogut Off-court at right

On-court at left
Off-court at right

The colors are similar; the numbers are anything but. Teams take and make fewer shots from the restricted area and three-point range when Bogut mans the paint for Golden State, and attempt 5.4% more shots from mid-range, too. Fewer attempts and makes of the game’s most efficient shots combined with an uptick in frequency of those least efficient is an obviously winning proposition for the defense, and speaks to the gravity of Bogut’s absence against any team the Warriors might face.

But the Clippers, with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Jordan, and a bevy of deadeye shooters surrounding them, are hardly just another team. Thanks to an ability to convert and create efficient shot opportunities, Los Angeles’ best team led the league with a 109.9 offensive rating. The Clippers trailed only Miami in accuracy at the rim, making 67.7% of their tries from the restricted area. And though they ranked just 11th in percentage, LAC nevertheless took more corner three-pointers than every team in the NBA but the Heat.

Los Angeles was always scary offensively. Under the guidance of Doc Rivers, though, the Clippers execution has finally matched their prodigious talents. There’s simply no way to stop this team consistently now; you just have to concede certain shots and hope the Clippers miss.

With Bogut in tow, it was reasonable to suggest that strategy could be effective for Golden State three games out of a possible seven. He’s the only Warriors big man capable of thwarting multiple actions on a single possession. And unfortunately for fans in the Bay, that’s the type of varied defensive impact an offensive outfit like Los Angeles’s demands. Watch closely as he beats Griffin to the box and slow-plays the drive of Matt Barnes before blocking the shot attempt.

That’s flashy stuff. But Bogut’s defensive worth is more often of the subtle variety. In the clip below, he defends three actions before tapping the rebound to Klay Thompson and initiating a fast-break: a Darren Collison-Griffin high ball-screen, a Griffin isolation, and a JJ Redick drive after another Griffin pick.

Defense is about positioning of help defenders as much as it is anything else, and Bogut is picture-perfect twice here after his man sets a screen on the ball. By splitting the difference between the ballhandler and Griffin, Bogut makes the former uncomfortable and ensures a decision with the ball will be made by the time his team has a chance to recover. And despite his strong, seven-foot frame, Bogut stays down on Griffin’s pump-fake and keeps his feet parallel to prevent a dribble. This stuff seems simple on the surface but is not easily duplicated. It takes feel, foot-work, and patience that’s at least partially innate, and is the means behind Bogut’s top-five defensive real plus-minus (DRPM) more than any block, steal, or rebound. He’s a savant, and Golden State will miss him dearly on that side of the ball against the Clippers.

Bogut’s unique skill and savvy translates to offense, too. Believe it or not, he more positively influenced the Warriors offensively than defensively with regard to on-off ratings this season. Golden State’s offensive efficiency was 107.8 with Bogut on the floor; when he took the bench, that elite number dipped more than four points to a below-average 103.3. And as you’d expect, details of his impact here is similar in nature to what it is defensively.

The Warriors’ effective field goal and true shooting percentages spike while Bogut is in the lineup. The former mark improves by 4.8% to 54.4 % with him on the floor compared to the bench, and the latter one 3.3% to 56.9% under the same scenario. Examining Golden State’s shooting charts with and without the big Aussie makes it easy to see why.

On-Court at left Off-Court at right

On-Court at left
Off-Court at right

You should notice a trend here. The Warriors shoot more accurately from almost every spot on the floor when Bogut plays, and attempt far more shots from basketball’s most protected grounds – the restricted area – in the process, as well. It’s not unlike the effect his presence has on the opposition’s shooting charts, either. Bogut owns the paint on both ends, basically – he ranks fifth in the league by allowing opponents to shoot just 45% at the rim and connects on 68.1% of his own tries from the restricted area.

But just as Bogut’s defensive clout extends outside of the paint, his offensive influence does, too. A gruesome elbow injury suffered in 2010 (watch here at your peril) has sapped Bogut of the creative shot-making ability he flashed as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, but he’s a threat with the ball in his hands on the perimeter regardless. Though he’s hardly Noah or Marc Gasol, Bogut is still one of the most skilled big man passers in the league. Clips like the one below are a good indicator of why Golden State’s assist ratio improves 2.3 points to 18.8 – which would rank third in the NBA overall – when he’s on the floor.

Make no mistake, though. Bogut can still catch in space and finish better than the majority of players his size. The coordination and sense of balance that makes him such a devastating pick-and-roll defender translates to when he’s the setting a pick as opposed to guarding it.

The above are simple plays on the surface, ones a team can realistically hope its starting center would be capable of finishing. And that’s why how each set began and developed is more important than how it ended. Bogut is one of basketball’s best screeners, consistently using his broad shoulders and quick feet to set picks – sporadic or scripted – at angles and times that give Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and company vital extra breathing room. His knack and understanding is of utmost importance in this regard, of course, and on perfect display in the following stills from the previous clip.

bogut pick 1

bogut pick 2

Those are textbook picks, and made even better by the tenor of Bogut’s resulting roll. Few teams could adequately replace a screener of this caliber. Golden State, though, is even less equipped to do so than most outfits. Compare and contrast the effectiveness of Bogut’s picks to those “set” by Jermaine O’Neal – his likely replacement – in this video.

It’s comparative and logical deficiencies like those highlighted – plus Mark Jackson’s crippling addiction to O’Neal post-ups – that have some believing now is the time Golden State should embrace small-ball no holds barred. That’s a good thought at first blush; Warriors lineups featuring O’Neal or even David Lee as the team’s lone big man have performed surprisingly well all season long. But present context is crucial, and it’s hard to believe those undersized, Bogut-less quintets can rebound and protect the paint adequately enough against the huge, high-flying Clippers to make those units viable full-time. And especially when Los Angeles’ performance on the glass has been such a strong barometer of its overall success: the Clippers grabbed 50.8% of available rebounds in their 57 wins this season compared to just 46.9% in their 25 losses.

To put it bluntly, there’s just no good alternative to life without Bogut for the Warriors. His well-known defensive value isn’t quite matched by his worth on the other end of the floor, but that discrepancy is far smaller than most believe. And Golden State not only lacks a reserve big man capable of acting as Bogut’s reasonable facsimile, but faces a team in the first round that limits the potency of those oft-devastating small-ball lineups – you can’t outscore these Clippers.

And as a result of Bogut’s injury and all its endless corollaries, the Warriors won’t beat them, either.

*Statistical support for this post provided by nba.com/stats and basketball-reference.com

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Jack Winter