Photo from Michael Mistretta via Flickr
If you wish to create a loud, controversial discussion, you don’t have to fill a room with the Pope, a fundamentalist Muslim, an orthodox Jew, a Buddhist monk, and a short-tempered atheist. All you need to do is place a bored NBA blogger in front of a spreadsheet full of video game rankings. And if you can do so while said blogger’s favorite sports league is locked out and even the slightest misplaced attribute can be cause for extreme displeasure, even better.
So it was with great amusement that I kicked back in my proverbial chair and watch Twitter run amok with frenzied rage over the newly released 2K12 rankings. From contrived arguments such as “Kobe is much better/worse than 3rd in the entire league!” through astonishing fallacies such as “How can Marc Gasol be the 6th best Grizzly?!” and to the inexcusable “Dirk isn’t as good as *random list that includes more than 3-4 NBA players*” . All the while, I tried to treat the entire manner the same way I would act while watching a bunch of world-class astrophysicists fighting over a novelty whiskey bottle: while I harbor great appreciation for both the involved party and the subject of their attention, I fully recognize that this is something to be entertained by, and not infuriated at.
And then this happened.
Why, you littleâ€¦. How dare you say â€¦ Stephen Jackson isn’t even saâ€¦ Brandon Jennings couldn’t run an offense if it crept up behind him and cut his dreadsâ€¦ I can freaking beat him at H-O-R-S-E… I mean, come on, you have to beâ€¦ AAAAARGH!
Look, I get it. Every single rational explanation that you could possibly toss my way has made its way through my head. Yes, these ratings are nothing more than a numerical representation of the opinions of what are, ultimately, just humans. Absolutely, these ratings have no value in and of themselves, as they are but an aggregate of much more meaningful single-skill attributes that in and of themselves are incredible subjective. And these games are tilted towards guards, because size in and of itself is a huge advantage.
And yes, all things considered, we must never forget that no matter what surrounds you in your world, 2K ratings don’t matter. If you really are that obsessive (and I don’t know about you guys, but I most certainly am), one always reserves the option of wasting both daylight and sleep in order to create rosters to your liking. Believe me, I know â€“ in 2007, I randomly decided to update the rosters in NBA Live 2004 to create a full gaming experience. In a life full of regrets, this is one thing I am proud of.
But somewhere in my mind, something about the digital hierarchy in hypothetical Milwaukee pinched a nerve. And it went beyond the never-ending overrating of an aging volume scorer who, even at his best, was never nearly as good as he thinks he is, or the absurd notion that a player 2 years into his NBA career who can’t top 39% from the field or and still takes 15 shots a game is anything more than a hopeful long term project.
No, what really grinds my gears here isn’t the continued emphasis on certain NBA skills, or how players who fit a certain mold are more likely to be overrated than others. Those are battles that have been lost quite a while back. This random tidbit within a world of 2K related inaccuracies resonated with me personally, because I am absolutely tired of the never-ending casualty with which we ignore Andrew Bogut.
To be fair, it is quite easy to ignore Andrew Bogut. He is so pale that one could probably see right through him if it weren’t for the shaggy hair or the perpetual stubble. The market in which he dwells has largely been an NBA non-entity for the past decade, their sole glimpses of relevance taking the form of first round losses while Bogut was sidelined with a gruesome elbow injury or before he was even drafted (also, the 2006 team who got the 8th seed and lost 4-1 to Detroit in the first round. I didn’t forget you, 2006 Bucks. I’m even going to reference you again later). And even at his best, Bogut lacks any semblance of flair and pizzazz, his offensive game built more around solid fundamental passing from either the high post or the low post than an icy cold fadeaway or a sizzling crossover followed by a tomahawk and-1.
Of course, NBA observers who judge Bogut for his offense aren’t doing their jobs. For it is on the other side of the court where he separates himself from the non-Dwight Howard pack, and it is this side that you are tragically oblivious to if you do not recognize the brilliance from down under.
Bogut’s Synergy numbers are insane. While defending isolation plays, Bogut gave up just 0.6 points per possession and 33% shooting. Do you realize how crazy this is? If you step up against Andrew Bogut, and you want to get your 2 points, you need more than 3 possessions. Among players with 50 defensive possessions defined as isolation, only 9 players were better, and that dropped to 3 once the possession count was raised to 80. It just doesn’t get much better than that.
Not good enough for you? How about the way he grabs 27% of all available defensive rebounds, a mark eclipsed only by rebounding specialists Marcus Camby, Kris Humphries, Kevin Love and Reggie Evans, to go with the suspected Dwight and KG (also, incredibly, Marcin Gortat, if you only include his Suns tenure)? Or the way he led the league in blocks per game even though when a guard drives into the paint, more often than not, Bogut is too busy trying (and often succeeding) to draw the charge instead of focusing on the timing needed to pin a layup to a backboard?
Other than the extra-terrestrial presence that is Dwight, nobody in the league can rival this. LeBron and Garnett are perhaps the only players who can even begin to approach Bogut’s defensive omnipresence, but neither of them is nearly the shot-blocker, nearly as unmovable an object. Bogut’s 7 foot, 260 pound frame somehow doesn’t hinder his ability to shadow guards off the pick and roll, but it is a remarkable asset when an opponent’s rear end is trying to back you down. All this, may I remind you, done for an entire year without a functional right arm. How does this guy get just one second-team defense vote?
Merits of all-defensive teams and their brand-based voting process aside, Bogut’s defensive presence is grossly undersold, and I’m not really sure why. It’s not as if we ignore the concept of defense â€“ with the amount of love Tyson Chandler got for the way he transformed the Mavericks’ D, he’s now a near-certainty to be the first terrible contract of the new CBA. We talk about how defense wins championships so much that its sickening. But could it be that if a solid defender is stuck on a team that can’t win championships, we stop caring? Is it only important when little golden shapes are sown on to jerseys? Or is it just too subtle a difference for us to note without the ultimate vindication of rings?
Defensive ability has long been near impossible to quantify. So much is dependent on the system surrounding a player, or the opponent that he happens to meet on a given day, or just plain randomness. One needs look no further than the Chicago Bulls, where only Ronnie Brewer and Joakim Noah were considered elite defenders before the team’s dominant 2010-2011 showing (also, technically, Kurt Thomas, though few were optimistic about his chances of maintaining this at the age of 38).
In post-Thibsy times one can confidently add Luol Deng, Taj Gibson (who was one of the 3 guys better than Bogut in isolation), and Omer Asik to that list, while also acknowledging the leaps made by Derrick Rose and C.J. Watson from awful to average (Carlos Boozer is still the worst). How much of this is systematic? How much is effort? How many of these players have honest-to-goodness improved their defensive abilities? With the exception of Asik, who may have been this good before his only NBA season to date (I haven’t seen nearly enough of the pre-NBA Asik to objectively answer), I doubt there is a singular valid response to these questions.
Here is where I believe Bogut falls through the cracks. When the Bucks scrap and claw and end another opposing possession with a missed shot or a turnover, this will often be credited to the suffocating man coverage of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, or the quick hands of Jennings, or the shot-blocking acumen of Bogut. But more often than not, those who have actually bother to tune into the 75-72 barnburner will hear an impressed play-by-play man saying “you know, Scott Skiles has this team trying so hard”.
This does an incredible disservice to any non-Skiles individuals. It’s so hard to differentiate between the coach and the players on the defensive end, that the well-respected, known entity inevitably gets the benefit of the doubt. In an area where objective data is so scarce and problematic, we can’t help but gravitate towards subjective perceptions, the type which tells us that Skiles was leading elite defensive teams back when Andrew Bogut was sharing a frontcourt with Jamaal Magloire (told you I’d remember them!).
Not only is this wrong, it’s downright lazy. Andrew Bogut may forever be the guy who was taken first in a draft with 2 Hall of Fame point guards, but he isn’t Marvin Williams. The dude is a fantastic basketball player, one who was a third-team All-NBAer in 2010, would definitely have at least one all-star berth if the past two teams were redone, and could absolutely be the defensive anchor for an NBA title team.
Just for the fun involved: My tweet from above comes from a random twitter exercise during a lonely, locked out Saturday midnight stretch, in which I asked the internet congregation how many NBA teams could win a title if Bogut was randomly added to their roster. I suggested at least 10 could achieve this (Hawks, Heat, Celtics, Knicks, Spurs, Grizzlies, Lakers, Blazers, Thunder, and obviously, the already champion Mavs), in addition to 4 more teams who I counted as on the bubble (Magic and Bulls, where Bogut would be helpful but perhaps too redundant to make a game-changing difference, and the Rockets and Sixers, who would bolster fantastic hypothetical rotations, but I still feel would lack defensively and offensively, respectively).
Is this a lot for a single player? Perhaps. I didn’t run this same test with enough NBA players to know if it is indicative of anything at all, and of course, being such a hypothetical test, it’s doomed to both subjectivity and pointlessness. But just take a look around the league at how many teams desperately need a quality center. Look how many misplaced power forwards are just begging for a Bogut. How does Andrea Bargnani look playing the 4 next to an Andrew Bogut? Nice, huh? How about “center” Al Horford? How do Kevin Love/David Lee/Carlos Boozer/Amar’e Stoudemire stack up defensively with such a great second big man erasing their mistakes?
Bogut is not without his flaws. But recognize that all these flaws are pretty much restrained to the offensive end. His health has diminished an already problematic offensive arsenal, albeit one that was improving, but it has done nothing to impend what is one of the best defensive players of our era. And if that statement is too bombastic for your taste, I urge you to knock on David Stern and Billy Hunter’s respective doors, ask them nicely to give us our basketball back, fire up the league pass, tune into the Bucks even if the Heat or Lakers are playing that very night, and tell me what you see. Spoiler alert: the dude misses, and Bogut gets the rebound.